Out of the “yes” or “no” crowd there is still Syrian civil society

These days I can hardly open my Twitter timeline without finding almost 90% of the tweets dealing with Syria. Everybody has turned into an expert, whether on Syria or US` politics. Everybody seems to have an opinion whether it`s good or bad to bomb Syria, as the US has threatened to do.

I`m trying to stay silent in the middle of this “yes” or “no” crowd. I`m trying to stay away from commenting Syria these days, and this is not because I dont want to take a clear stance vis-a-vis the situation. Indeed, I took a clear stance more than two years ago: I was lucky enough to be in Syria when the uprising started, and feel blessed to have witnessed the beginning of a civil society-led movement asking for dignity and freedom in the most creative ways. I`m strongly against this regime which has, since day one, repressed into blood any request for change coming from the population. I also strongly oppose US led strike on Syria which is going to lead the situation into more chaos, death, violence, and civilian casualties, and eventually to a regional bloody conflict.

But I want to say loud that I`m outraged by this “yes” or “no” situation in which they have put us. I have to look either as a pro-regime or as a pro-imperialist. I am none of them. I`m sure many others feel like myself, being forced into the weird situation of having to state “yes” or “no” , “pro” or “against” something or someone.

There was a time when we tried so hard to show the world what the Syrian uprising was about. There was a time when we hosted conferences, events, public talks, exhibitions to show the world that Syria had a mature civil society that was resisting to violence in creative ways, but needed support. We went to meet up with journalists, human rights activists, academics, students, media experts, and politicians. Politicians and diplomats looked at us, us the “Syria experts” and listened to us, smiling. They took our advice, they discussed issues with us, they kept an open dialogue in order to get “updates” from civil society through us. They said it was important to have a “micro” approach, as they were too much stuck into the “macro” geopolitical picture -what Iran would do, how Turkey will respond, what Saudi Arabia thinks, and the like- , so they needed us to “stay in touch” with civil society, to understand what views were expressed on social networks, activists` groups etc etc.

We believed them and we kept organizing talks, and more talks, and more events. Myself, together with a group of Syrian and international curators, have worked hard to gather Syrian creativity and showcase it in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Milan, Vienna, everywhere. We thought this was an important thing to do, not just for the general public to admire Syrian creativity as a work of art; but to understand that it was the result of civic awareness and a will to participate into a public debate in several creative ways.

Today, a dear friend on Twitter shared this video “Creative Syrian Revolution”. Its author, Bilal Zaiter, is making an appeal on Indiegogo to raise money to make a visual book which tracks the history of the Syrian uprising and its creativity: something in order not to forget where all it started.
Yet, this broke my heart today cause we do have forgotten where it all started. When we say yes or no to intervention, when we say I am pro Assad or pro Obama, when they force us into choosing whether being a dictator-supporter or an imperialist power-supporter, we do have forgotten where it all started. We have forgotten that the most important thing is not to save Assad`s chair in name of a supposed “secularism” which he would allegedly support; nor to back Obama`s pledge to “defend humanity” just because a red-line was crossed from the US` point of view, whereas many others red lines had been crossed by this regime since long time ago. The most important thing is indeed the Syrian people, the lives of those civilians who have bravely expressed their views, and we have forgotten about them.Today we cry out our outrage for an illegitimate war which is likely  to happen: and I do it, too. But we should cry out our outrage for we have failed, we have let the Syrian people down. We have admired their works of art and resistance and civil disobedience while returning to our homes reassured, in a way, that this form of resistance would not stop. But we have done nothing to support it. We havent found any creative way to keep this creativity alive, and now this creativity has been almost killed by the “yes’ or “no” crowd.I dont want to look hopeless, although I am a bit..cause all our words and actions went in vain if they havent helped our media, politicians and public opinion to think differently about Syria. But, to those who still believe in this civil society and who are still convinced that Syria is not a “yes” or “no” situation, please do something….do something these days, urgently, to stop this war. Yes. We don`t need yet another US intervention in the region, especially if done this way. But do not only act to stop war; do act to produce a real peace which wont be the case if this regime stays and goes on with killing its own people. Mobilize your circles, make petitions to the UN, engage your politicians, do whatever you can do..but do something and remind the world that those Syrians who started the uprising as a civil society movement were imprisoned by Assad (I have many friends still held in regime`s jails..and these are not the “salafi” type, I can assure) or killed or forced into exile, and those who stayed were marginalized by the “jihadi” groups paid by foreign powers (with the US doing nothing to avoid this). Do something, whatever you can, to push our “leaders” to find a  real solution for peace, because Syria concerns all of us. If Syrian civil society dies, we also die.

