Saturday, May 19, 2012

Arguing with Marion Maneker
Arguing with Mohan Matthen
I did a lousy job with Matthen, and with James Wood. I was lazy.
But as the kings, queens, princes, one emperor, a grand duke and an emir posed for a historic photograph inside the castle's Waterloo Chamber, elsewhere human rights activists condemned it as a platform for "blood-stained despots and tyrants".
Perhaps, the Queen's advisers may have reflected, this glittering anniversary bash was not such a good idea after all.
Taking his seat amid the heraldic splendour of St George's Hall, was King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain, whose regime is accused of the brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Swaziland's controversial King Mswati III, who has amassed 13 wives and an estimated £60m personal fortune, according to Forbes magazine – while many of his 1.2 million subjects live in poverty – was seated nearby.
Saudi and Kuwaiti royals, criticised for their human rights records, also feasted from a menu which included English asparagus, Windsor lamb, wild mushrooms and Kent strawberries, paid for by the taxpayer, via the Sovereign's Grant.
The Queen had rolled out the full red-carpet treatment with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and princesses Beatrice and Eugenie among a 12-strong royal welcoming party. Prince Charles was not there, as he was hosting his own glittering dinner at Buckingham Palace on Friday night for the foreign rulers, excluding King Hamad, who was not attending.
The Queen welcomed the Bahraini ruler with a handshake and a laugh as the two shared a joke.

Who is running the show in Syria?
I received a detailed report from a Syrian with contact inside the regime. It has been confirmed to me that the Russian government (through its intelligence service) is running the show. Qadri Jamil is playing an increasingly important role (the Russians want him as prime minister). I am told that Bashshar's orders are no more followed or implemented: that, yes, the regime is still resilient and that there are no defections to speak of despite generous offers of Saudi and Qatari cash but that there is intense in-fighting within the regime. I know of one assassination by regime mukhbarat agents against a Syrian who had too much information about the contacts of Hafidh Makhluf. It is, in short, a mess and the poor Syrian people are caught between vicious warriors, local, regional, and international.

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