I. A trip of Fear
How it started! We’re all immersed in the Syrian revolution since March in one way or another. We’ve been hearing from here and there trying to sort the good from the bad and the good from the great where at this time good is not considered good. We debated different sorts of narrations and always relied on press reports, video clips and some leaked news from local residents. However, deep down inside us there was this thirst to seek our own version of truth to validate or refute a narration and that’s what I’ve decided to do.
At work, being a Syrian, I was always subject to all sorts of Syrian issues related questions, and in many cases there was this sense of high expectations of me knowing everything and answering any inquiry but in reality I was very far if not the furthest to answer their questions. On many different occasions I’ve been told oh “lucky you for being away from the hell”, I used to reciprocate with a big smile because I was like many of us (online bloggers) lucky enough to enjoy a coffee while commenting here and there with nil risk till one day I was cornered by non-Arab friend who was like “and what about the others” refereeing to all Syrians on ground who are facing death on daily basis.
For this and too many other reasons I decided quietly on my plan of going back home to be there trying to understand what’s actually happening aside from all sorts of manipulation or distortion, I wanted to see it (the truth) in my own naked eyes. So out of the blue I inform the family of my trip to spend the Xmas in Europe just like that “by the way I’m planning a trip to Europe and flying next week” there was a silence in the room and I could see it in their eyes something like “you’re a terrible liar” but nobody elaborated except the dad saying “say hi to “Europe” from me”.
My ticket on Syria Airways is booked and I’m waiting at the gate, I am a bit early as if arriving early at the gate will make it a faster trip or something. People started gathering and it does not take you long time at all to start recognizing the Syrian features on their faces, you could tell easily the Hourani, Alawi or Shami accent. for me they all looked somehow different today, as if they’re not all sharing the motherland while they all are sharing the anxiety and fear on their faces. Oh, there’s a stand with some newspapers on it, but no one is helping himself to grab a one or two (You know the Syrian mentality appreciates free stuff and surely they would not miss a chance of free papers) I take my way to grab the papers and just while I’m heading there I spot the headlines in French, English and even German all talking about deadly killing in Syria and suddenly I figured out why no one is reading and there I learnt that I’m already in the kingdom of fear while physically I’m still in Europe. It’s quite amazing, as if this feeling of fear is implanted in every Syrian, fear makes you scared to read a paper overseas while you keep looking at the ground trying to avoid any eye contact with anyone around especially the security steward (Modeef Amni) who’s assigned to this trip.
The ground stewardess starts calling on passengers, starting with first class and so on … but suddenly and out of the blue this ghost with this scary moustache pops out of the tunnel and calls for his friend in who was sitting next me, he was saying (Abu-Rmi yala yala) lets it move it Abu-Rami we need to put up the table. This Abu-Rami stands up and stares at every one, including myself, a stare of challenge to fulfill this sick desire of control and announces his upper hand and to add some icing he pulls this black plastic bag out of his pocket and covers the papers as simple as that. No need to mention the puzzled face of that local ground stewardess who was utterly shocked how Abu-Rami acts like. So we make our way to the plane to find a checkpoint set up by Abu-Rami and three others where they’re asking to search every bag and personal search for young men, including myself, one guy asked what’s all this about? We just passed airport security!! And the answer was “if they (westerns) were doing good job we would not have faced armed gangs” I think this line tells you a lot about their way of thinking, I stepped inside the plane looking around and could easily spot those 1980s security guys who’re still insisting to put on their sunglasses inside the plane as if no one could see them or actually it’s their way of saying yes we’re here and Welcome to kingdom of fear.