From Syria to Boston..


On April 19th the little village of Kafranbel (also translitterated Kafr Nbel or Kafr Nbal), in Northen Syria, released this picture in solidarity with Boston hit by the marathon bombing. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprsing, Kafranbel has always been a creative hub for producing slogans, pictures and drawings strictly related to Syria and global events. Many of their colored protest posters can be found here and here.


(video from Kafranbel, 19-04-2013)


Today, this picture was widely shared on social networks. It`s a thank you message from Boston to Syria...


RIP Anthony Shadid

Anthony Shadid, a brave professional journalist, died yesterday in Syria. It`s another important voice who fades out in the superabundance of information and a scary lack of analysis.

I`d like to republish here what MERIP posted about him. RIP.


We at MERIP are shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of Anthony Shadid, an extraordinary reporter, wondrously talented writer, judicious analyst of Middle East affairs, warm, generous person and good friend.

In between sojourns in the Middle East, Anthony served on our editorial committee from 2000-2002. A fuller tribute will appear in the upcoming issue of Middle East Report. For now, we reproduce below the list of his writings for the magazine, including this dispatch from Iraq under UN sanctions, which demonstrates some of the reasons why his later work on that country would be nonpareil.

Our deep condolences to Anthony’s family and to his many friends and colleagues.


Daring Theater Offers Respite from Baghdad’s Misery

Anthony Shadid

Middle East Report 211 (Summer 1999)

Soon after the tattered curtains part in Baghdad’s Sheherezad Theater, a boisterous Baghdad comes to the fore.

The frenzied strains of an Iraqi pop song herald the appearance of a cross-dressing belly dancer, seductively clad women and a wiggling and jiggling government official, and suggest the presence of drink and drugs in the office of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Animal Resources. On stage come a secretary who works as a pimp, an effeminate deputy minister who loves his wine and women, and his boss, who goes nowhere without an escort of prostitutes.

The plot? Tucked in with dancing, stand-up routines and a few tortured ballads is the story — sort of — of the Kuwaiti ministry’s plan to buy an American bull for the outrageous price of $115 million to improve the gene pool of Kuwait’s livestock.

“Bye Bye America” has played to full houses during a wild run that began in November in Baghdad. Its target, obviously enough, is the Kuwaiti government, with some barbed attacks on America’s sway over the Gulf’s monarchies and potentates. The laughs, however, don’t just come at the expense of Kuwait. In other plays on the Baghdad stage, the bribes and bureaucracy that torment Iraqis are the butt of jokes, and some criticism is bolder — even shocking — the kind of stuff that would earn an editor of any staid Iraqi newspaper a stint in jail — or worse.

The plays have transformed Iraq’s once dormant theater scene into a thriving arena for artistic expression and creativity that is often daring and usually ribald. From just two playhouses a decade ago to 20 today, theater represents one of the few bright spots on Baghdad’s bleak cultural landscape. Lines from popular plays are frequently quoted in cafés, and tickets for some sold-out weekend shows can be scalped for five times the price of 1,000 Iraqi dinars (55 cents). Virtually all the productions are comedies, and therein lies their saving grace: They provide an officially sanctioned outlet for mounting frustrations. So official, in fact, that Saddam Hussein himself is said to be a patron, allocating 35 million dinars last year to help with their rather meager overhead.

