Weekly media digest

Profiling Rifaat al-Assad, writing about war for children, and reassessing the Arab uprisings a decade on

SyriaUntold brings you the latest edition of our digest. We want to share with you the news, features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we're reading this week.

07 May 2021

Illustration by Rami Khoury

Syria’s Rifaat al-Assad: From ‘butcher of Hama’ to real estate tycoon (France 24)

“The appeals process for the trial of Rifaat al-Assad goes ahead in Paris on Thursday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s uncle was initially convicted of money laundering as part of an organised gang, embezzlement of public funds and aggravated tax evasion. FRANCE 24 looks back at the long career of this Assad dynasty scion who amassed a colossal European property empire.” Read more

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‘We want a nation’ (The Atlantic)

“Ten years on, it’s easy to view the Arab uprisings only as a failure. Democracy remains elusive in the Middle East, dictators are further entrenched, and wars have devastated entire countries. But amid the despair and fear, a new cohort of protesters and activists has taken to the streets since 2019, in places such as Iraq, Sudan, and Lebanon. This new generation has learned a key lesson from their predecessors: A revolution can help bring down a regime, but it cannot build a state. They are getting organized, learning about politics and electoral laws, and planning for the state they want to build—one that serves citizens, not rulers. Most important, they have learned from the setbacks of 2011 that what lies ahead is a long slog, not a quick jog to victory in one election.” Read more

Telling young people about the realities of war (Nieman Reports)

“I’d never thought about writing for teenagers. The subject matter of my work doesn’t exactly lend itself to a young audience — or so I assumed. In my two decades of covering the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, I’ve focused on conflicts, human rights abuses, political upheaval, women’s rights (or the lack of), and other difficult issues. And so, when an editor at Scholastic asked me if I’d consider adapting my first book, ‘No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria,’ for a young adult audience, my initial reaction was to say no, not because it isn’t an important story — it’s crucial — but because I wondered how on earth I was going to tell young people a story that many adults turned away from.” Read more

Meeting between Saudi and Syrian intelligence chiefs hints at detente (The Guardian)

“Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has travelled to Damascus to meet his Syrian counterpart in the first known meeting of its kind since the outbreak of the Syrian war a decade ago.

The meeting in the Syrian capital on Monday is being seen as a precursor to an imminent detente between two regional foes, who have been at odds throughout much of the conflict.” Read more

The travels of a master storyteller (The Paris Review)

“It is one of the ironies of literature that the Thousand and One Nights should owe its global fame to stories—‘Aladdin’ among them—that never belonged to the original collection in Arabic. They were the work, invented or recycled, of a young Syrian man named Hanna Diyab. Perhaps the most influential storyteller whose name is known, Diyab himself remained obscure until a memoir he wrote in eighteenth-century Aleppo was discovered at the Vatican Library more than two centuries later. The Book of Travels, edited by Johannes Stephan and translated by Elias Muhanna, appears today in English for the first time. The English edition, published by the Library of Arabic Literature, contains the following foreword by Yasmine Seale.” Read more

Rethinking the concept of revolution through the Syrian experience (Al-Jumhuriya)

“Can one still speak of a ‘Syrian revolution’ ten years after the country witnessed its first protests, and as the phrase ‘Syrian conflict’ seems to have imposed itself as the preferred term to describe events on the ground since at least the mid-2010s? Perhaps it seems utopian to talk of a Syrian ‘revolution’ when the dead and disappeared in the Assad regime’s jails number in the hundreds of thousands, and the forcibly displaced exceed 13 million. Little wonder it is now more common to hear of a humanitarian crisis and endless conflict.” Read more

'New era in resettlement': U.S. refugee advocates count on more community-based help (NPR)

“When President Biden announced this week that his administration would raise the cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 for this fiscal year, refugee advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief. The number is far above the historically low limit of 15,000 refugees set by the Trump administration. Biden's announcement was a stark turnaround after weeks of pushback from refugee advocates, outraged by a previous order keeping the 15,000 limit.” Read more

UN official reports undeclared Syrian chemical warfare agent (Associated Press)

“The U.N. disarmament chief reported the discovery of an undeclared chemical warfare agent at a Syrian site to a Security Council meeting Thursday where the United States and its Western allies clashed with Russia over international findings that Syria has used chemical weapons.

Izumi Nakamitsu didn’t name the agent detected in samples by the international chemical weapons watchdog, but said its presence ‘inside storage containers of large volume at a previously declared chemical weapons facility may imply undeclared production activities.’” Read more

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