This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 12/05/2011
The New York Times gave readers a double-whammy of Syrian statements on Tuesday. Its correspondent in Beirut, Anthony Shadid, landed interviews with presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and with Rami Makhlouf, the powerful maternal cousin of President Bashar Assad, who represents the financial front of the regime.
Shadid was allowed into Syria for only a few hours to conduct the interviews. You have to wonder whether this provoked much debate in the newspaper’s offices. The condition transformed the correspondent into a stenographer, and the New York Times into a platform, for the dual messages emanating from Damascus. This irked quite a few people. However, it’s also fair to say that Shadid has kept the Syria story on the front pages of his daily, at a moment when the attention in the United States has been drifting elsewhere.
What did Shaaban and Makhlouf say? The essence of Shaaban’s remarks was that the Syrian regime had gained the upper hand against the uprising. “I think now we’ve passed the most dangerous moment. I hope so, I think so,” she said. Shaaban repeated the government line that Syria faced an armed rebellion, and disclosed that she had been tasked with initiating a dialogue with dissidents. “We see [the Syrian events] as an opportunity to try to move forward on many levels, especially the political level,” she added.