The beauty of Iraq’s theater, though, goes beyond the exhilaration it brings to a city whose streets, like al-Rashid and Abu Nuwas, with their now shuttered nightclubs, were once synonymous with a capital as cosmopolitan and secular as any in the Arab world. It also evokes that free-wheeling time a generation ago when Palestinian students received scholarships to study in Iraq and Arab writers and artists fled the anarchy of Lebanon’s civil war to bring their intellectual force to a flowering Baghdad, making 1970s Iraq, for those on the “correct” side of politics, a time as nostalgic as the romanticized city of Abbasid glory.

Baghdad’s tragedy today, it seems, is not what it is but what it has become under the United Nations’ seemingly permanent sanctions. Although the material conditions of Iraq have improved under exemptions that allow the government to buy food with oil exports, the sycophancy of much of the country’s sanctioned intellectual life and, more acutely, the desolation of its cultural landscape drearily remain, mocking the oft-quoted adage that “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes and Baghdad reads.”

Dar al-Ma’moun, one of Iraq’s main publishing houses, once issued 20 titles a year. Now it produces only two, maybe three. Its 96 translators of English, French, Spanish, German and Russian have decreased to ten today. The Iraqi film industry, once a pet project of the government, has all but shut down, Iraq’s cinemas closing with it.

In this grim setting, Baghdad’s theater brings subtlety, a finesse that seems reminiscent of al-Hallaj, whose ecstatic exclamation that “I am the Truth” got him executed — actually, dismembered — in tenth-century Baghdad for blasphemy. The sophistication is all the more welcome in a city that, with its victory arches, martyrs’ memorials, and paintings of Saddam in black beret, suit and tie or kaffiya, or in Norman Rockwell-like scenes with children, is anything but subtle.

One long-running play, “A Party for a Respectful Person,” skewers an Iraqi official for obstructing access to the permits Iraqis need to travel or to sell and buy a house. The official, a director-general, usually the highest position that will come in for criticism, defines his day-to-day work with a furious style of favoritism and nepotism. The play ran for a remarkable three years.

In “Mudhouse,” a play set during the Hashemite monarchy, Iraqis are taken to prison, questioned and tortured, some emerging beaten and bruised. For the audience, it takes little imagination to place the scenes squarely in modern-day Iraq.

“Playground of the Hypocrites” takes the idea a tantalizing step further. In this play, an Iraqi is detained and politely asked by his interrogator to sit down. He is then told to confess. But, he asks, where is the boiling oil, the whips and the ceiling fan he should be hanging from? When told there’s nothing of the sort, he warns his interrogator, “They’re going to fire you!”

The writers and actors know they are on a long leash and are typically reluctant to talk about their freedom for fear of endangering it. If they do, they put it in the context of current politics, namely sanctions, the one topic anyone in Iraq can discuss.

“Life used to be much easier, and now all that is cut off,” says Sabah ‘Atwan, who finished writing “Bye Bye America” in 1993. “Iraqis feel they are suffocating with the sanctions, and the theater gives them the lungs they can breathe with.”

He makes clear, though, that the government has made a conscious decision to give Baghdad’s liveliest plays a freer reign. Or, as he put it in an interview, “The Ministry of Culture and Information doesn’t place a police officer inside the theater.”

His play is not so much subtle criticism as fast and fierce comedy, an often salacious celebration of puns, innuendo, slapstick and base humor that plays on every Iraqi stereotype of Kuwait and creates a few along the way. The Kuwaiti government spends $115 million for the American bull. To ease its transition, it allots $10 million for his housing, $10 million for food and entertainment and another lump sum for his own airplane — equipped with a swimming pool. A delegation meets him at the airport, and functionaries interview a personal Indian cook and a Chinese barber.

“We will bring cows from the Philippines, Thailand and Holland. We’ll bring them from all over to entertain the bull,” says Mr. Fouad, the minister’s secretary and pimp. Inside the office, the deputy minister drinks from a flask tucked behind his gown. He complains incessantly that Fouad will not deliver him the women he provides the minister. And he signs his papers with a thumb print because he cannot read or write. In any crisis, the minister shouts, “Call America! Call Texas! Call Washington!” At other times, he breaks into a dance.

