April 12, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1537

Arab Media Reactions to Nancy Pelosi's Visit to Damascus

April 12, 2007
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 1537

The visit to the Middle East, and to Syria in particular, by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has provoked mixed reactions in the Arab world. Some wrote that Pelosi's visit challenged the foreign policy of the Bush administration, and that it had improved the U.S.'s image in the Arab and Muslim world. Others took a more skeptical approach, denying that the visit had made any major change. Still others were highly critical, and accused Pelosi of damaging the cause of democracy in Syria.

The following are reactions from the Arab media to Pelosi's visit:

Syrian Journalist: Pelosi Has Opened the Door to a Syria-U.S. Dialogue

Pelosi's visit was well received in Syria. While a number of delegations of U.S. congressmen had come to Syria in recent months, due to her status this visit was understood to be a significant development that could initiate a Syria-U.S. dialogue.

In an interview, Syrian Information Minister Muhsin Bilal told Arab television stations that Pelosi's meeting with Assad was "effective and positive."

He added that the visit had "helped to break the barrier that the American administration wanted to erect around Syria," and that "Pelosi, who represents Congress and the American people, has a spirit of dialogue and understanding for issues in the region and for Syria's important role in the region."[1]

Columnist Muhammad 'Ali Boza wrote in the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra that Pelosi's visit was "an important turning point in American public policy, on the level of the street and public opinion, which has begun to act as a pressure on [the government] and to understand – even if belatedly – the severity of the damage that the official policy of the new Republicans [sic] has caused…

"There is no doubt that the diplomacy of dialogue and negotiations with Syria, and listening to the Syrian position on the burning subjects and the numerous issues relating to the region and the conflict, are recognition of the importance and centrality of the Syrian role, and [recognition] that it is impossible to ignore it and leap over it, and that it would be absurd to put forward plans or solutions to which Syria does not agree, and which are not in keeping with Syria's fundamental national and pan-Arab principles…"[2]

Egyptian Press: Pelosi Proved that Isolating Syria is Absurd

The official Egyptian dailies also saw Pelosi's trip to Syria as a positive step. Al-Ahram's Arab affairs editor Mas'ud Al-Hanawi wrote: "The statements by Pelosi, who ignored the White House's criticism of her, were more balanced, sensible, and diplomatic [than the White House's approach] when she said that her visit to Damascus was a good opportunity to gather facts and build confidence… What has greater benefit and influence – the isolation of the president of a large and influential country like Syria, or dialogue with it and getting to know the true Syrian positions from the source?..."[3]

An editorial in the following day's Al-Ahram read: "Pelosi's visit is likely to verify the failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy in the Middle East, and it may be assumed that the visit will cause great embarrassment to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited the region three times this year without her talks having yielded any concrete results…

"The visit to Damascus has achieved two important things. First, the opening of a U.S.-Syria dialogue to understand the situation… in the region, [as a step] towards taking affairs [into the hands] of both sides, in matters in which the U.S. believes Syria is involved, and can settle through peaceful means…

"Second, Pelosi's visit to Damascus included the possibility of renewing the peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, which have been frozen since 2000.

"It is clear that Pelosi's talks in Damascus attest to the absurdity of isolating Syria, in that it is a central player in the region."[4]

Qatari Columnist: "It Is As If Lightning Had Struck the White House"

Qatari columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Watan: "It is as if lightning had struck the White House. This is how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Damascus could be described. This wise woman, who is considered the third most senior American [official], is not only bringing her country back to sanity, but is also contributing to improving the image of the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world.

"The talk in the White House of 'mixed signals' sent to Syria by the visit is not true. The visit sends one [single] message – a message of the American people's challenge to the foreign policy adopted by the American administration…

"The important message that Nancy Pelosi has sent, not only to the Middle East but to the entire world, is that the closed-door policy always fails, and that the use of military force and economic violence in order to assure political ends that rely on [American] hegemony is equivalent to robbery… Force that does not open political horizons cannot succeed in forcing solutions.