We arrived at Damascus airport and people stopped talking, everyone is making his way to passport control booths so do I. Marhaba I say, they guy looks up at me with no reply!! He takes my passport and starts pressing frantically on his keyboard and I start thinking all about SC and 7ee6an wondering if my real identity was leaked out somehow and I hope that my family specially my father does know about my definition of a trip to Europe. The guy does not talk to me (it’s been at least 8 minutes) finally he says you’re wanted for the main Mukhabarat directorate and I was like how come? are you sure? He goes like yes and you did obtain their approval to leave the country 6 months ago. Six months ago!!! Are you kidding? I was not home for the last ….. I’m sure there’s a mistake here check more please (yes I was using please but not sure if he could hear it) ok.. ok.. he replies, yes it’s you 100%. Honestly I had a glitch for few seconds then collected myself again to counter, did you check DOB and mother name? He insists yes I did. I say it does not make sense, there should be a mistake, I say. Suddenly, he reaches to his stamp and grants me an entry just like that. Till now I have no clue what happened, but my hunch that he was just messing up with me as a part of their procedures to see my reaction or for someone who’s watching in the camera to take a decision. People who I shared this story with told me that there was no way to let me go if there’s a dot of doubts against me, so now I believe it’s just a part of their psychological war against their own people.
Going through other parts of the airport was not a much different experience, I saw Bashar’s pictures everywhere from the door of the plane to the car park booth where you pay your tariff, I saw guys getting dragged out of the line into rooms, I saw ladies pleading for their partners and kids. That mum was crying out talking to everyone trying to explain to them that her son is a Christian Syrian and he’s not eligible yet for military service while the guys were looking at her breast, playing with their moustaches and most importantly ignoring her. I understood that all these dolls on the front line are fully controlled by others who are hiding and watching everything behind the walls.
In my next update, I will tell you how people of Damascus are severely split between pro/against the regime and how friendships and relations were terminated as an extension of a related argument. I will tell you how young kids in schools are participating in the strike simply by not buying from the canteen during breaks. I will share with you more info after meeting with couple of guys from tansiqya of Hajr aswad. I’ll be heading to Midan in Damascus on Friday to participate in my first actual protest against the regime (I hope it won’t be the last one although I don’t mind taking the consequences) this protest take an extra importance especially after signing the protocol and observers arrivals.
Finally, Giath Matter’s wife (may God have mercy on his soul) have given a birth to a beautiful baby girl and I have visited them at home. Basically, I was dragged to Daria and been showed a little girl who they claimed being his daughter (may God bestow his mercy on him). Few days later i was informed the same of being a new boy not a girl. However, i checked again and people were split between a boy or a girl. It’s another example of the amount of bullshit and false information you could get from both sides in Syria even if you’re living in there.
God bless you Syrian expats.
II. In Damascus
First of all let me start with a statement I’ve heard here in Damascus from an old man “Damascenes and Aleppan ladies are useless to carry a president quality in their wombs. If he (Bashar) stays or leaves there will be no president from Damascus or Aleppo in the future” He further elaborates “People of Damascus do enjoy being bossed around by minorities, it’s in their blood”.
I was really getting annoyed with the car-rental service. Excuse me, I did pay in advance please check your records. Looking at me as if I’m speaking a language from the time of Jesus Christ then, she looks here and there then says, but no more cars at the airport so you need to go to the main office near Damascus tower. The main office! How will I reach the main office? Anyway they ask me to hop in with a driver who was leaving soon and he will drop me off just by the main office. I say marhaba (this word is more common to use to than salam) and he replies ahleen. I was relieved to hear his accent, surely he’s a Damascene (shami) not Alawi or from any other coastal city. Do you smoke? I reply no thankfully. Well done, he replies, but still he opens his glove box to take his packet of cigarette and all of the sudden I’m turned into this trapped passive smoker. So what do you think? I asked, it was a question on the spur of the moment, and I hoped not to regret it ever. He stares at me, sizes me up and down, inhales deeply and releases a bigger cloud of his killing smoke, (ta3bana) it’s not ok, he replies. Just looking ahead with no further talking till suddenly he snaps saying some bad language (ikhwat elsharmotta) (brothers of whore) I look ahead to find a flying checkpoint just before taking the exit off the airport highway.
Hi guys (marhaba ya shabab) he addresses the conscripts at the checkpoint, who reply back with a smile and ask for IDs. I look around to see a couple of motorcycles and a fancy car parked few meters away from the checkpoint, I look to other side to see a group of 5 men circulating around what looked like two containers of beans and hummus. We move on with no drama so I ask, how many of those (checkpoints) around here? You never know, he replies, it all depends on the situation but may God take them away to hell. It’s not an easy job to take them away, I replied, it will take longer time and more effort, I elaborated. He speeds up, as a sign of tension or something then counters back, not at all Inshallah soon we will crush all these troublemakers and our leader will take us to the shore of safety!!! I was utterly shocked as I thought we were on the same page, but it does not make sense, he’s a shami, why? It just does not make sense!! Pulling his leg, I said, just tell me how? After we clean Homs we will chase every one of this freedom (7eeryeh) group back to their leaders of Qatar and Saad Al-Hariri.