And then there’s the fun that could implicate a government at home or abroad: One minister warns that if they do wrong, the interior minister will take them into a dark room and make them sit on a bottle. In another scene, an underling lambasts the minister behind his back, then flatters him with a kiss on the cheek.

On this evening, one of Baghdad’s frequent electricity outages cuts short the nightly performance. One of the lead actors, Muhammad Imam, soon comes on to a dark stage lit by a few candles to apologize to the audience and beg them to come another night. The audience, in turn, seems to take it in stride. There are worse things in Baghdad, they insist, than a power cut.

“It’s not their fault,” says Sattar Karim, a 37-year old Iraqi who brought his family. “It was about to end anyway.” He pauses, then adds casually: “We like to enjoy ourselves, even if it is for a short time. It’s always good to laugh.”

Also by Anthony Shadid in Middle East Report:

Lurking Insecurity: Squatters in Khartoum,” MER 216 (Fall 2000)

Nature Has No Culture: The Photographs of Abbas Kiarostami,” MER 219 (Summer 2001) (with Shiva Balaghi) (text only)

Victims of Circumstance,” MER 222 (Spring 2002)

The Shape of Afghanistan to Come,” MER 222 (Spring 2002)


How they fooled us: why (Western) leftists and capitalists were so attracted by Bashar al-Assad`s regime (Part Two)

PR groups like the D.C. based Capital Communications were in talks with the Syrian government few months before the uprising. The group chair, Akram Elias, offers Shaaban an “action plan that covers in depth the subject matter” discussed in a previous meeting. The email does not specify the topic of the conversation, but Capital Communications skills serve areas like “crisis communications and reputation management” and offer services as“how to pitch a story to the US media” for those who want to shape “effective messages”. Among its clients, the group counts many foreign governments as that of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and also Russia. Other groups that focus more on bridging the government and the private sector have tried to set their operations in Syria. N.Y. based Global Leadership Team  attempted –unsuccessfully, it seems from the email correspondence – to reach out to the presidential palace in order to host world summits on innovation and capitalism in Syria and to award first lady Asma al-Assad among “the most innovative people” in the world.

 People like Shaaban and the presidential palace`s inner circle of seemingly reform-minded folks –English-speaking, Western-educated elites that know how to impression the West by employing words as “empowerment” and “entrepreneurship” which make up the universal vocabulary of neoliberalism– have been able to seduce organizations that lie at the extreme sides of the ideological spectrum, like the World Economic Forum and Viva Palestina!.

Former British Labour Party MP George Galloway, who co-founded the latter to bring humanitarian aides and relief to Gaza`s civilian population after the 2008 Israeli attack, is a well known leftist activist. His involvement in the Palestinian cause has matched with Assad`s rhetoric of Syria being “the last Arab country” committed to the “historic endeavor” of liberating Palestine. Dubbing Assad`s Syria as the “last castle of Arab dignity” is as enormous as when he cheered Saddam Hussen with “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability” .Later, Galloway declared to have been misunderstood, as those words were addressed to the Iraqi people, not to the dictator; he might have been caught in the same kind of misunderstanding concerning Syria.

 The charm that Assad`s Syria has exercised on both world`s capitalists and leftist activists relies on an enmeshed network of privileges, personal favors, mutual benefits and exchanges, mixed with what is left of old fashioned anti imperialist ideology. Here, the seemingly-opposites coincide. This clever mix of neoliberalism and anti-imperialism rhetoric is cultivated by the presidential palace and pushed forward in the public space of media by its unofficial spokespersons. Deemed respectable and enlightened by Western media, companies, governments “these people speak the same language we do” –as a Western diplomat once told me–. The editor in chief of the Syrian Forward magazine, Sami Moubayed, is one of them. His articles on the Syrian uprising give a sense of his skills in eschewing regime rhetoric while remaining committed to the palace`s seemingly reformist project. This might be the reason why Moubayed is able to appeal an edgy US publication as the Huffington Post; as much as he is able to get invited to dinner by Turkish ambassador in Syria and be hinted as the person who should write “to express the Syrian position” on Turkish press.

