The Syrian Marco Polo

Washington, DC - The Syrian revolution has further validated a number of issues to the general public. First, it is now clear that the Assad regime is indeed susceptible to the winds of change sweeping the area, and second, and more importantly, that the president’s personal email account is not immune to the hackers who exposed Assad’s insensitive and delusional attitude toward the plight of his people. However, while the general public was busy following up on the content of Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s somewhat corny emails, including the famous picture of a half-naked young lady, people seemed to have missed an equally sinister show of callousness by Bashar’s ambassador, the infamous Imad Moustapha. While Assad’s emails and that of his family, it can be argued, are of a private nature and that even a ruthless dictator is entitled to a sense of privacy, the same cannot be said about Moustapha’s blogging activities.

Moustapha, former ambassador to the United States, has recently taken up his new post as Assad’s delegate to China, or, in the words of Moustapha himself, he has embarked on a fresh start in the middle kingdom.

Perhaps this new start is a much-needed departure from his less-than-favorable run from 2004 to 2011 in Washington DC, where he had to duke it out with the Bush administration first, and then with the Obama crowd, as he tried to underscore the importance of his regime in peddling security in the region, be it in Iraq or in Lebanon. Throughout his US mission, Moustapha used his blog to portray an image of himself as a renaissance man who transcends the petty politics of Capitol Hill and enjoys philosophy and the classics by including the works of both up-and-coming and renowned Syrian artists, painters and musicians. Moustapha also arrogantly posted pictures showing him hosting a number of Assad apologists who defended Bashar in the US media and on the pulpits of a number of leading American think tanks.

Despite all his futile attempts to achieve the above, Moustapha was not able, to say the least, to win the hearts and minds of many of the people around him, especially the Syrian community in the US, many of whom recall him with bitterness. His final departing gift to his expats in the US was his implication in an espionage plot involving tracking the activities of Syrian opposition figures in America, which ended with Mohammad Soueid being charged for spying for the Syrian moukhbarat, while Moustapha escaped by hiding behind his diplomatic immunity.

I personally had the chance to listen to Moustapha speak on a number of occasions, the latest being when he was invited by my Georgetown professor to speak in our Lebanese and Syrian politics class two years ago. Accompanied by his wife, or, as he likes to call her, “boss,” Moustapha tried to convince a room of graduate students that the media has given Syria a bad reputation and that as responsible, educated individuals we should practice sound judgment in approaching the thorny region of the Middle East.

Following Moustapha’s advice, I recently reviewed his latest blog entries. Moustapha, who had resumed blogging after a six-month break, makes no reference whatsoever to the carnage (or, to use his regime’s terms, “the crisis”) taking place in his country.

Instead, Moustapha, the Syrian Marco Polo, reports about his fascination with Beijing and how his new residence is in the fanciest part of the city. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, around the same time the Baba Amr butchery was being perpetrated by Assad’s cronies, Moustapha found it appropriate to post a fairly long entry about the joys of learning the Chinese language and calligraphy. Perhaps this penmanship could come in handy if he decides to teach the regime’s hooligans how to properly carve out the name of Bashar al-Assad on the bodies of their torture victims
Even when Moustapha chose to acknowledge the so-called Syrian “events” back in August, he ran to the writings of the eighth century Arab philosopher Al-Kindi for “solace,” as he so eloquently put it. Although he dedicated this entry to the martyrs of Daraa, his only justification for his silence over the butchery was to quote the philosopher’s On Dispelling Sadness. “That for us not be overwhelmed by misery, we must only value that which is within our means and under our control.”

To be realistic, nobody expected Moustapha to jump ship and join the ranks of the Syrian opposition, but at least what was expected of the self-styled intellectual-turned-explorer was to be less egocentric and perhaps call for an immediate cessation of the violence and a return to the rule of law.
Assad’s diplomats and their entourage can continue to quote the poetry of Nizar Qabbani or the works of Al-Kindi, but the reality of the matter remains that a fabricated sense of cultural sophistication cannot hide the fact that people like Imad Moustapha are collaborators in the massacre of their own people. But perhaps we should not ask for more from the Assad regime, because diplomats like Imad Moustapha are not modern-day Marco Polos, and Bashar al-Assad is certainly no Doge of Venice.

Makram Rabah is a PhD candidate at Georgetown University's history department. Rabah is the author of "A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut 1967-1975."

  • ali daoud

    i bet you don`t make a difference between a fact and an opinion!!!! Der Spiegel, as all other media channels, sometimes publishes information leaked from an intelligence source without even getting assurances that the info is accurate or not, that is the case with most of the intelligence information those papers publish, that is one story. however, here comes the other story ya batal, when Der Spiegel publishes an interview which the paper itself has made with a syrian terrorist or militant or other, that interview is not leaked or proposed or made by any intelligence source, that interview was made by the paper itself thorugh its own reporters who went to the mentioned hospital and who talked to those syrian terrorists. so, one may agree or disagree, one may trust or not trust all those reports that depend on intelligence reports, however, one cannot but trust when Der Spiegel makes the interview and let the terrorists themselves talk of their own crimes and atrocities in syria.

    April 20, 2012

  • ali daoud

    for all those claiming Bashar is committing crimes against his own people i say, in case your claim is true (which i don`t believe it is), then is your terrorist opposition any better?!!! do you deny that your terrorist syrian opposition has committed enormous crimes against innocent civilians? do you deny what we all read in Der Schpiegel where those syrian terrorists lying in Tripoli`s hospitals admitted that they personally slaughtered syrian civilians because they were Assad supporters?!!! they slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians, they raped women and they considered it their right because those women were "ghaneemat 7arb" in the terrorists beliefs. do you guys deny that those terrorist opposition groups have forced people out of their villages because they were Assad supporters? do you deny those terrorists have sent car bombs to civilian areas? do you deny those terrorists include militias from Libya and Sudan and Afghanistan and Lebanon? how shameful!

    April 17, 2012

  • Dima

    No comment...just look at his vicious look and your will know who he really is and what kind of regime he supports and represents. Shameful!

    April 17, 2012

  • Rima

    Imad Moustapha is a dirty criminal supporting the most vicious dictatorship in the world. Associates himself with Assad like personalities or criminals like him...here are names of his close allies: Dima Orsho, Samer Masri, Kinan Azmeh, Rami Akhras, Assad Jibara, Safa Rifka and Rima Azmeh to name a few. We are working to put you on trial for crimes against humanity committed by you and your regime of Bashar Al Assad. Very soon...so get ready!

    April 17, 2012

  • Michael USAl

    This is the man who stated "Do we have to gather the security council everytime a dog dies in Lebanon" on the eve of Gibran Twayni assasination. Imad Mustapha, your day is coming

    April 17, 2012

  • hanibal mahdi

    This so called Marco-Polo, just a small man learned a few "intellectual" words, read and memorized some fancy sentences. But the truth, he organized pro-assad demonstration in washington d.c while he wrote on his webpage something about Daraa. He called everyone a traitor, but his supporter. He is just a different face to Mukhabarat. He is more dangerous, because he can fool people.

    April 16, 2012