The Series of Syrian Pictures |
Al Hayat - 01 August, 2012
Author: Ghassan Charbel
I saw the picture of Walid al-Moallem with Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran. Before it, I saw the pictures of the vacant Syrian seat at the meetings of the Arab League.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Today, the old pictures that were both possible and promising, the day they were taken, are impossible. I am talking about the pictures which made Syria a player, not a playground. But analyzing the pictures taken in the recent past may help explain the dismal present.
Turkish-Syrian relations were once strong, warm and intimate. President Bashar al-Assad personally drove his car with Erdogan by his side, touring the streets of Damascus and discussing bilateral, Arab and international affairs that no one witnessed except the interpreter.
Their personal and political relationship went very far. In the summer of 2008, Assad and his family spent a family holiday with Erdogan and his wife in the coastal city of Bodrum in Turkey. A year later, they put their initials on a strategic cooperation agreement, during an iftar in Istanbul. And two months after that, Walid Moallem and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu lifted the barriers across their countries’ borders, after they agreed to abolish visa requirements between the two countries.
On December 23, Erdgoan almost caused a major coup in the region. He received then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with Davutoglu present. The aim of the meeting was nothing less than bringing about a Syrian-Israeli agreement. During the six-hour meeting, Erdogan would go to the office next door and contact Assad, and then return to settle the dispute over certain words. Olmert promised to get the approval of his cabinet, but when he returned home, he launched the war on Gaza, and the entire project collapsed.
Other pictures are still fresh in memory. These include the picture of Assad, Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus in February, 2010, which paved the way for another: that of Assad, Erdogan and the Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in Istanbul the following May. What is common between the two pictures is Assad. So was it a race between two pictures that reflected the competition over Syria? Or was it that Damascus wanted to compensate for the previous picture by taking a different one, to say that its policy was not hostage to the first picture?
The Syrian-Qatari honeymoon lasted for a while, too. With Turkey’s help, Qatar played a role in returning Syria to the international community. There is another important picture in this context: The whole world saw Assad when he was French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s guest in the celebrations of July 14. That picture turned the page on Damascus’s isolation, following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Qatari-Syrian relations were strong and warm. There were tours in the presidential car in Damascus, and family holidays on the coast. There were investments and mediations. Here, too, there is another relevant picture: That of the Lebanese politicians gathering around the Emir of Qatar the day General Michel Suleiman was elected president, just like they had once stood around King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz in al-Taef. In politics, it is hard to accuse some pictures of being innocent.
The past years in Syria were rich in such pictures, lest we forget the reconciliation initiative launched by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at the Kuwait summit in 2009, and the Saudi-Kuwaiti-Syrian-Egyptian summit held two months later in Riyadh - followed by Assad’s participation in the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Riyadh.
There is an even more impactful picture. In July 2010, King Abdullah visited Damascus, and escorted Assad to the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, where the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sat down next to the Syrian president. Before that, Hariri had entered the series of Syrian pictures, after many entreaties and pressures. On December 19, 2009, Assad received the Lebanese Prime Minister, who was Saad Hariri. The two men made an exceptional effort to suggest that their handshake meant reconciliation. Only the subsequent months revealed that there was no love lost between the two men in the talks and the visits.
In October 2010, Assad drove an Iranian-made car in Tehran, and went on a tour with Ahmadinejad.
The race between these pictures was tough and long. Some of those who appeared in them wanted Syria to move away, even if slightly, from the Iranian program in the region. The others wanted Syria to become further entrenched in the pro-resistance axis.
With the eruption of the Syrian uprising, the majority of the old pictures were rendered impossible. Syria entered the phase of the picture of the vacant seat, and of Moallem in Tehran.