Last spring, Moubayed had proposed the palace to “solve what is happening on the streets in an artistic way” and push forward a “third view”  between the official regime position and the people`s. This project — the TV series “Fawq al-saqf” (Above the ceiling)— failed dramatically, as it never reached audience success and was stopped after its 15th episode in Ramadan 2011 . The same seems to happen now to these West-appealing elites sitting at the palace, whose reform-minded project is proving to be just a media project, not even a well marketed one anymore.

2011: Year of the Protester

Since this is the last post of 2011, I`d like to take few minutes to say goodbye to an year that has been truly amazing (sometimes in a scary way, too).

Most of the things I thought would be very unlike actually happened in 2011, the good and the bad things. When I first got an sms by a Tunisian friend last 14 January 2011 I could not believe what I saw on the mobile screen: we, the Tunisian people, are going to celebrate tonight for the dictator is gone.

credit: Time.com

I screamed and cried when I saw my computer screen streaming pure live joy from Tahrir square in Egypt, on February 11th cause another dictator was gone.

I walked the streets of my dear Damascus last February, curious to see what would happen in the Syrian days of rage and saw nothing. Yet, only few days later, and few meters away from my house, I saw a spontaneous explosion of anger, a protest for dignity called by real streets and not by Facebook. Then, again, as unexpected as that one, another unexpected thing happened, again near my house, again in Old Damascus. It was the 15th of March, and people said Syrian revolution was beginning.

I dont believe in slogans and in Internet calls for revolutions, but what I saw was the street revolting, real people being hurt, not avatars.

Since then, Syria has never been the same. People are still fighting for their freedom and dignity, in many ways, the most unexpected, the most creative, the bravest.

illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

And then Libyans won their fight against Gheddafi and started to rebuild their country. The brave people of Yemen have been hitting the streets since January and are still there. A tough crackdown on Bahrain and the silence of international community have not stopped the people from asking their rights to freedom and equality. Women have been driving change in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwaitis have occupied their Parliament to demand reforms and an end to corruption.

And then Jordan, Morocco, Algeria. And Palestine, of course, always in our hearts.

The most amazing thing is that Europe for the first time took the energy out of the Arabs and shouted. Spain has been leading with the indignados. In my home country the situation is different, and I wish I could tell you we the people ousted Berlusconi -and not the international finance-. But we occupied public spaces and gave them back to the citizens. And we still have our jewel up working, Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, where a new form of collaborative art and culture has born, and more to come.

There is something I will always remember of this almost gone 2011. When I was in DC, a month ago, at the #occupyDC camp, a blond haired guy told me, proud of himself: “I do not fear teargas: I am Egyptian”. So I answered in Arabic and I was surprised to hear that he didnt speak any. Then I discovered he was not even of Arab origin. He was just pretending to be an Egyptian, this guy, a W.a.s.p. American!

This solidarity, this empathy, this brotherhood I saw throughout the world, from the Arab Springs to the #occupy movement to the indignados, is the hope I want to take with me in 2012, despite all the bad things still happening and yet to happen.

 Kull 3amm w entu be kheir.

illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

Charlie Hebdo, another “Danish cartoon crisis”

After Nessma TV provoking the rage of some Muslisms by showing a scene of Persepolis movie where God is represented, now it`s the turn of France to repeat the “Danish cartoon crisis” again.

French weekly satire magazine Charlie Hebdo`s Paris office has been hit by a molotov cocktail bomb. Two days ago, the French publication announced it was preparing a special issue called “Charia hebbo (a linguistic game between the name of the magazine and the Islamic law sharia which French people transliterate from Arabic as charia) “supervised” by Prophet Mohammed as “editor in chief”  . The current issue features in the front cover a caricature of Prophet Mohammed saying ” a hundred lashes if you don`t die laughing”. Inside the magazine, there is an “editorial by Mohammed”  titled “Halal aperitif”, an insert titled “Charia Madame”  and the last page shows the Prophet again. This time he wears a red nose as a clown and says “Yes, Islam is compatible with humor”.