It’s quite notable for me to come across a shami man who’s completely opposing the opposition; he does not even acknowledge them as opposition. Take care my son and stay away from Reef-Dimashq, was his last sentence to me before hopping out the car. Day after day I kept meeting up with Damascenes from different backgrounds, social class and education level, it did not take me long to realize that non-sunni people are fully behind the regime and when I say fully I mean it just like that. On the other hand, a big portion and I might challenge the narration to say the majority of Sunnis in Damascus are in total support of the regime. Yes, I come across lots of people who were opposing in public, there were not afraid and their answer was like (they’re busy chasing up armed men so we’re the least the care about now). Yes, the tansiqiat (coordination groups) are doing an amazing job and I have to tip my hat for them but in reality the big picture says that people of Damascus are asleep and actually they have put on a sign “Please don’t disturb” we’re asleep and PREFER to stay asleep.
Amazingly enough, the young kids of Damascus are more active and I’m not exaggerating when I say maybe they are more developed politically then their parents. Heaps of Sunnis adults were bragging and saying we’re shabiha of the leader, many of them has no sense of sympathy with all killed martyrs throughout the country actually they are quite reluctant to call them martyrs. After long conversations with many of those Sunni-Menhebaks I could put my finger on one common thing which they all enjoy and share. They are all beneficiaries (mostafeeden) in a way or another and super lazy to take this leap of faith to freedom, they prefer their weekly picnic (seeran) over a bright future and a break in Bloudan over political pluralism.
In my next update I’ll try to cast some light on women’s point of view and participation in this revolution.
III. Myopia People
As I said in the last segment, Heaps of Sunni adults in Damascus are bragging and saying they’re the real shabiha of the “leader”, many of them have no sense of sympathy with all the killed martyrs throughout the country and actually they are quite hesitant to call them martyrs. I’m quite reluctant to refer to those as “fence sitters” because simply they are not; they are people with their own understanding and way of perceiving things. It’s true that there is a big segment of Damascenes who are in favor to hold arms, not to topple the regime but more to retrieve their “lost-lifestyle” which they have lost to “jama3et el-7eriya” the freedom group 10 months ago.
Many tried to understand and analyze the attitude of this segment of Damascenes and maybe Aleppans for that matter, many descriptions and fancy words have been used to diagnose their current mind state. Things like silent opposition, ash under the fire, concerned for their wealth …etc. However, after spending a decent period of time in Damascus I have my simple interpretation of their attitude and unexplainable behavior. Those “fence sitters” are not troubled or in struggle to examine and explore the obvious; not at all, actually those are in full satisfaction with their stand and enjoying bursting comprehension to the surrounding and consequences to their actions.
I call this cult the “myopia people” who can’t see further than their noses and sadly speaking it’s in their hands to end or maintain the lifespan of the current regime. This cult is consisted of different sects and backgrounds, and the Sunnis of Damascus are taking the lead of it. One might argue saying these are the Menhebaks or elmostifedeen (beneficiaries) which is not true at all. These people are smart enough to understand what’s going on, they’re not in favor for Bashar himself or for his incompetent government not at all, and if you observer their actions you would notice how they oppose Bashar and criticize him along with his cronies in public with no fear but surely their open mouths of criticism to the regime is incomparable to the hate and despise they have for “jama3et el-7eriya” protesters.
What’s more, I decided to run my own analysis trying to understand more about this segment of people. I was enthusiastic enough to go an fetch personal info (I know that’s not ethical) about many people who I chose to be a part of my case study and sometimes I took the risk not only to push it a notch but rather too much. I did have chat with more than 10 people from different sects (5 Sunnis,3 Alawis and 2 Christians) I tried my best to use only one set of questions such as what, who and why. Of course, one of the first questions was to ask whether he/she is a fan of Addonia TV. I’m still in process to concatenate my findings and conclude more but for the sake of this post I’ll address you with only three scenarios.
