SYRIA-Damascus Diary: An Inside Account of Hafez Al-Asad's Peace Diplomacy, 1990-2000

By Zisser, Eyal | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

SYRIA-Damascus Diary: An Inside Account of Hafez Al-Asad's Peace Diplomacy, 1990-2000


Zisser, Eyal, The Middle East Journal


SYRIA Damascus Diary: An Inside Account of Hafez al-Asad's Peace Diplomacy, 1990-2000, by Bouthaina Shaaban. Boul- der, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012. 245 pages. $55.

The personal story of Bouthaina Shaa- ban is, to a great extent, the story of Syria under Ba'th rule during the second half of the 20th century. Shaaban was born in 1953 to an Alawi family from the village of al- Mas'udiyya in the District of Homs. She joined the Ba'th Party at the age of 16, ob- tained her PhD. in English literature from the University of Warwick, and attained the position of Professor of English Litera- ture at Damascus University. In 1990, she reached the trusted position of translator for Hafiz al-Asad and his son and heir, Bashar al-Asad. Under Asad, she served from 2003-2008, as Minister of Expatriates.

Shaaban's own rise reflects the social transformation that took place in Syria fol- lowing the Ba'th revolution in 1963. In par- ticular, it reflects the rise of members from the minority communities and from the rural Sunni population - who made up the broad social coalition led by 'Alawi army officers, and later by the Asad family, that has ruled Syria in recent decades. It is no wonder, then, that Shaaban's book starts with her first meeting with Hafiz al-Asad, which resulted in her receiving a scholarship that enabled her to study at Damascus Univer- sity and acquire the education that paved her way in the coming years (pp. 1^1).

Shaaban's appointment in 2008 as po- litical and media adviser to the presidential palace, along with the fact that Syria lapsed into a bloody civil war in March 2011, pro- vided her with free time, which she used to write Damascus Diary. However, she chose not to address in her book the timely issue of Bashar al-Asad's conduct during the cur- rent crisis. Rather, she chose to describe Syria's peace negotiations with Israel.

Much was written in Israel and in the United States about the Israeli-Syrian peace talks. The absence of a Syrian ver- sion lends special importance to Shaaban's book, in which she seeks to present a full and comprehensive account of the Syrian side in the peace talks, based on the per- sonal experiences of someone who sat in on a significant portion of Asad's meet- ings with American officials, and who was granted access to the official Syrian proto- cols kept in the Syrian archives. …

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