Geopolitics

Why Syria’s ‘Persona Non Grata’ Ambassador To France Gets To Stay

Many countries have sent Syria’s ambassadors packing in recent days. France did the same – sort of. This week the government officially expelled Ambassador Lamia Chakkour. She plans to stay on in Paris regardless.

Go away Madam Chakkour! (descartes.marco)
Go away Madam Chakkour! (descartes.marco)
Christophe Ayad

PARIS - With all of the turmoil in Syria, Damascus is hardly an ideal vacation spot these days. Fortunately for Lamia Chakkour, she won't be heading there – despite being declared a persona non grata earlier this week in France.

While other Syrian ambassadors are being sent home from their various foreign posts, Chakkour, the top Syrian diplomat in France, gets to stay – thanks to her other job in Paris: permanent delegate for Syria at UNESCO.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bernard Valéro had to recognize as much on Wednesday. France notified the UNESCO secretariat of its decision, but only the Syrian authorities or the U.N. agency itself can expel her from this second position.

Chakkour can therefore stay in Paris for a while longer – unless Damascus calls her back. That would be a real blow for this sophisticated woman who has spent most of her adult life abroad.

The diplomat's father was Youssef Chakkour, a ba'athist Christian general who was a defense chief of staff from 1972 to 1974 before becoming Syria's defense vice-minister. He was himself nominated ambassador to France in 1978.

Lamia Chakkour arrived in Paris when she was 16 years old. After graduating from high school, she studied architecture and urbanism in Versailles, Paris and Créteil. She returned to Syria in 1987 and, disliking life there, began a career as a high-ranking international official with UN-HABITAT, first in Kuwait, then in Lebanon and Jordan.

In 2008, Damascus warmed up to Paris at then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy's initiative. The improved relations followed a three-year rift provoked by the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was a friend of Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Syrian Vice-President Farouk Al-Chareh, a friend of Youssef Chakkour, thought of the general's daughter for the ambassador position in Paris. She presented well and spoke French. Chakkour had no diplomatic or political experience but from a Syrian point of view she had two advantages: she was a woman – like Siba Nasser before her – and she was Christian, like Elias Najmeh, ambassador from 1996 to 2002.

"It's the image that counts," says one French diplomat. "In Paris, all the ambassador does is transmit messages."

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - descartes.marco

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Society

Germany's Legendary Clubbing Culture Crashes Museum Space

The exhibition “Electro” in Düsseldorf is an unlikely tribute to a joyful and uninhibited club culture, with curators forced to contend with limits of a museum setting ... and another COVID lockdown.

A woman with a "Techno" tattoo in front of the famous Berghain

Boris Pofalla

DÜSSELDORF — The last party at the Berghain nightclub in Berlin lasted from Saturday evening until Monday morning. On the first weekend of December, some clubbers lined up for nine hours outside the former power plant – and still didn’t make it past the doormen. A friend said that dancing in the most famous techno club in the world on its last evening was like landing a spot in the last lifeboat to leave the sinking Titanic on 14 April 1912.

It is surely a coincidence that the first comprehensive exhibition charting the 100-year history of electronic music in Germany opened in the same week that nightclubs across the country were forced to close. It wasn’t planned that way, but it’s like opening an exhibition about the cultural history of alcohol the day after the introduction of prohibition.

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