The special issue is a reaction to the recent success of Tunisian Islamist party, Ennahdha, few days ago at the first elections held in free Tunisia. The electoral victory of Ennahdha has scared many, especially in France, the traditional “patron” of Tunisia`s political and social life and the most concerned (I would rather say obsessed) country in the world by the idea of laicite`.

It is such a paradox, with all the relevant issues that we could discuss in such a troubled period for the world, to come back again to the “star wars” battle between “freedom of expression” and “respect of religion“. Frankly, I believe the two things are not to be put in opposition. Freedom of expression does not manifest itself by offending others` beliefs. Frankly, it is so easy to provoke in such a stupid way, to attract viewers, readers, or simply to throw dust in the eyes of people while there are so many important issues to be explored. I dont want to defend the people who have thrown the molotov bomb onto Charlie Hebdo`s office. But I dont want to defend such a meaningless move by Charlie Hebdo, either. I hope the “media hype” on this issue will calm down soon and we wont have another “Danish cartoon crisis” which we really do not need, now more than ever.

I just want to raise a point. While France and the French media are so busy defending “freedom of expression” and “laicite” in the Tunisian case, I suspect that the real reason of this “much ado about nothing” is that France fears loosing control over a country which has always been under the republique`s cultural protectorate, even under Ben Ali. While the victory of Ennahdha scares France and pushes all its media establishment to raise the “Islamic” fear vis-a-vis this new Tunisia, somebody else is already doing business with “Islamists”.

The US has already announced “investments” and “commercial operations” to start in the new democratic Tunisia next week.“We will work with Tunisian government regardless of its composition”, they have underlined. And the Obama-sponsored US-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) is already at work to exploit business opportunities in the Maghreb area, starting with the new Tunisia.

The US prefers to shut up on “Islamic fears” and not to start a crusade to defend the laicite`. They prefer to do business, establish relations, partnerships, move the economy forward. With the new Islamic majority.

It has been a while that the new American project vis-a`-vis the Middle East has become evident: accepting the “moderate Islam” and building alliances with it. The fact that Europe -and, first of all, France– that is closer to the Arab world and has strong historical and cultural -together with of course commercial- ties with it, has not elaborated a plan is a bit weird. We continue defending abstract concepts as “laicite”, and we dont act. We go on defending principles, but we do nothing to affirm these principles in practise.

If we care about the “laicite”, if we care about freedom of expression, about helping to build civil societies and secular states in the Arab world, then it would be better to start doing serious stuff and elaborate a serious strategy, instead of writing useless editorials to raise media hype and dust in people`s eyes.

The Wadah Khanfar`s file part two

Since Wadah Khanfar stepped down from his position at Al Jazeera network few days ago, lots of speculation have  been going on.

I`ve got lots of emails and questions from friends, colleagues and readers of this blog.

…Why he stepped down, what`s the real story behind?

Of course I`m not aware of the real reason behind this move which left everybody with great surprise, happening just few months before the 15th birthday of the channel (had it been just a “normal” resignation, I dont think it would have occurred only few months before the biggest event planned this year, the celebration of Al Jazeera`s anniversary. That would have been simply more logic and logistically better to have the big boss leaving after, I guess..).

But I`m pretty sure about the reasons which did not play an important role in Khanfar`s resignation.

He did not leave the network because of the Wikileaks affair. The US has never been the real “enemy” for Al Jazeera but a great media story, the giant super power fighting the small channel which eventually wins and gets bigger and bigger. It has been like that since the very beginning.

While Al Jazeera was denouncing the US-led occupation war to Iraq in 2003, it was exactly from Qatar that this war was being initiated and the warplanes sent.

Officially, there are endless disputes between the US administration (much more on the Bush old one, of course) and Al Jazeera.

Under the table, US and Qatar are such best friends, and have been like that for many years. There is an agreement between the two countries, and being Al Jazeera the biggest diplomatic weapon in the hands of Qatar, it can not be out of the deal.

If Al Jazeera pulls its arrows against the US and its policies towards the Middle East, this does not change the fact that we are speaking about media arrows only.  It is a cosmetic battle, fought according the rules of media, not according the rules of politics.

