Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Western Blind Spots in Syria

by Ed Husain
October 17, 2011

Supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad wave flags and hold pictures of him during a rally at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus on October 12, 2011 (Khaled al-Hariri/Courtesy Reuters).

I am in London today. Syria has one ambassador in most countries, but in the UK it maintains two. The official diplomat is the chain-smoking Sami Khiyami, but the real ambassador is Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law, Fawaz Akhras—a high-profile cardiologist to many of the UK’s wealthiest people. Assad himself was partly educated in Britain. His wife, Asma, was born and raised here. She was once a J.P. Morgan banker who still maintains friends in this city. As such, the chattering classes in England feel they have special access to the latest developments in Syria.

There is a false confidence in the air here, much like in Washington, DC, but made worse in Britain by the post-imperial snobbery that somehow Brits understand the politics of the Middle East better than Americans. In London, personal ties of the Assad family to this city only add to this complex. The British rumor mill has no shortage of stories on Syria.

First, there were reports that Assad would seek political refuge in Britain within weeks. But that was before the murder of three thousand innocent people.

Second, and more recently, there were reports that Asma Assad had flown to London with her children in protest at her husband’s actions. Soon, she would seek a divorce in public.

Third, the official ambassador, Sami Khiyami, is expected to be defecting anytime soon. He is, they say, being contained by the real ambassador, the Assad father-in-law, to prevent embarrassment of the Assads back in Damascus.

What these and other sequences of hearsay (so far) tell us is that Britain is no more “in-the-know” than the United States. Both countries are operating in the dark when it comes to policy toward Syria. Syria has been, and very much remains, a private country.

For as long as the international media do not have access to developments on the ground, and cannot distinguish fact from fiction, we in the West would be mistaken to continue developing policy measures that harm Syria and Syrians (Yes, sanctions will impact ordinary people). We are putting in place a series of causes that will generate effects. I have written about this here and here. Already, Syria’s leading cleric is threatening a campaign of suicide bomb attacks against the West in our cities. If we escalate the rhetoric of conflict, they will too. It is still not too late to return to sobriety and leave Syrians alone to put their complicated, sectarian house in order.


  • Posted by ArabSpring2022

    You offer a different perspective on the situation. However, the major problem that the Syrian people are facing is that the West is turning a blind eye to the ongoing massacres in Syria, which is leaving the Western public unaware of their governments’ role in supporting the unarmed Syrian public and protecting it from such mass killings.

    The situation is horrible not just because of the brutality of Al Assad’s regime but also because of the West’s censorship that disables the reality of what’s going on from appearing on the news.

    Through only enforcing sanctions (which harms the people) and refraining from taking a solid stance against the regime, the West is consistently stating that it prefers that the Assad’s regime to remain, despite its crimes against humanity.

    Due to its proximity to Israel, the West is desperately trying to prevent the Syrian people from overthrowing the regime and becoming a stronger public, and is trying to manage that while “keeping face”.

    The Syrian people need all the help they can get, otherwise their future will be a true catastrophe.

  • Posted by Ed Jazairi

    Sir/Madam: It is getting seriousely funny but also nausiating to read and to listen to commentators of the Syrian tragedy. Some samples, The international Media is not there verify the killings. Oh, we cannot support the butchery claim because the butchers did not allow our reporters on the ground to witness the act of butchery. Yeah, right. For God sake enough with these excuses. The Syrian people are being slaughtred every day and you people are making excuses for turning your faces the other way around. How cruel, how cruel…