Bashar al-Assad

  • Gideon Rachman thinks Narendra Modi is the jolt that India needs, but in his risposte Edward Luce argues that the risk is not worth taking.
  • China is poised to pass the US as the world’s leading economic power this year. This moment has come sooner than expected: FT economics editor Chris Giles explains the working out.
  • David Gardner thinks Bashar al-Assad is more vulnerable than he looks.
  • The recent freeze in east-west relations has revived interest in Moscow’s Cold War museum.

 Read more

The aftermath of a barrel bombing by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Aleppo on March 18 (Getty)

Earlier this week the famous-for-being-famous celebrity Kim Kardashian regurgitated Syrian regime disinformation about a rebel massacre of Armenians in the town of Kasab in the country’s northeast on her Twitter feed after it was captured by rebels.

The Tweet – Please let’s not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let’s get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide – went viral, further damaging the reputation of Syria’s opposition, a ragtag rebellion struggling to make inroads against Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who continues to massacre hundreds of people daily in bombing raids and inside his dark dungeons. Unlike in Kasab, these murders have been meticulously documented by independent human rights groups and the UN. Read more

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. Read more

  • François Hollande, under pressure about his private life, tried to steer the media towards his plans for the economy. See also Le Monde’s take on how he has shaken the left and disoriented the right.
  • Martin Wolf argues that it is the failure of the elite, both historically and today, that creates disaster and leads to the collapse of political order.
  • Policy should focus less on the jihadis and more on the conditions that engender them, argues David Gardner.
  • See what it is like to seek refuge in Europe with this Guardian interactive.
  • European intelligence agencies secretly met Bashar al-Assad’s delegates to share information on European extremists operating in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Executives from some of France’s biggest companies will fly to Tehran next month – signaling a wave of corporate interest as the west eases sanctions.
  • A “whirlwind of reversals, about-faces, and false starts has locked Egypt into a revolving cycle, if not a downward spiral”, say Peter Harling and Yasser El Shimy.

 Read more

By Toby Luckhurst

 Read more

By Luisa Frey
♦ Aid workers’ comparison of typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines with the one after 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is “daunting”, says Shawn Donnan. It raises questions about whether the world has learned lessons and will apply them now.
♦ In Europe, Germany’s “holy trinity” – tight monetary policy, export-led growth and financial system dominated by small banks – came under fire last week from the ECB and the European Commission, comment’s Peter Spiegel in Brussels.
Three hospitals in northern Israel have been treating severely wounded Syrians, reports FT’s John Reed. Some of the wounded are civilians, while others acknowledge affiliation with the Free Syrian Arming fighting Bashar al-Assad.
Outside private funds are helping sustain the Syrian conflict, writes The New York Times. They exacerbate divisions in the opposition and strengthen its most extreme elements.
♦ Mike Giglio, from BuzzFeed, tells the story of a Syrian activist who believes the revolution is already lost.
♦ Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s organisation Setad has been used to amass assets worth tens of billions of dollars. Its holdings rival the ones of the late shah and support Khamenei’s power over the country, according to Reuters. Read more

By Luisa Frey
♦ “Assad is using starvation to commit his murders”, says FT columnist David Gardner. The many Syrians who face starvation are victims of a “silent massacre”, which does not seem to call as much international attention as the use of sarin nerve gas did.
♦ In Roula Khalaf’s opinion, Egypt is in the wrong path and deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s trial is a clear sign of that. As military rule creeps back, it seems that a much broader intolerance is setting in.
♦ Somalia’s pirate king Mohamed Abdi Hassan wanted to be immortalized on the big screen as a seafaring bandit and got arrested instead. He was caught by the police in Belgium, where he wanted to consult on the film based on his life. Known as “Afweyne” (“big mouth”), the pirate made Somali piracy into an organized, multimillion-dollar industry.
♦ Somali piracy is so lucrative that the Global Post asks: “Do you earn more money than a Somali pirate?” The World Bank, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol’s Maritime Piracy Task Force estimate that the owners of 179 ships hijacked between since 2005 paid out ransoms totalling over $400m.
♦ In Murder on the Mekong, a report supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Jeffe Howe writes about the largest massacre of civilians outside of China in over half a century. It all happened in 2011 in the Golden Triangle – the borderlands between Burma, Laos and Thailand – and was first explained by Thai military commandos as a regular confrontation with drug runners. Read more

♦ Zhou Yongkang, a former security chief and member of the Chinese Communist party’s Standing Committee of the politburo, looks set to pay the price for defending Bo Xilai as China cracks down on corruption.
♦ Although Ireland has been lauded for its austerity programme and is about to leave the EU and IMF bailout, concerns persist that its recovery will run out of steam.
♦ Michael Goldfarb at the New York Times thinks the London property market “is no longer about people making a long-term investment in owning their shelter, but a place for the world’s richest people to park their money at an annualised rate of return of around 10 percent.
♦ Take a look at these photos: the Mark Twain branch of Detroit public library is another casualty of the city’s bankruptcy.
♦ Yassin Al Haj Saleh, who was jailed for 16 years under the Assad regime and whose family was jailed by Islamist rebels, says a poignant goodbye to Syria. Read more

