Friday, March 16, 2012

Some thoughts on the British Syrian Society

I've been going through the so-called Assad emails, and I still haven't seen anything that would make me suspect their authenticity. Interestingly, the emails seem to show an informal network of confidantes to the Syrian presidency that are keen to support and advise it. The Syrian regime's image in the West over the past five or so years has been carefully polished by a network of business people, advisers, spin-doctors and other types who have been networking their way throughout Western Europe and North America. Not surprisingly, the British Syrian Society had been a group I have long suspected of being affiliated with the regime. Here is a very interesting e-mail that caught my attention a few days ago:

Subject: Fwd: Strictly Private and Confidential
From: Fawaz Akhras 
Date: 23/06/2011 12:47 _
To: A 
Love u xxx
Sent from my iPhone

Begin forwarded message:
From: "Wafic Said" 
Date: 23 June 2011 08:28:47 GMT+01:00
Subject: Strictly Private and Confidential

Strictly private and Confidential

My dear Fawaz

Thank you for your email about next week's BSS meeting. I know that
this is an extremely important meeting but unfortunately I cannot
attend as I shall be in Turkey with my family for a long standing
commitment which I cannot change.

Our Society is facing a very difficult and delicate situation. We
have to be sympathetic to the concerns of all our Members and in
particular the British ones. They have served us well and we should
make them comfortable by trying to understand their position - it is
sad because I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. The
current situation in Syria is simply unacceptable and the continuing
killings and violence are indefensible. It is a fact that, in the
circumstances, the BSS cannot fulfil its mission and I believe that
there is little the Society can do for the foreseeable future. Our
position has become untenable and unfortunately our Society will be
dormant for a long period.

I have to say that I would myself have resigned had you not been our
chairman because you are my dear friend and I do not want to put you
in any way in an awkward or embarrassing position.

I hope you will understand how very sad it makes me to be writing
like this. I have always been so proud to be a director of the BSS
and of our achievements under your leadership. It has been a
pleasure working with you and Ghayth and our other directors and
members to advance relations between Britain and our beloved country
and I hope that one day we will be able to do so again.

With warm wishes
The above is an e-mail allegedly forwarded to Bashar al Assad from his father-in-law. It's from a business man called Wafic Said. Wafic says it has been a pleasure for him to work with Fawaz al Akhras and a person called Ghayth, who is probably Ghayth Armanazi, one of the other directors of the society. I remember attending a talk at SOAS by Ray Hinnebusch a few years ago about Syria and when I asked Hinnebusch a question about the regime, I recall the Syrian Ambassador, Sami Khiyami, gesticulating quite clearly to Ghayth to make a note of my name. I also recall that at the talk there was a Syrian 'journalist', whose name I cannot recall, who was very arrogant and stuck up when I spoke to him. He, the ambassador and Mr Armanazi were all talking about grabbing dinner afterwards, and it seemed very much like an 'old boys club' of some sort. I left that talk feeling distinctly uneasy and ever since then I have viewed that society with some suspicion.

Only recently, a member of the British Syrian Society, Ammar Waqqaf, seemed to take it upon himself to present what he thinks is the regime's point of view at the Frontline Club. Time and again, I've seen the members of this society treading a fine line between lobbying and outright support for this regime. However, this latest email by Wafic Said registers some of the displeasure and deep unease that the members of the society have felt towards the killing in Syria. This is probably one of the few emails which hints at discord between the ranks of the Syrian regime's network of business people and supporters in London that have quietly been trying to project the regime's version of events amongst key decision makers in the United Kingdom. This is also the first time I've read anything hinting at the regime's violence in Syria within the Assad emails. Most of the other messages do not deny or affirm that the regime is behind the violence, and instead speak of the situation in Syria like some crisis to be navigated through, and how best to do so.

In terms of the value of these messages, the leaked Assad emails seem to give as much insight into the mentality of the regime's hardcore supporters as it does to Assad's.

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