To prove this, it would be enough to read the following piece, which was out few days ago on Kuwait News Agency Kuna. “US officials praise Qatar leadership in Mideast” , it titles.

The article tells about a side meeting between US  State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad  bin Khalifa al Thani which occured on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York.

The top issues being discussed during the meeting would have been Libya and Syria. Concerning the latter, a senior US official quoted in the same article by Kuna -but without giving his name- would have said that:

” ..given that Qatar has had a long relationship with Syria, the Secretary also raised our concerns with Syria with the Emir, because the Emir is able to talk to Syria in a different way than we’re able to talk to the Syrians”.

“They compared notes on how the region and the international community can, again, work together to push back against the type of killing and atrocities you see taking place in Syria, and to show support for the struggle of the Syrian people for dignity, freedom, and to participate in how they are governed”.

So what does this article tell us about Khanfar`s resignation?

First, that US-Qatari relations are excellent, so Wikileaks is just a media hype which doesnt ruin the ongoing honeymoon between the two countries.

Second, Qatar is the country to talk to when it comes to the Arab springs and the new Arab world map. The US acknowledges it, by holding separate talks with the Emir at the UN meeting. Indeed, Khanfar has indirectly participated in building this international reputation of Qatar, where Al Jazeera stands as a key diplomatic weapon in the hands of the Emir. And it was under Khanfar`s management that Al Jazeera became the “revolutionary network par excellence”. It was under his visionary leadership that it entered the new media space, becoming the “coolest” broadcast brand on the Internet, enjoying an extraordinary presence in social networks and social media domains. It was under Khanfar`s leadership that the network finally achieved a reputation as a global player even in the US (remember the  success of the “Demand Al Jazeera” campaign).

Third, Syria. This is probably the most obscure point, where Khanfar`s resignation becomes eventually tied to a sort of “political deal”.

the Emir is able to talk to Syria in a different way than we’re able to talk to the Syrians”, says the anonymous US senior official quoted by the Kuna article.

He is right. There is a special relation which ties Qatar and Syria, and this is not only made by the financial ties and investments that were bounding the two countries before the Syrian uprising started last March.

The Qatari royal family has bought lands and castles in Syria, not only for investment reasons and not in the same way they buy land in Switzerland.

There are historical ties which bound the Bin Tamim tribe (from which the Qatar royal family Al Thani descends) and Syria.

A musalsal financed last year by Qatar and produced by the Syrian company SAPI (tied to Dunyia TV channel) celebrated this bound through an historical figure, Al Qa`qa bin Al Tamimi, who is an hero of the Islamic history and an ancestor of the Al Thani family (one of Sheikh Hamad al Thani youngest sons` name is Al Qa`qa..not  by chance).

So Qatar and Syria are historically related. Qatar royal family feels this emotional bound, even before the financial ties. It is clear that Sheikh Hamad knows how to talk to Syrians in a way that nobody else knows, as the US senior official points out in Kuna`s article.

But so far none of the Qatari offers to Syria has worked. Few days ago, an article by Boutheina Shaaban`s close friend Sami Moubayed was titled: “An offer that Syria shouldn`t have refused” . He precisely refers to the “offer” that was made through Qatar. Moubayed calls it “the brainchild of Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah al Thani, once a close friend of Damascus”.

He calls it a “golden opportunity” but stresses on the fact that Syrians should have taken it and re-brand it as “Syrian initiative“, which would be a “win-win formula both for the Syrian government and for the Syrian street”.

So far, Syria has not jumped on it “precisely because of the Qatari connection”, says Moubayed and adds “the Syrians would not accept it as it stands”.

Rumors have been circulating that Turkey and Qatar are still at negotiations with Syria to stop the violence, and Khanfar`s head might have been part of the deal. In this scenario, probably a Qatari member of the al-Thani family would know much better than a Palestinian born which tribal ties bound Syria and Qatar. Khanfar`s head would have been a sacrifice paid as part of the negotiations with Syria.

