Syria

Gideon Rachman

Simply by coming to the World Economic Forum, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is sending a message. He is the first Iranian president to have spoken in Davos for a decade. In a public speech at the forum and in private meetings with journalists, the president has sought to present a smiling and conciliatory face.

Certainly his personal style is a marked contrast to that of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, his predecessor. While Ahmadi-Nejad was all staring eyes and confrontation, Rouhani has a ready laugh and listens carefully to questions. 

David Gardner

Anyone who thought references to the Assads’ “killing machine” in Syria’s civil war was hyperbolic metaphor should read a horrendously literal report that has just surfaced, detailing the “industrial scale” killing of about 11,000 detainees in the regime’s dungeons. It provides harrowing confirmation of what organisations from the UN to Human Rights Watch had partially documented: the systematic liquidation, usually by or after torture, of those who question or combat the Assad tyranny.

The report is based largely on evidence assembled and smuggled out on a memory stick by a Syrian military policeman, codenamed Caesar to protect him and his family from reprisals, whose job it was to photograph the dead bodies, often up to 50 a day. The evidence has been examined by lead prosecutors for the war crimes tribunals of Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and top international forensics experts, commissioned by a London law firm on behalf of Qatar, which has been a leading supporter of Syria’s rebels. They found it to be credible evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that would stand up in a court of law. 

By Richard McGregor in Washington

After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.

“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.

 

♦ Borzou Daragahi on how the excesses of the extremist group Isis – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – have sparked an armed rebellion against it in its northern Syria stronghold.

♦ Jamil Anderlini argues that modern China needs to set up its own House of Lords to improve governance.

♦ In a world with more inherited riches, it makes no sense to cut estate taxes, writes Robin Harding.

♦ A handwritten poster at a Seoul university has struck a nerve, prompting a wave of copycat banners airing grievances across South Korea. Young-Ha Kim explains the craze in The New York Times.

♦ Bangladesh’s leaders must deliver on the most basic promises of democracy – or they will prove Henry Kissinger right, says Tahmima Anam in The Guardian. 

Gideon Rachman

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: 

David Gardner

Scene of the huge car bomb explosion that rocked central Beirut, killing Mohamed Chatah and at least four others on December 27, 2013 (Getty)

The bombing in the heart of Beirut on Friday morning, which killed leading Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, was no random terror attack or communal reprisal. It was a targeted assassination, which would have required careful reconnaissance, detailed intelligence, and complex logistics.

The blast that destroyed Chatah’s car, leaving little but shredded metal and a torn vehicle license that identified its owner, took place not very far from where Rafik Hariri, former prime minister and the towering figure of modern Lebanon, was assassinated by a vast bomb in February 2005

Gideon Rachman

The death of Abbas Khan in Syria reminds me of Stalin’s infamous quote that – “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” As the war in Syria has dragged on, the world has become almost inured to the horrors there. Back in June, the UN reported that the death toll in the conflict was nearing 100,000 – it has certainly risen above that since then. Millions have been turned into refugees. Yet, sometimes, it takes a single story to remind one of the horrors that are taking place. The death of Abbas Khan is one such story. 

A suburb of Damascus after it was recaptured by regime forces (Getty)

On a recent trip to Damascus, an acquaintance surprised me by announcing his plans to leave the country. Concerned friends have been trying to get him to move to Lebanon for the past two years, but he always refused. Like many Syrians, he felt that even with a civil war raging, Damascus had a soulfulness and integrity that Beirut lacks. Now he’s had enough.

“Its not the shelling,” he explained. “It’s the greed.” 

• After meeting Hossein Shariatmadari, editor and commentator of Iran’s hardline Kayhan newspaper, the FT’s editor Lionel Barber says the conversation was a reminder that not all Iranians want a nuclear deal and that Iran’s “fractious relationship” with the rest of the world may not be about to end.

• An EU’s “Eastern Partnership” summit is trying to save hopes of a future deal with Ukraine. Russia’s tactics towards ex-Soviet countries preparing to do EU deals have raised questions over the future of an agreement and caused tensions between EU members, reports the FT. 

By Luisa Frey

♦ Twenty-three years after German reunification, a report shows that east-west migration is fizzling out. As the socio-economic differences become smaller, investors are pumping capital into the ex-communist east, writes the FT’s Stefan Wagstyl.

♦ Slovenia – which cruised to the EU as the wealthiest of the 10 ex-communist members – is now struggling to avoid a eurozone bailout.

♦ In the US, inequality is moving to the front line of politics. The rich-poor gap has long been an issue, but in post-crisis times it seems more difficult to raise hopes of upward mobility.

♦ “Keeping China moving will keep its leaders busy,” comments the FT’s David Pilling. Xi Jinping – “the world’s most powerful leader” – has nine years left at the helm of an economy that could be the world’s biggest by 2020.

♦ In post-revolutionary times, Arab countries are dealing with the task of rewriting history and figuring out how to teach it. Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia are removing from school textbooks the praise they once heaped on former dictators, writes The Economist.

♦ A video report from the Wall Street Journal follows citizens whose lives were upended by the conflict across Syria’s northern border. “I always try to make my students forget what they saw in Syria”, says a teacher in a refugee camp in Turkey.