I was honored to meet President Bashar al-Assad at his home in Damascus. This meeting marked the first time that the President has sat down with a member of the Gulf media, since the war in Syria began. We spoke for an hour and a half, and it was a most enjoyable and humane interview with the distinguished Arab leader. The Syrian President received me at the entrance to his house, welcoming me with a bright, self-confident smile and elegant appearance.
I congratulated the President on the rigidity of his determination, the steadfastness of his position, his valor and bravery in defending his land and the Syrian people, his success in securing consumer food requirements throughout Syria, and the victories and success of Syrian diplomats and the Syrian army, and the positions of the honorable Syrian people toward their state, their leaders and institution. He smiled and said: “I thank you for your role as a media institution. You spoke your opinion clearly and explicitly when no one dared say a word of truth.”
President Assad continued, “Unfortunately, Arab media fell in line behind Zionist and American institutions and are very eager to distort the image of the Middle East, and particularly Syria. Their media was was very fierce and filled with lies and slander. However the role of the Kuwaiti state through the media was honorable and this would not have happened if you were not from a state with a longstanding democracy and freedoms of opinion and views.”
He went on to say, “Kuwait took an honorable position at donor summits to support the Syrian people, which were called for and adopted by His Highness Emir Sabah al-Ahmad. This man is singular in his wisdom, reason and capability. This is not strange, as he has lived many years and witnessed all the Middle East’s issues. He has resolved problems and he is aware of the danger faced by Arab countries as a whole.
“We, with God’s grace, have regained most of Syria’s cities from the grip of the criminal terrorists, and have defended citizens from their criminal acts. We have begun to rebuild areas and, with God’s permission, very soon we will impose the rule of law across all Syria’s territory. We will not leave an inch of Syria outside the state’s sovereignty.
“I tell you, brother Sabah, that we have a major understanding with many Arab states, and there are Western countries which have begun to plan and prepare to reopen their embassies. Western and Arab delegations are visiting Syria in preparation of their return, whether diplomatic, economic or industrial.”
President Assad said firmly and confidently, “Very soon we will close the curtain on the terrorist war, and the political game will change. Syria will return to its central pan-Arab role, supporting the causes of the Ummah, as it had been before, and all displaced people will return to their cities, towns and villages.
The Syrian President said that Russia’s role in the region has become a fait accompli, in cooperation with India and China and a group of friendly countries. He said, “The balance of powers will change in the coming stage, and it will be for the better — especially for the Middle East.
In the coming stage, we will begin to rebuild the factories and support Syria’s uniquely excellent industry. Companies in all shapes and forms will be supported and rehabilitated, whether local Syrian companies or in partnership with Arab and foreign investors.
“Most of our interest will be in agriculture, as Syria produces the best fruits and vegetables in the region and we will be keen to export them across the world.
“We will also begin to open the gates of tourism, art and culture, as Syria was a country of art, culture and creativity before.”
The President asked me, “You are in Damascus. What do you think of it?”
“The warm reception I received from you was the same warm reception I’ve received from all officials since my arrival, at all official levels, and I have also felt it from the kind Syrian people in the cafes, the streets and the markets. It is not strange to find the generous Syrian people offering a welcoming smiles and a warm reception.
“The streets have dazzled me with their cleanliness, especially when I saw the water tanks cleaning the streets at night. The buildings, alleys and markets are the old Syria — the Syria that we have known since our nails were soft. All of the international hotels are here, and we have noticed a large number of cranes putting up new buildings, which is evidence of that the wheel of reconstruction has begun to turn.
“But I enjoyed while walking in the al-Hamidiyeh markets, a feeling of peace and security which the Syrian people enjoy. This is what I experienced in the five days I spent in Syria. In the alleys of Old Damascus, I was eager to eat lunch and dinner in the restaurants, with unique flavors and delicious tastes that cannot be found anywhere else in world. What kitchens are tastier than those of Syria, and how we missed the unique sweets of Syria with their unmatched flavor.
“The greenness of the streets and the views of flowers, especially jasmine, and its scent, gives joy and reassurance and reminds us of our childhood, and is a message of peace and love,” I answered.
The President responded to me, saying, “I hope you will visit whenever you come to Syria, dear friend.” His frankness, clarity and transparency means that I will be happy to sit with him again.
President Assad said goodbye to me with the same hospitality with which he greeted me.
*Sabah Mohamad is the editor and owner of al-Shahed Newspaper
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.