This might be just another  “conspiracy theory” coming from the Arabs. It might be a good one though, which takes into account the historical ties between Qatar and Syria and puts the latter in a different, more privileged position vis-a-vis the “revolutionary movement” openly supported by Al Jazeera -and deeply backed by Qatar,too, although in a less direct way-.

This might also match with the “new” Al Jazeera grid that started few weeks ago. An “old new” grid that has been restored after months and months of revolutions-only coverage. Since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution in fact, Khanfar had stopped the normal flow of programs and talk shows in Al Jazeera Arabic and devoted 24 hours coverage to the revolutions. The few programs going on were in any case related to the revolutions –“Hadith at-thawra” and “Iqtisad at’thawra”-. 

Al Jazeera Arabic grid has been a “revolutionary grid” till few weeks ago, when we saw the “old new” programs, like Faisal al Qasem`s show “al Ittijah al moakis” coming back on air weekly. This might be a clear signal of the end of the strictly “revolutionary” period in Al Jazeera Arabic.

This might mean that, after the fall of Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya regimes, all the other ongoing revolutions -Bahrain, Yemen and, of course, Syria- will be dealt in a different way. As a part of the “normal” flow of information, not as a “cause”.

All this might reasonably be true.

But there is something I also know about the history of Al Jazeera, since the very first time I visited the station in early 2000s.

First, the choice of this new director might be a temporary choice, him being just an “interim” director before another one comes into the scene.

Second, Al Jazeera is a “brand”,  a “philosophy” which is bigger than those who lead the network. The journalists who stay will make sure that “the opinion and counter opinion” is preserved, in different ways, of course, but I`m sure the general philosophy will stay.

Third, the Emir of Qatar is  too smart to put somebody from the royal family at the top of Al Jazeera just to strengthen his control over the network. He is much more sophisticated than this. His diplomatic strategy over the past years has been sophisticated,too  and, if Khanfar`s resignation has anything to do with Qatar foreign policy -or with the Syria issue- this will be a clever move. Can`t be such a plain thing as achieving a more direct control over the network by putting there a member of the Al Thani family.

And Khanfar will find another place where to exercise his talent. In the past few years, he has proven to be a clever manager, not a clever Arab manager.

The doors of global networks should be wide open to him.


Two bedtime stories

Sometime little miracles happen and I would like to share two stories that I`ve collected these days.

Few days ago I got an email from Cindy, one of my blog readers that I have never met. It was also the first time she wrote directly to me, asking for some more thoughts on “how women will be effected by this uprising“. I`ve immediately thought to address her to the work of my friend Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist based in NY who is one of the most thoughtful person I know on this issue.

That very day Mona appeared on the media talking exactly about women and the Egyptian uprising, so I forwarded Cindy the link which Mona sent through Twitter.

Then I sent her this beautiful poster whose original author I ignore but it has been circulating on Twitter for a while and it`s a symbolic statement of the women`s role in #Jan25 #TahrirSquare protests.

I`ve just found in my mailbox an update from Cindy, where she tells me about a 200 people march to support Egypt that took place today in Portland, Oregon.

She sent me some beautiful pictures of the march and concluded :“Hope the Egyptian people know that there are lots of American’s who support them 100% in their fight to oust Mubarak”.

Then I`ve discovered “my 73 year old father at Tahrir” through my Bahraini friend Amira Al Husseini who works for Global Voices and who`s on Twitter 24 hrs a day to help Egyptian activists to cover the uprising.

Amira has reported about the story of Nadia el Awady and her father, a 73 years old father who is a bearded conservative Muslism. Nevertheless he wanted to be brought out at Tahrir Square to join the protests and attend a Coptic mass celebration.

picture by @NadiaE

You have to read the all article which is such a moving story. In one of her tweets, Nada says:

@NadiaE: dad talked to family and said: I’ve seen 3 Egyptian flags in my time. This 4th will say freedom, justice, equality

Despite what many want us to believe, there`s still room in this world for dialogue and mutual understanding, for messages of peace and solidarity that cross the world from the US to Egypt, from Christians to Muslims.