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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Peace or Pacification

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aleppoThis was published at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

As I write, state representatives are attending the theatre in Geneva. (The talks were stopped on February 3rd). In Syria, meanwhile, reality prevails: in one day a tented camp of the displaced in the Lattakia hills is bombed, barrel bombs rain on the south and the Damascus suburbs, Russia’s cluster bombs crumple over the north, and up to a hundred people are asphyxiated by chlorine gas in Moadamiyah. Let’s hope the seats in the theatre are nice and comfy.

Russia, the prime mover of the process, is inviting its own ‘opposition’ delegates. It complains (with Assad and Iran) that the actual opposition delegation contains ‘terrorists’. The thousands of Iranian-backed transnational Shia jihadists in Syria are not considered terrorists and should not be discussed at this stage.

The United States accepts these terms, and instead of the ‘transitional government’ agreed upon as the ultimate goal in previous Geneva talks, it speaks now of a ‘national government’. In other words Assad – responsible for the overwhelming number of civilian casualities and displacements – can stay, so that all may confront the ‘greater evil’ of jihadism.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 7, 2016 at 11:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Speaking at Chatham House

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Here I am on stage at Chatham House last week with the journalist Mina al-Oraibi. Mina was a lot more optimistic about Russia’s ‘peace process’ than I was. Am I allowed to point out without seeming rude that the process has already dramatically collapsed?

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 6, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Posted in Syria

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On the Media, Diplomacy and Pacification

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Thanks to the people at Chatham House who interviewed me and then made this short film.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 5, 2016 at 10:22 pm

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At Amnesty

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Our book Burning Country was launched on January 20th at Amnesty International in London. I was in conversation with the lovely Kristyan Benedict. Here’s the video, and here’s Amnesty’s article on the event.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 2, 2016 at 12:11 pm

The Happy Marriage

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A very slightly different version of this review was published at the Guardian.jelloun

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan who has contributed a series of important works to French literature, perhaps foremost amongst them the brilliant ‘non-fiction novel’ of incarceration “This Blinding Absence of Light”. His latest novel, “The Happy Marriage”, bears echoes of Tolstoy’s grim relationship-degeneration tale “Happy Ever After”, but Jelloun’s tale is thrown into question by a counter-narrative.

Our protagonist is semi-paralysed, recovering from a stroke, his face twisted like a Francis Bacon painting. He is a successful artist, a demanding perfectionist who now struggles to move his fingers while watching TV athletics and thinking about tightrope walking. His contextual musings on deterioration and dependency – “When your life is in someone else’s hands, is it still a life?” – form a suitable backdrop to his memories of a two-decade marriage, in Paris and Casablanca, in sickness and health.

Part One (called, with a nod to Truffaut, The Man who Loved Women Too Much) is the artist’s own carefully-crafted account, in third person. The accomplishment of the writing here recalls Philip Roth’s more sober moods, or Saul Bellow’s studies of older men suffering the humiliations of body and soul. The psychological depth, high-cultural detail, sometimes even the dense but fluid prose (ably translated by André Naffis-Sahely) are reminiscent of that American master.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 30, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Posted in book review, France, Morocco

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With the Rethink Rebuild Society

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I really enjoyed meeting the Rethink Rebuild Society, organised by Manchester’s very active Syrian community. Orient News did a report (in Arabic), and here it is (thanks Jwan):

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 29, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Syria, UK

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Five Year Reflection

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picture from anadolu agency

Russian bombing in the eastern Ghouta. picture from Anadolu Agency

The Guardian asked ten Arab writers to reflect on the revolutions five years on (or in). My piece is here below. To read the rest too (including Alaa Abdel Fattah from Egyptian prison, Ahdaf Soueif, and notable others), follow this link.

Five years ago the Guardian asked me to evaluate the effects of the Tunisian uprising on the rest of the Arab world, and specifically Syria. I recognised the country was “by no means exempt from the pan-Arab crisis of unemployment, low wages and the stifling of civil society”, but nevertheless argued that “in the short to medium term, it seems highly unlikely that the Syrian regime will face a Tunisia-style challenge.”

That was published on January 28th. On the same day a Syrian called Hassan Ali Akleh set himself alight in protest against the Assad regime in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia. Akleh’s act went largely unremarked, but on February 17th tradesmen at Hareeqa in Damascus responded to police brutality by gathering in their thousands to chant ‘The Syrian People Won’t Be Humiliated’. This was unprecedented. Soon afterwards the Deraa schoolboys were arrested and tortured for writing anti-regime graffiti. When their relatives protested on March 18th, and at least four were killed, the spiralling cycle of funerals, protests and gunfire was unleashed. Syria not only witnessed a revolution, but the most thoroughgoing revolution of all, the one that has created the most promising alternatives, and the one that has been most comprehensively attacked.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 24, 2016 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Syria

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