Who's who: Walid Al-Mouallem

Mouallem has repeatedly proved that he is loyal to the Assad family, and has, on certain occasion, put himself in awkward situations

In Brief

 

Now Bashar al-Assad’s loyal Foreign Minister, Walid al-Mouallem, is the most educated and the most quiet among all those around Assad. But perhaps he is not the most dangerous, because he spent long years struggling to establish his name. Mouallem has a long history of diplomacy and led the Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

 

Background

 

Mouallem was born in Damascus in 1941, continued his education in Cairo during the years of union with Egypt, and graduated there in 1963 with degrees in Economics and Political Science. After the Baathist coup in 1963, Mouallem worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having been a student in the Salah Adeen Al-Bitar School for foreign relations.

 

His job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs job enabled Mouallem to work minor embassy postsin various capitals around the world, including Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Britain. But in 1975 Mouallem was elevated to Syrian Ambassador to Romania. He was then called back to Syria in 1980 to be appointed as general manager of the Documentation and Translation Administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairsuntil 1990.

 

In that period, Mouallem witnessed the most difficult stages of Hafez al-Assad’s the rule, after Assad had crushed Syria’s political life by imprisoning the political bases of the Leftist and Islamic parties. At the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, Hafez Al-Assad appointed Mouallem as an ambassador to the United States, where he stayed until 1999. Mouallem observed all stages of the Syrian–Israeli peace negotiations, but at the same time he also founded a restaurant chain and made many investments in the United States, making the most of his time in the US. When it seemed that Hafez Al-Assad would soon die, Mouallemreturned home to Damascus to serve as assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Farouq al-Sharaa.

 

In 2005 Mouallem became Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, and was commissioned to the Lebanese file. After the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, Mouallem became the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was charged with developing relations with Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.He was often called the “Gromyko” of Syria, a reference to Soviet Minister Andrei Gromyko who wrote inhismemoirsthattheSovietUnionenacted morethanahundredinitiativesinthe field of disarmament. At the same time, theWestcalledGromyko"Mr. No"becauseofhistough attitudeandstubbornnessinnegotiations. Gromyko once reportedly said, “Theyheard my ‘No’s much less thanIheardtheir ‘No’s, weputforwardmore suggestions."

 

 

Author and thinker

 

From the beginning, Walid al-Mouallem wanted to portray himself as a political thinker, so he wrote books and contributedtothepolitical debateson a variety of different issues. He wrote about Palestine and the armed peace in 1970 and chronicled the Mandate era of Syria from the 1917until 1948, and also wrote Syria from the Independence to the Union: 1948 to 1958”. He also wroteThe World and the Middle East from the American Point of View.

 

The Syrian revolution

 

During the Syrian revolution,Assad decided to depend upon a group of spokespeople in order to minimize the apparent importance of the regime’s opponents and the Syrian dissidents. It would be a farcical scene if the well known Burhan Ghalioun, or any other thinker, appeared on satellite channelsholding serious debates with Walid Al-Mouallem. So Mouallem was dismissed from the spotlight and restricted to the role of appearing at diplomatic meetings and press conferences in which has kept repeating the “No”s of his regime, mocking the international community, and maintaining a dismissive attitude toward talk of any change or decline in Syria.

 

Mouallem has repeatedly proved that he is loyal to the Assad family, and has, on certain occasion, put himself in awkward situations. He once showed journalists a tape in a press conference that allegedly depicted scenes of killing and torture committed by armed terrorist militants against elements of the Syrian army and security apparatus. But shortly after the footage was broadcast, the scandal was exposed. One film showing a mutilated corpse turned out to be that of an Egyptian youth who was killed in the Lebanese village of Ketarmaya in 2010. At the time, the entire world watched how this figure was killed and his body mutilated. The other footage turned out to actually show youth taken in the Lebanese city of Tripoli during the battles that took place there in 2008. In fact, it was incredibly easy and effortless for this footage to be refuted and exposed, which made the entire exercise even more strange and puzzling.

 

Even after Mouallem’s video clip was exposed, Al-Hayat’s Diana Mukkaled noted that Syrian state media outlets continued to celebrate what they called a "masterstroke" by re-broadcasting the footage and ignoring the fact that everyone was completely aware that the Syrian regime was –for the thousandth time– telling lies.

 

Another awkward situation for Mouallem came when he said he would erase Europe from the map, a comment that made him fodder for cartoons and public jokes.

 

Mouallem has repeatedly reminded the world that Syria's government will not accept any transition peace plan that excludes President Bashar al-Assad. In one of his latest remarks Mouallem said that, “For the Syrian people, Bashar al-Assad is the elected president until mid-2014, when presidential elections will be held.” He added that other candidates are welcome to run under the country's constitution, stressing that only the Syrian people can choose their president, not outside governments or the opposition, which is based abroad.

 

Conclusion

 

Many believe that Mouallem has but a minor role in settingSyrian foreign policy, while some analysts believe that he helps Assad and the upper influential circles in drawing the Syrian political scene. Still, Mouallemhas never been sure whether Assad will take that into consideration. He therefore has remained very calm at all times and has yielded to Assad’s severeapproach of responding to the popular protests through suppression, shelling, bombing, and attacks by planes and tanks. However, many ministers in the Syrian government said that on the first day of the revolution in March 2011, Mouallem told them that he only heard the news of Syrian policy and recent official decisions through the “Addunia Channel” owned by Muhammad Hamsho and Maher Al Assad.

 

Other sources: Al-Arab Review, al-Hayat, Asharq al-Awsat

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