"Pelosi's visit does not work wonders, but it is a kind of cry that emphasizes that dialogue is important in order [to arrive at] an agreement, and that the colonialist desire that drives people like Bush and Cheney and guides their positions on foreign policy is political sadism, arrogant egoism, and hidden racism that derives pleasure from humiliating others and hearing their groans…"[5]

Saudi Daily: The Visit Breaks No New Ground

An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh took a reserved stance on Pelosi's visit: "The exaggerated attention to the differences between the two American parties is illogical, since at the high level, the supreme interests remain, and do not change with a change in leadership, or even with a change of the party [in power]. House Speaker Pelosi's visit to the region breaks no new ground, when she comes to Damascus after a visit to Lebanon and Israel…

"The new visitor needs to understand that delegations that continue to come to visit and present some convoluted solutions with impossible conditions cause the Arabs to place no trust in any new faces, so long as they have not given anything concrete…"[6]

Editor of Arab Reformist Website: "Shame on Ms. Pelosi!"

In an article titled "Shame on Ms. Pelosi for Shaking the Hand of the Damascus Hangman!" Omran Salman, the Bahraini editor of the reformist website Aafaq, wrote that Pelosi had turned her back on Syrian reformists and had harmed the cause of democracy in Syria:

"Of course no observer of Middle Eastern affairs could at all take seriously what Pelosi said [about Syria's willingness to renew the peace process]. The most [such an observer] could do would be to struggle to keep from laughing…

"What the honorable U.S. congresswoman said has no basis in reality. Syria did not say that it would stem the flow of terrorists into Iraq. Likewise, it did not say that it would close the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Damascus and expel their leaders. If it had wanted to do this, it would have done so years ago, in response to American demands and pressures…"

Pelosi Delivered a Blow to the Liberal Opposition in Syria and Frustrated Reformists' Hopes

"The only result that Pelosi achieved in visiting Damascus, and in sitting down with the Syrian president and shaking his hand, was to deliver a blow to the liberal opposition in Syria and frustrate reformists' hopes for change. By breaking through the ring of isolation [surrounding] Bashar Assad's regime, Syria advanced [several] steps towards repression and despotism, and the march of reform and democracy fell behind.

"Is it any secret that the Syrian regime supports terrorism and is the prime suspect in being behind the… Hariri assassination and the assassinations of a number of other Lebanese journalists and politicians?

"Is it any secret that the Syrian regime is one of the most vicious of regimes, and one of the most repressive, in the region…?

"Perhaps Pelosi did not know… that during her visit to Damascus, this regime was specializing in torturing Syrian oppositionists – among them Kamal Al-Labwani, the founder of the Liberal Democratic Rally in Syria…

"What was Kamal Al-Labwani's crime? In October-November 2005, Al-Labwani toured Europe and the U.S. to gather support for the cause of democracy in Syria. In the U.S., Al-Labwani met with members of the U.S. government and Congress and members of Amnesty International…"

Pelosi Rewarded the Hangman and Turned Her Back on the Victim

"Instead of demanding [Al-Labwani's] immediate release [from prison], Pelosi went to reward the hangman, and turned her back on the victim. Did Al-Labwani fall victim to the trust he placed in America's promises to support democracy and those demanding it?

"This is more than saddening; it is disgraceful to the highest degree. But not all of the blame falls on Ms. Pelosi alone. Over the last four months, more than 10 U.S. members of Congress, from both parties… have made the pilgrimage to Damascus and met with Assad… What is certain is that support for reform and democracy in Syria was not on their agenda.

"Any observer cannot help but be astounded how elected representatives of the American people, which loves liberty and humanity and is devoted to democracy, can engage with a first-rate dictatorial regime..."[7]

[1] Teshreen (Syria), April 5, 2007.

[2] Al-Thawra (Syria), April 6, 2007.

[3] Al-Ahram (Syria), April 6, 2007.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 6, 2007.

[5] Al-Watan (Qatar), April 6, 2007.

[6] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), April 4, 2007.

[7], April 6, 2007.

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