The Blogging Association of Syria
I met with the Association of Syrian Bloggers last night at Leila's Cafe next to the Umayyad Mosque. What a truly wonderful crowd. Ten bloggers showed up. Ayman Haykal, who keeps the Damascene Blog, is the organizer of the association. (His site lists most of the blogs.) Two women bloggers were among the 10 who showed up; most are university students and write in English because of a few technical difficulties caused by writing in Arabic. It seems they are easy to overcome, so we can expect more Arabic blogs quickly.
There were a mere 5 blogs or so in Syria at the beginning of 2005. Now there are some 34 or 35. "A veritable blog explosion is going on," Ayman announced. All the same everyone was dismayed at the small number of Syrian blogs. "It is because we are afraid of the written word," one explained. "We base our blogs around photos. They can say a lot." We spoke about many subjects: Syrian identity, Arab nationalism, democracy, US policy, and, of course blogging as it related to each. Almost everyone said he was optimistic about Syria's future and believes the country is changing quickly and for the better.
It was one of those evenings that make you feel good to be alive. Leila’s cafe is on the roof of one of tallest buildings crouching up next to the Umayyad mosque. We had a view of the entire old city. A cool breeze was coming off Casioun Mountain, the swallows were swooping around the minaret of the mosque and countless ovals of pigeons circled in the distance, following the urgings of unseen keepers. As dusk slipped down over the city lighting up the green minarets sprinkled to the horizon, all was well in blogger world.
Ayman and I will give a lecture on "Blogging in Syria" at the US cultural center, which is near the embassy on Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30. Everyone is invited. It will be short with question an answers.
Tom Spender wrote an excellent article for the Christian Science Monitor on how Damascus is becoming "A new 'Mecca of Arabic studies." It is used in an al-Hayat article by Jihad al-Khazin on the same subject in Arabic here. (I am quoted; you are warned - vanity)
Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent of the Washington Post, is in town for a few weeks and has written a fine article on the reforms expected from up-coming Baath Party congress Syria Heralds Reforms, But Many Have Doubts Party Weighs Gradual Moves Toward Democracy. Ammar Abdulhamid says we should expect nothing. Others see some light coming from the conference, but not enough. The positive remarks are from those who see reform as a long slow process.
SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN of the Times has also written an interesting article on reform: "Assad: Syria's man in hot seat." The most memorable quote is by Samir al-Taqqi:
"Six months ago, you could have said Bashar is not a power generator, he's an intersection of power," says Dr. Samir Altaqi, an adviser to the government. "Then he began to interfere directly and decide many things."Flynt Leverett has an interesting interview with Rami Khoury of the Daily Star: "Syria must speed reforms to thwart outside pressure."
Hizbullah's Sheik Muhammad Kawtharani answers some important questions about his party's participation in Lebanese politics in a question and answer article, also by Martin in the "Times." (Thanks Tony)
Related is Patrick Seale's article: "A new struggle for Syria is in the making." about Leverett's new book. He writes: "For Syria's main enemies in Washington, forcing Syrian troops out of Lebanon was only a means to an end. The real objective was the destabilization of Syria itself as a step toward the overthrow of the regime."