Walking Off Into the Sunset

MediaShack readers,

The time has come for me to announce my retirement from the blogosphere.

I no longer have the motivation to consistently write good posts  on the Middle East.  Rather than let the quality slip,  I will be walking away from the blog, Michael Jordan style.

A special thanks goes out to all those who contributed to MediaShack  through writing comments.  I as well as other readers have learned an enormous amount from hearing different perspectives, many coming  from  people with experience and knowledge of the Middle East far greater than mine.

I also also want to thank all those who contributed as posters, and especially Blackstar for constant editorial guidance and not hesitating to tell me to shut the %^&* up on the few occasions when I may have written something stupid or outrageous.

It’s been fun.  Keep it real,

Rob

How are people still getting fooled by this guy?

Do foreign journalists often visit National Guard units and ask_to_train?

Military officials met Cohen and his crew at the gate.

“He was treated like a member of the media and escorted around. He was put in a uniform like he requested to allow him to get a taste of what it was like to be an officer candidate,” she said.

Guard officials who let Cohen and his crew into the Alabama base initially believed they were helping foreign journalists.

“They called and said they were a German affiliate of a TV station doing a documentary on what it was like to be in officer candidate school,” said Timmons. “They wanted to know if they could come here and embed one person for a few hours up to a day.”

The ruse, which included comedian Sacha Baron Cohen exposing his thong underwear while changing clothes, was going well until a young cadet recognized Cohen and notified older officers who weren’t familiar with the actor.

“It’s an embarrassment to the Alabama National Guard,” Staff Sgt. Katrina Timmons said Monday. “Since then we have put in protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Who gave those to you?

Here is  very interesting story from Egypt’s Al-Masryoon newspaper on Mohamed Hussaneyn Heikal (for more on his background see this post from mregypt).  

Basically, Heikal was one of the most important Arab voices of the 1950s and 1960s (close ally of Nasser) and still has a huge following throughout the region.   As a sign of his popularity,  he has how own_show on Al-Jazeera which consists of nothing but him giving lectures on Arab history (usually that he was involved in).  Due to his position of influence during this period, Heikal obtained a tremendous amount of primary source documents related to Egyptian foreign policy and there are usually the subject of his show.  For example, he will pull out a letter  that Eisenhower sent to Nasser (which Heikal stores in his house) and then talk about it for an hour.  

Some people in Egypt, however,  wonder whether Heikal has the right to do this.  For one, there’s the question of whether a private citizen should be permitted to own so many primary source documents or whether they are the rightful property of the state.  Secondly, there’s a question of whether Heikal has the right to talk about what might be classified information on the air.  According to this article,  an NDP person is calling for an investigation into both of these questions.  Heikal  does not talk about current Egyptian politics on the air nor is he especially critical of the Government, so I don’t think its a question of domestic politics.

“Umm…the Dog Ate my Agenda”

Editor’s Note: Yes, we know that the font’s messed up.  Blame wordpress for not allowing a simple copy and paste from a word document. Not Rob.

Last year, Syria and Lebanon finally agreed to establish diplomatic ties.  The decision was hailed as a political breakthrough, with significant credit given to French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his efforts to coax Syria.  But many expressed doubts as to the ease with which the decision would actually be implemented.  Since the two countries had gained their independence from France in the 1940’s, there have been no embassies and no recognition by Syria of Lebanon’s sovereignty.  Syrian governments always considered Lebanon as something of a historical mistake, and saw it as part of geographic and historic Greater Syria. For this reason, while the Syrian decree to open diplomatic channels of communication was lauded, it was not without scepticism as to how genuine the move truly was.

The locality of the Syrian embassy will be the trendy neighbourhood of Hamra in Beirut, close to the Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut. The building which will house the Syrian embassy in Beirut raised the Syrian flag on 26 December, 2008.  But there is still no Syrian ambassador working there.  There has been a great deal of speculation as to who Syria will appoint in the past few months, and two names that were floated were those of Makram Obeid, current Syrian ambassador to Spain,  and Collette Khoury, Bashar el Assad’s literary advisor and a francophone poet and novelist.  In early January 2009, news stories started circulating quoting diplomatic sources as saying that the choice had fallen on Collette Khoury, and that the official announcement would be made by Bashar to French president Nicolas Sarkozy during a state visit by the latter.  Since those stories however, there has been no announcement confirming Collette Khoury’s appointment, or anyone else’s appointment for that matter.  The office where the Syrian embassy will be located is presently being run by three Syrian diplomats and is not yet fully operational.  This perceived dilly-dallying on the appointment of an ambassador by Syria hardly serves to counterract the impression that it is still not truly committed to dealing with Lebanon through diplomatic channels and to recognizing its smaller neighbour as a fully independent and sovereign state.

As to Lebanon’s choice for its ambassador to Syria, that fell on Michel Khoury. Yesterday, Monday, 17 March 2009, a Lebanese delegation attended the official inauguration of its first ever embassy in Damascus.  Ambassador Khoury will only take office in April and until then, Rami Murtada will head the embassy as chargé d’affaires.

One would think that the opening of an embassy by a direct neighbour, and in a context as meaningful as this one, would merit some kind of Syrian attention.  After all, surely the Syrian government was aware that this would make international headlines, just as the initial announcement did in 2008?  Interestingly, not so.  There was a conspicuous absence of an official delegation by the host nation.   The reason? “Ooops, we forgot… or something….”  Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem  stated at a joint news conference with Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, that the absence was not intentional.  It’s just that, well,  the Syrian government thought the inauguration was taking place on Sunday, not Monday.  This begs the question:  did the Syrian delegation show up on Sunday all suited up, only to realize they were a day early?

