By Erich Follath
Washington still counts him as part of its axis of evil, but Europe and Russia — and, more recently, even archenemy Israel — are courting him as a negotiating partner. The ruler of Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad, wants to lead his country back to the international community.
Bashar Assad will never be a charismatic politician like Barack Obama or a populist leader in the style of Fidel Castro. Forced into politics by his über-father, Hafez Assad, the “Lion” of the nation, the 43-year-old former ophthalmologist consistently comes across as stiff and awkward on the international stage.
Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of roughly 20 million Ismailites worldwide, is visiting the Syrian capital Damascus. The Ismailites, who live primarily in the Middle East, East Africa, Central Asia and on the Indian subcontinent, often constitute the social avant-garde. The Shiite community is also an influential minority in Syria. The Aga Khan Development Network is the world’s largest private aid organization, and the man who founded it, 71-year-old Aga Khan, is considered a leading representative of moderate Islam. Its his personal relationships with political and business leaders in the West and the East as much as his billions that make him a much sought-after advisor. The visit to Damascus is the imam’s fourth meeting with Assad in recent years.
But the Aga Khan’s visit is only one of a series of meetings with world politicians. …