♦ The value of the drone market has soared to more than $5bn in just a few years, helped by Pentagon and CIA reliance. However, privacy worries are threatening the burgeoning domestic market.
♦ The fourth-largest auction house in the world is run by Wang Yannan, the daughter of former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang and child of the cultural revolution. Its success has come from Chinese collectors and investors seeking art that might have destroyed lives during the cultural revolution.
♦ The “Death to America” slogan has been a feature of public life in Iran for more than three decades, but Hassan Rouhani’s push for moderation has prompted calls for the slogan to be dropped.
♦ Some Republicans are sceptical that a default would actually be a catastrophe for the US.
♦ David Gardner thinks Bashar al-Assad’s diplomatic luck could run out as the “killing machine grinds forward”.
♦ Islamists entering Syria are starting to prefer transit towns, with good food and video games, to the fighting front.
♦ Gulf states are going to test people to “detect” homosexuals entering their countries.
 Read more

♦ Serbia plans to borrow billions from the United Arab Emirates – the country’s deputy prime minister warned that it could face bankruptcy without urgent steps to cut public sector wages.
♦ The Washington Post breaks down the effect of the US government shut down on individual departments.
♦ Ezra Klein at the Washington Post argues that “the American political system is being torn apart by deep structural changes that don’t look likely to reverse themselves anytime soon” and a “deal to reopen the government won’t fix what ails American politics.”
♦ Slate reports on how the Egyptian army is stepping up its efforts to shut down the illicit trade tunnels between Sinai and Gaza. Its campaign in north Sinai is affecting both civilians and militants.
♦ Bashar al-Assad’s regime is waging a PR campaign, spreading stories of rebels engaging in “sex jihad” and massacring Christians, according to Der Spiegel.
♦ British artist Banksy’s latest work, which focuses on Syria, has Syria-watchers bemused, the New York Times reports.
♦ The latest book from Paul Collier, co-director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, examines the impact of migration and the benefits of it to migrants, host communities and those left behind. Read more

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani address the UN General Assembly (Getty)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been at the UN in New York all this week, opening up the possibility of engagement with the US over Tehran’s nuclear programme. One of the most striking features of his performance is the way he has used different settings to push forward different messages about how he views the world.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Rouhani took what sounded like a very traditional Iranian line. It may have had none of the apocalyptic and offensive rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, on such occasions. But the speech contained plenty of passages which implied a strong attack on America’s “coercive economic and military policies.” Many experts were disappointed that it failed to deviate from Iran’s traditional script.

Mr Rouhani has also found plenty of time, however, to meet US media, and here his tone has been very different. With CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he read out a message in English of goodwill towards Americans.

 Read more

By Thomas Hale
♦ The Wall Street Journal looks closely at Janet Yellen and the ‘tougher tone’ she may bring to the Fed.
♦ Meanwhile, Roger Cohen ponders Merkel’s election success and her role as the ‘great consolidator’.
♦ Iranian Qassem Suleimani, a supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, has been described as the most powerful operative in the Middle East today. The New Yorker profiles this elusive figure.
The demographic for budget travel is changing – the New York Times looks at business people in hostels.
♦ Christian Caryl’s book Strange Rebels suggests that the 21st century was heavily moulded by the pivotal events of 1979. David Runciman’s review in the LRB is an exhilarating analysis of the future for progressive politics.
♦ Are the lines between the natural and artificial worlds becoming blurred? Sue Thomas expounds on the fascinating notion of technobiophilia in Aeon magazine.
♦ The New York Times looks closely at China’s forays into Central Asia, specifically their recently acquired share in Kazakhstan’s oil.
♦ Paul Mason, writing for Channel 4, weaves together Western intervention in the Middle East with the mercurial plot of HomelandRead more

By David Gallerano
♦ Somaliland works to be the gateway to a landlocked Ethiopia and to secure long –awaited international recognition.
♦ Communal violence rises in the highly Christian-populated cities of Southern Egypt.
♦ Quartz reports on how the Iran government retained control of a skyscraper in Manhattan for 35 years.
♦ The New York Times profiles the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “One of the most knowledgeable and respected foreign policy actors in the global village”, a veteran diplomat who enjoys whiskey and cigars, Lavrov is the advocate of an international system based on state sovereignty and status quo stability.
♦ Nonetheless, he is no stranger to the use of questionable sources, and few days ago he used a video analysis by a Lebanese nun to contradict claims that Assad has employed chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict.
Turkey becomes Somalia’s largest non-OECD donor while Somalia returns the favour by granting concessions on key national infrastructures.
♦ A new book claims that Hollywood studios collaborated with Hitler and helped to finance the German war machine. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ Edward Luce argues that Lawrence Summers has done everyone a favour by taking himself out of the running to be the next Fed chair.
♦ Alec Russell interviews Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu and asks him about God, Mandela and Syria.
♦ James Blitz retraces last week’s main events in the Syria crisis, while the Wall Street Journal reports on Barack Obama’s conduct behind the scenes of the Syria crisis.
♦ Shadi Hamid points out that Assad was rewarded rather than punished for his use of chemical weapons.
♦ The New York Times’ Laura Pappano reports on Battishug Myanganbayar, a 16 years-old genius from Ulan Bator, Mongolia. “How does a student from a country in which a third of the population is nomadic, living in round white felt tents called gers on the vast steppe, ace an MIT course even though nothing like this is typically taught in Mongolian schools?”
♦ The Hewitts, a white South African family, left behind their comfortable life and moved to 100-square-foot shack with no electricity or running water. A notable experiment for some – just “poverty pornography” for others.
♦ The Royal Academy presents an exhibition of 200 artworks from the “vast and diverse nation” of AustraliaRead more

