In the evening, I chat with a Syrian businessman over a bottle of wine outside on the balcony while the wind howls around us. He has met Bashar a number of times and thinks he is a really decent man. The problem is those around him who prevent change. The economic situation is causing disaffection. People are protesting and demanding "freedom" without any definition of what that entails. The businessman says that in Syria's history it has always been the business class who determines who rules. If the business class withdraws its support from the regime, then it will fall. So far, the business people are staying with the current regime.It is beautiful account of a short visit to Syria. If you read the whole article you get a taste of the complexity of Syria's society and a sense of the current situation. It is only a one-person account and limited to a very personal viewpoint, so it isn't an authoritative or comprehensive account of Syria right now. But that is fine by me.
The businessman tells me that as much as every Syrian says there is no sectarianism, sectarian tensions in the country are rising. There are problems now between Sunnis and Alawites. I tell him that Iraqis claim they did not have sectarianism before 2003, but the introduction of "quotas" for different ethnicities and sects, the collapse of state institutions, and the targeting of the security forces and terrorists, led to the country unraveling into a Hobbesian world. The businessman tells me that many Syrians are waiting to see in which direction things appear to be heading before they commit to one side or another.
He says that al-Jazeera Arabic consistently runs stories about people being killed across the country, how bad the regime is etc. This incited youth in Palmyra to take to the streets and protest. He tells me that the problems in Syria began initially in Dera'a where some school children wrote on the wall the revolutionary chant heard on the streets of Tunis and Cairo: "as-shaab yurid isqaat al-nizaam" (the people want to change the regime). The local security official, detained the children, and had their finger-nails pulled out. This horrified people. The government did not respond in the right way. And protests began to increase across the country.
The businessman asks me if I think the United States will intervene militarily in Syria. I tell him that this is most unlikely. There is not the will in the U.S., nor the support of Russia and China. It is clear that the regime is not going to give up easily. Will Bashar be able to reach a compromise with the protesters, agreeing to significant reforms and free elections, without the Alawites deposing him? Or will the regime try to crush the protests through violence? Can Syrians prevent their country from plunging into a bloody civil war?
As I sit in the beautiful courtyard of Beit al-Jabri in the old city, eating my last plate of fuul before I depart, I feel sad. Damascus is perhaps the most beautiful city I have visited in the Middle East. Syrians are the friendliest and kindest of people, as Palestinian and Iraqi refugees attest. Will the Syrians be able to prevent their country deteriorating into a bloody civil war, along the lines of Iraq? I hope so. But I really am not sure.
Monday, August 15, 2011
An Intimate Picture of Syria
Here is an article by Emma Sky in Foreign Policy that gives a very personal account of a recent visit to Syria. You get a very personal view of people and events in Syria from this account: