Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Lebanon happens

I flew back from London to Damascus yesterday, with the Israel/Lebanon conflict still raging. As so often, Damascus seems just as normal, but with far more people around. No hotel rooms are available - all are full of refugees from Lebanon. Other refugee families are being housed in schools, so the coming term will start late.

Getting the news in the UK has been completely depressing, not so much for the unending stories of death and suffering, but more for the simplistic views that most media commentators appear to have about the region. Either that or they are simply putting out Foreign Office briefings without any thought of their own. I have sent off outraged comments to the Sunday Times and the BBC, which, no doubt conscious of its charter renewal and bid for increased licence fee, now seems to say anything the government wants.

Comment on Syria has been breathtakingly stupid by and large. It is very much in the interests of America and Israel to paint Syria in the role of pantomime villain, responsible for all the evils of the region. So, unsurprisingly that is what is being put about by Bush, Rice and the truly frightful Bolton. Blair and Beckett obediently trot behind, yapping the same story. I long for someone to suggest that Syria may in fact be a large part of the Middle East's solution rather than its problem. Bashar Assad is a progressive leader trying to bring a market economy and greater democracy to this secular country. Every time he is villainised it provides succour to those people who most want him to fail - the hard-line old guard in his government, and the religious fundamentalists. That is the prospect facing Syria - going 40 years backwards, or 400 years. Neither would do anything but increase the chances of terror and war. Instead it is being backed into a corner with Iran, not a stablemate Syria is comfortable with at all these days.


At the start of the month, before the trouble broke out, we had a major launch of the project to great acclaim. An evening event in the Four Seasons hotel, attended by The First Lady and six or seven Cabinet Ministers, plus the great and good, and most importantly children, parents, teachers and families of the project team. Lots of positive media coverage, some offers of real money, and a good time was had by all. I announced our new name - Massar - about which more in a following post.


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