Syrian envoy in US blogs about life and culture

"It is not an easy job. Sometimes I almost feel depressed," Moustapha wrote of his job at one point.

imad moustapha 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
imad moustapha 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
His job is to deal with Syria's stormy relations with its top rival, the United States, but Damascus' ambassador in Washington still finds time to write an Internet blog about everything from art and music to diaper changes for his newborn daughter. Imad Moustapha's blog - full of personal musings and photos, even one of his wife in the hospital after their baby's birth - is unusual for any diplomat but may be even more surprising coming from an official from Syria, where the government is among the most tight-lipped of the Middle East. "You have to remember that I belong to a generally speaking younger generation of Arab politicians ... We are by nature more open than the older generation," the 47-year-old Moustapha told The Associated Press during a vacation in Damascus. "I face tremendous pressures in my job that nobody can imagine. I have a very, very difficult post and you need an outlet, a way of escape," he said of the blog, which he began in 2005. Syrian-US relations have been icy at best in the past few years, particularly since the time Moustapha took up his job in Washington in 2004. Relations plummeted to an all-time low after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which many blamed Damascus. The US pulled out its ambassador to Syria and clamped a diplomatic boycott on the country, accusing it of destabilizing Lebanon, sending insurgents to Iraq and supporting militant anti-Israel groups Hezbollah and Hamas. Syria, which has for years been on a State Department list of nations that support terror, denies involvement in Hariri's assassination and calls the groups it supports legitimate resistance movements. "It is not an easy job. Sometimes I almost feel depressed," Moustapha wrote of his job at one point. That's about as close as he comes to discussing politics in the blog. "My blog is my personal sphere. If I want to write about politics, which I do, I would publish it in the mainstream media," he said. Moustapha said he does not think Syrian President Bashar Assad is aware of his blog. "I never told the president about it," he said. Moustapha, who holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of Surrey in England, says he opposes the tight Internet restrictions in his country, where Web sites critical of the regime are frequently blocked. "I do not believe that imposing restrictions is a good thing ... yet I understand that things need to move gradually," he said, echoing his government's position that change will take place at its own pace, not as mandated by the West. Several Syrian bloggers have been arrested for political writings on the Internet in recent years amid the explosion of blogging across the Middle East. Most bloggers based in Syria now avoid discussing politics. In his blog, which is in English, Moustapha writes about Syrian artists, his favorite books and the diplomatic hob-nobbing his job calls for in the US. The blog is full of pictures of vacations with his wife Rafif al-Sayed to Europe and Santa Fe, New Mexico - and accounts of their new role as parents since the birth of their daughter Sidra in January. "Rafif and I have made an agreement regarding Sidra: she was to be in charge for everything that goes into the baby, I will be responsible for every thing that comes out of her. Accordingly, I became fully responsible for changing her diapers and bathing her," Moustapha wrote. He tells of how he put a Web cam in Sidra's nursery so he can check in whenever he misses her. "It is not out of the ordinary nowadays that, for example, while attending a meeting at the embassy with, say, the leaders of the American Jewish pro-peace organizations, I would excuse myself for a couple of minutes, rush to my adjacent office, check my internet browser, assure myself that Sidra is blissfully asleep ... before I return to resume my very serious responsibilities," he wrote recently. Moustapha said Syrians are "pleasantly surprised" when they stumble across his blog. "They have this perception that high ranking officials in the Syrian government are usually aloof," he said. He also said the blog also helps change perceptions of Syria, saying he gets e-mails from Americans about their surprise at getting a different look at his country. "A drop in an ocean, but it's a drop," Moustapha said. "And this makes me happy." _____ On the Net: