You know that Syria is coming in from the cold when articles like this start appearing.
The Sunday Times has devoted a massive feature piece to Asma Al-Assad. It’s a rare glimpse into the life of the President’s wife. And whether you like her or not, the fact that such a positive article has appeared in a major British paper signals something is changing.
Apart from the copy-and-paste ‘conversion on the road to Damascus’ travel articles, I haven’t seen such a positive piece for years. You’re more likely to find things like this written about Jordan’s Queen YouTube. The difference is – Asma has substance.
“She spent two years at Deutsche Bank, then joined JP Morgan – where she specialised in mergers and acquisitions – working for nine months in the bank’s Paris office and for 18 months in New York. She talks fluently of Syria’s economic situation and the overhaul of its education system. …
She says she decided she was not taking on a symbolic position, but a job. “Two weeks ago my husband and I went to see a play at the theatre. The following day, during a meeting, somebody new to Syria asked if that was normal. What’s abnormal about it? We’re married, we’re young, why wouldn’t we go to the theatre? He said, ‘Because heads of state just don’t do that’. That’s the difference between letting the position dictate who you are as a person or you determining who you are as an individual. The first lady is what I do, it is not who I am.”
What she doesn’t say is that both she and the president were in jeans, had not booked tickets and, finding the stalls were full, sat upstairs in the gods. It has been the talk of Damascus for a fortnight. …
“The most striking difference for me – and it was only when I came back to Syria that you see it – is that the sense of peace in Europe is a reality. Growing up, I never thought about war or instability, and when you’re secure and stable you are free to dream, free to have ambition and think about the future in a much more dynamic way.” “
The theatre incident really was a big deal. I wrote about it here.
(Photo: The Sunday Times)
“Everyone invites you to dinner in Damascus. One warm night in the Old City, we stood with friends on a tiny street in the Jewish Quarter, trying to figure out where to find the one synagogue still functioning. An elderly neighbor who wandered past stopped to help, and for 15 minutes chatted in Arabic with our friends – describing the history of the Jewish community, reminiscing how sad it was they had all left, inquiring about our trip, and of course inviting us to his home for dinner.
We had to decline. If we stopped for dinner with everyone who asked, we’d never have seen half of the city.
But we followed his directions, and found the locked synagogue on a tiny stub street near our hotel. The whitewashed walls on both sides led to an unremarkable metal gate with no sign – so much for sightseeing.”
(Photo: Stanfield/Getty/NY Daily News)
“What disappoints me, because of my personal character, is that the US administration acts in a very petty – almost scandalous – way towards the embassy. …
One example is that I cannot send faxes, neither from my home, nor the embassy, to Syria. Another is that during one demonstration in front of the Syrian embassy authorities refused to send police to guard the premises, although that is what is customarily done.
I contacted Damascus and they contacted the US embassy saying that unless protection is provided for the Syrian embassy in Washington (as customarily done with any foreign embassy in the US), then Syria would have to lift all security placed in Damascus around the US embassy and the home of the ambassador. Within less than 30-minutes, two police cars drove up to guard the Embassy.”
(Photo: Gulf News)
“My country is at the heart of the world. I hear from visitors often they in Syria they feel at home. Much of that is due to the fact that every person will find a Syrian that looks like him. Syrians are not the product of today, or of the turbulent 20th century. We are a blend of civilizations that have triumphed over their ethnic or religious identities to form one nation. Our Arab identity is flavored with a rich Islamic culture, a proximity to Europe, and a nucleus location that connects the East to the West.”
“The Embassy of the Netherlands signed with UNRWA today a financing agreement aiming at reducing poverty among Palestinian refugees.
Under the agreement, the Embassy will support UNRWA community development activities at Rukin Eddin community centre in Damascus by establishing a sports hall for Palestinian women and youth and a beauty and hairdressing training facility. The contribution will also be used to provide rehabilitation services to children with disabilities and to enhance the capacity of the community committees. “