Not many letters to the FT go viral. But KN Al-Sabah’s pithy explanation of the intricacies of Middle East politics, deservedly garnered a wide audience. It read as follows:

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad. Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi. But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood! Read more

UN arms expert collects samples for investigation into suspected chemical weapons strike (Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty Images)

By Catherine Contiguglia and David Gallerano

The build up to a US military intervention in Syria was suspended when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced a diplomatic initiative to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision. This is something of a reprieve for US president Barack Obama, who was facing mounting pressure to live up to a promised intervention that has little public support and has yet to be approved by either the United Nations or Congress.

Here are some of the best articles from the FT and elsewhere about chemical weapons and their regulation, and what the Russian plan means for the Syria conflict. Read more

By David Gallerano
♦ “Why would Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who gasses his people to break a stalemate in a war he and his clan regard as existential and almost certainly cannot win, voluntarily surrender an arsenal he has been holding largely in reserve?” This and other questions in today David Gardner’s analysis of the situation in Syria.
♦ In a New York Times’ op-ed Vladimir Putin directly addresses the American people and their political leaders on Syria: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.
♦ Russian expert Michael Metzger illustrates how Putin’s move to avert the US intervention in Syria was inspired by secret KGB chess tactics.
♦ Life in Egypt has “shrunk politically, geographically and socially, with the vast majority of the public high on fascistic nationalism”. Sarah Carr explores the effects of the clampdown on the daily life of the Egyptian peopleRead more

By David Gallerano
♦ “We cannot rebuild this economy on this same pile of sand”, President Obama said in April 2009. Robin Harding analyses the rebalancing process of the American economy and draws an alarming conclusion: the United States is building again on the same foundations of sand.
♦ The notorious gang rape of December 2012 in New Delhi is changing the way Indian women react to sexual abuses and violence.
♦ Triton Foundation gets $24m in insurance while a farcical trial goes on in Romania: the brand new episodes of the incredible saga of the paintings stolen from the Kunstahl Museum in Rotterdam.
♦ The New York Times illustrates in detail the long process that led Vladimir Putin to make his proposal on Assad’s chemical weapons.
♦ Meanwhile, satirical news site the Onion reports on how the US arms industry reacted to John Kerry’s declaration: “our Secretary of State had to run his big fat mouth about options for averting war, and now we’re out hundreds of billions of dollars”. But Lockheed’s CEO Marilyn Hewson is reassuring: “He will probably say something idiotic in the near future that would lead to another lucrative international conflict”. Read more

David McNew/Getty Images

Did President Bashar al-Assad personally order the chemical weapons attack that was carried out on eastern Damascus on August 21? Or was the decision to mount the attack taken by military commanders without Mr Assad’s knowledge, or that of the closest people to him? As the US presses ahead with its argument that there must be a response to the chemical attack, these questions are increasingly under discussion.

In their intelligence assessments of the August 21 attack, the US, Britain and France have stated with high confidence that the Assad regime was responsible for what happened.

But the question of whether Mr Assad personally knew about the attack in advance – or whether the assault happened without him being forewarned – is an intriguing one. It gained a sharper focus at the weekend after Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper cited a unnamed German intelligence officials saying they believed he had not given the order. These officials based this assessment on intelligence suggesting Syrian brigade commanders had been asking Mr Assad to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four and a half months – but permission had always been denied. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ “If Germany’s economic model is the future of Europe, we should all be quite troubled,” writes Adam Posen, as growth built on exports and low wages is stifling productivity and depriving Germany’s workers of what they have earned.
♦ People must get over their initial annoyance with how the US administration has handled intervention in Syria and look to history to see the consequences of inaction in other stricken cities, says Philip Zelikow.
♦ The Assads are keeping up appearances as their country becomes further embroiled in civil conflict, looking jovial in public and unfazed by the increasing threat of an attack from the West.
♦ Rather than boxing Barack Obama in, the Syria crisis has offered multiple opportunities for increasing presidential power, as a negative congressional vote will do little to restrain use of military force, while an approval could bestow new powers on future presidents.
♦ There are a lot of parallels between Obama’s current drive for military action in Syria and Eisenhower’s experience in the lead up to Vietnam, laid out by Jeffrey Frank in a comparison of the rhetoric and policy stances of both presidents. Read more