Scenario one: (Male, Sunni, 52 years old, middle-class close to poor, dairy business, married) This mark did not only defend the regime fiercely but he took the extra step to put up a sign in his shop which says (Ma 3ina 7eriya) Something like we don’t sell freedom. I struggled to understand his behavior especially that he’s operating his little diary in Share3 Al-ameen next to Alshghour (Sunni old Shami neighborhood). Right at the beginning and giving his background and the location of his shop, I could exclude the possibility of him being an ass kisser or (tamse7 jou’7) as we call it. Excluding the act of hypocrisy has lead me to my second naïve conclusion that he might be one of those” mostifedeen” (beneficiaries) so I did dig deep into his life to find out more. However, the results were pretty disappointing for me as this fellow was with NO relation to the following (government employment, military service, big trade or business, Alawi relatives, paid trumpet (bouq) … etc)!!! He’s a clean dude similar to each of us who has no ties whatsoever with the regime. I did this exercise many times and kept collecting more and more info but always the puzzled face and astonished eyes was the answer.
Consequently, I decided to move to phase2 and have a direct talk with him. Hi uncle (marhaba3amo) “we say uncle out of respect to older people in Syria” can I grab this and that? The man looked and sounded as friendly and normal as he could get while he has Al-Arabiya TV channel on talking about the “staged” explosions in Damascus few days ago. I found it hard to open the “sensitive” topic butfinally with a big smile (trying to be funny) I asked him (can I have 2 kilos of freedom) he looked me in the eyes for few seconds and out of the blue he said you don’t look like Mukhbarat or Tansiqya and then he laughed out. I found it interesting how he shared publically these feelings of hatred to Mukhbarat, but what’s more interesting is that he’s equaling the bad image and impression of Mukhabart with Tansiqya. I asked for a can of coke and we started a chat, he started by addressing me with “we had the real freedom, we don’t need their freedom” another point got my eyes that he kept talking as (we) instead of (I) every time he talks politics. “We had the freedom of living our life the way we wanted, we ran our business hours the way we liked, we went for picnics and trips at any time we desired, our ladies were safely wondering around Damascus, and no one ever put a lock on my shop to prevent me from earning my sustenance”… (few minutes of ranting on the same line) … then after a long sigh he elaborated “look at us now! God damn them”. I went a bit blunter and asked again how come? “Before al2zmeh (crisis) Mukhbarat and their friends were living away in their cages of security branches, we did not talk politics and no one ever harmed us, this was the unspoken gentlemen agreement between the ruler and people. They (Mukhabarat) have never been in our neighborhoods or marched into our houses, but now they’re everywhere disturbing our ladies and stealing our money”. I asked but 3amo ya3ni freedom & dignity and he snapped back saying “and who told them we want freedom or dignity we by our actions define our dignity, the dignity we once had but now look at us no freedom and no dignity and no future”. I thanked him a lot and took my way out towards old Souq Medhet Pacha on feet trying to put myself in his shoes in order to digest his point of view and see where he and many others are coming from, it was a nice walk till I was intercepted by a van of Shabiha who were guarding the entrance towards Omayyad mosque, they fully pissed me off and destroyed my mood so I jumped into a taxi and went home.
Scenario two: (females, Sunni, 30s, @ Tofaha bakery next to town centre mall near Sahnaya). At the exact time when Mukhabart and Shabiha were bombarding Douma and Mouadamiya suburbs in Damascus, I decided to go to the mall to see whether the fact of killing people would prevent Damascenes from going out. I was pretty disappointed to see the crowds enjoying their shopping time as if the killing is happening in Palestine (business as usual) not only 10km away. I was sitting at my table waiting for my order (manakeesh & muhammara) next to atable of five women all veiled with very conservative Sunni looking. Of course in Syria you can’t just go and talk to ladies so I could not help it but togive them my ears especially when I heard them saying “5arabo elbalad” they destroyed the country. I readjusted my seat and paid full attention to their “secure” conversation (except from a nosy pervert like myself). That statement was seconded by others with (y26a3 3omrhm) may God take their lives away. At that time I was fully confident that they were refereeing to either Shabiha and Mukhabart or simply the clan. However, the hammer on my head was arrived when the most senior lady amongst them who looked to be (7amayah) the mother in law issued her disastrous statement saying “one day here and one day there we had enough, Inshallah Mr. president will relief us from them very soon and forgood, we had enough really we had enough (el3ama yedreben) may God blind them” she elaborated “yesterday I could not find an original block of Fa soap in supermarkets!!!” I was utterly shocked and went speechless so I spitted out my food and walked away.