Diplomacy is often jokingly referred to as the world’s second-oldest profession.  The principles, formalities and rules governing it are so detailed and have become so entrenched in state practice that they were written down in an international treaty known as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.   Article 4 (1) of the Vienna Convention obliges state to send their ambassadors’ accreditations to the host country’s government, and to obtain the host country’s approval:

Article 4

1. The sending State must make certain that the agrément of the receiving State has been given for the person it proposes to accredit as head of the mission to that State.

Not only that, but the Vienna Convention also requires that the sending state notify the host country of the appointment of members of a diplomatic mission, of their arrival and their departure, of the arrival and departure of the diplomats’ family members, and even of  the arrival and departure of their private servants:

Article 10

1. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State, or such other ministry as may be agreed, shall be notified of:

(a) The appointment of members of the mission, their arrival and their final departure or the termination of their functions with the mission;
(b) The arrival and final departure of a person belonging to the family of a member of the mission and, where appropriate, the fact that a person becomes or ceases to be a member of the family of a member of the mission;
(c) The arrival and final departure of private servants in the employ of persons referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph and, where appropriate, the fact that they are leaving the employ of such persons;
(d) The engagement and discharge of persons resident in the receiving State as members of the mission or private servants entitled to privileges and immunities.

If the host country has to be informed of private servants’ arrivals and departures, should it not, a fortiori, also be informed of when an embassy opens? Granted, the Convention doesn’t specify how far in advance the host country has to be notified. But given the geographic proximity of the two countries, the political importance of the event, the regional and international press coverage, not to mention all the legal formalities a sending country has to follow, it is a little difficult to believe a Syrian government official when they  pretend not to know when an embassy on their own territory was scheduled to be inaugurated.

The Daily Star quotes Mouallem as saying that he had not been informed of the opening, but had “heard the news in media”.  Am I the only person who finds it a bit odd that a Foreign Minister heard of an embassy opening in his own country, through the news?  To be honest, I’m not so fussed about a  Syrian delegation not attending the opening. It’s the pretension, founded or not, that the Syrian government didn’t know when the opening was set to take place.  Surely, there must have been some kind of communication as to this politically important event between Beirut and Damascus?  Wouldn’t the Syrian Foreign Ministry have received an invitation to attend?  Or at least some kind of notice along the lines of: “By the way,  we’re thinking of opening an embassy on Monday…” ? Should we conclude that this was just another snub by older brother Syria towards its little neighbour?  Or are there simply excusable administrative errors in diarizing events in the Foreign Ministry’s calendar?

Book Endorsement

I want to recommend a good  book I’ve been reading called AC/DC Maximum Rock and Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.   Overall a good read, even if it occasionally provides more details than necessary about the band’s extracurricular activities.  Any band that has a tendency to melt amps with their intensity is one I like.   Oh, and before I forget,  I need  to give a special shout-out to my flatmate for having such a good collection of books on rock.    Without them,  I wouldn’t have anything to read at all, since I’m  banned from my local library until I pay about 120$ in fines ( this is what happens when you forget to return your library books and then leave the country for 7 months).    Here’s my favorite AD/DC song: 

The Judges of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Blackstar, Esq,  MediaShack’s Legal Analyst, continues her coverage of the Lebanese Special Tribunal.

Naharnet and Al Mustaqbal report today that Justice Antonio Cassese, has  been appointed presiding judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.   Justice Cassese was the former presiding judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and one of the most eminent and published scholars of public international law.

Professor William Schabas’ blog speculated a few weeks ago that another former judge from the ICTY and the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, Justice Bert Swart would be appointed to the Tribunal, as well as Justice Howard Morrison.  Justice Morrison practiced as a defense lawyer for 9 years at the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and is now a UK Circuit judge.  He has the prestigious status of being a “QC”, or Queen’s Counsel.

The Tribunal is meant to have a total of  9 judges (or 11 including alternate judges):

  • one pre-trial judge (an international)
  • three trial judges (one Lebanese and two international)
  • five appellate judges (two Lebanese and three international)
  • plus two alternate judges (one Lebanese and one international).

On the prosecution side, the Chief Prosecutor is Daniel Bellemare (an international), but Lebanon is meant to appoint a Lebanese Deputy Prosecutor.  As it turns out, there’s a stalemate at the cabinet level about who to appoint.

We’ll have more on the appointments as events unfold.  Also Part II of the series “Why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was Created” will be up in a few days.  It will look at the legal and political reasons behind the creation of the Tribunal.

The Next King of Saudi Arabia?

This is a very good article on Prince Alaweed Bin Talal, a Saudi businessman and a major player on the Saudi, Arab and even global scene.  I like this part:

He’s not above a little discreet bragging. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he confides to a reporter. “I went to the king almost ten years ago. He was crown prince then. I showed him pictures of homeless people [in Saudi Arabia].” Abdullah formed a committee to investigate, Alwaleed says, then visited a poor neighborhood. “The day before that, if you talked about poverty in Saudi Arabia, you were a traitor. The next day [after Abdullah's visit was made public], if you didn’t talk about poverty you were a traitor.”

I don’t know much details about the process, but the sucession rules have changed and its not out of the question that bin Talal could be the king of Saudi Arabia someday.  Thanks John for passing this along.

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