Scenario three: (Male, Christian, 28 years old, Jaraman). This guy was aware of my intentions and he asked me to deliver his voice out. He sees himself more inclined towards the revolution, “might be the age” he reckons. His family members are in total opposition to the revolution, I asked why? And was expecting the same old answer “it’s an existence question for Christians” but his reply was sweet and concise, he assures us that yes it’s true that there are these feelings of insecurity within the Christian community but nothing more than any other community within Damascus. He confirms that the opposition groups tried to reach out to them to validate their worries and guarantee some securities; even he goes an extra mile to confirm that Christians in Damascus are not afraid whatsoever of sectarian killing which might break out in the future. I asked the question then why do you folks oppose the revolution? He answers by quoting his mum “they are the reason for disturbing our life and unleashing these herds of shabiha into our life”.
The common pattern between these three examples is stark and obvious; those people are upset and angry about having their lifestyle disturbed. Furthermore, their life has been somehow dented in a way or another by the regime and its actions but unfairly decided to blame the revolution instead. Most horribly, they don’t acknowledge the demand of protesters and have ZERO sense of sympathy or even connection with them. Concepts such as freedom and dignity are irrelevant to them, while many prefer to live and pass away in peace living on the margin. This segment is not in support for Bashar as a person as they could not careless who rules and fools. However, they are quite nostalgic to the era of the last 10 years, an era in which Syrians (high consumption rate) defined and measured their prosperity by their access to products on supermarkets shelves and their frequent weekly picnics. The regime’s foundation of support is mainly comprised of this segment in addition to the classic Menhebaks, Mostifeedeen and minorities in Damascus. I have no idea how but the opposition groups need to break this foundation and find their methods to address this segment of people, although I, personally, find it impossible to reach people who trade their freedom and dignity for a block of Fa and Friday picnic.
IV. A quick note about Palestinians in Damascus
Palestinians (around 250 thousand) in Damascus are mainly gathered in Palestine & Yarmouk refugee camps next to Midan and Qadam. The regime and opposition did their best to lure them to their sides but they (Palestinians) decided to stay on the fence with the attitude of we’re just temporary visitors here in Syria so please keep us out of it till we go back home to our Palestine. Bouthaina Shaaban did try to frame the Palestinians in many incidents, consequently, Ahmed Jibril (PFLP-GC) met with Bashar and cleared the air. One security personal told me currently they are ordered to treat two types of IDs with respect at every checkpoint, that’s being either a security personal or a Palestinian.
Many Palestinians have been killed during this revolution; recently three were killed in the last bomb in Damascus when a mini-bus operates on Mezha-Palestine rout was passing by the Carlton hotel. I did attend the funeral of one of them who was named (Khaled Abu-Madi) in Yarmouk camp. The alarming issue that the opposition is not doing any serious effort to gain the Palestinians, there are lots of rumors that people of Midan distributed flyers in the camp saying (we will take our houses back very soon after toppling the regime and send you back to where you come from) and even people of Hajr Aswad were chanting (bedna ne7ki 3ala elmakshof falastini me bedna nshoof) which means frankly speaking we don’t want to see any Palestinian in Syria. To add misery to their concern, the regime is distributing pamphlets quoting one SNC member who’s saying (there are 40 thousand governmental jobs are stolen by the Palestinians in Syria while Syrians are unemployed) and Haytham Almaleh saying (Palestinians drink 17 thousand fresh water bottle everyday in Damascus while Syrian are thirsty somewhere else) I could not confirm if these statements were actually issued but surely they are leaving very negative impact and not helping the Palestinians to fully join the revolution.