الخميس، 31 مايو، 2012

Syria Café: Blood and words on one table





Ali Hashem

My last visit to Syria was in 2010. I was on my way back from London to Beirut via Damascus where I had to attend a wedding.
Life then was different. People were not the same as they are today. None of those attending the wedding then thought, neither did I, that in less than a year some of them will turn to be renegades and others on the side of the regime.
Damascus 2012, I am in a different city where people’s daily bread is the talk of blood. The craft of political analysis is mastered by many, and everyone here claims to have the right version of what's going on.
Pro-regime Syrians strain to convince their listeners that all those who are opposing the rule of “Bashar Assad” are terrorist gangs and members of Al-Qaida. Furthermore, they give multimedia proof recorded from TV shows aired on state run or state controlled media, and whenever they are asked about the bloodshed around the country they blame it on the global conspiracy on their country because of its decision to back the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine against Israel.
Those who back the regime in Syria aren’t as many think a minority; they are the majority of all sects other than the Sunni majority. Most of the Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Shia back the Baath regime. Some are courageous enough to say they want Assad to stay not because they like him, rather it’s the uncertainty that pushes them to do whatever they can to prevent themselves from living under a theocratic regime. They defend their theory by giving examples from Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.
In Damascus people are certain the regime won't fall, though it's obvious that Syria won't ever be the country it was before March 15, 2011, the day the revolution ignited.
Military presence and blockades dominate the scene in Damascus. Fears of explosions and car bombs that started to control the daily agenda had labeled several neighborhoods in it as red zones.
In fact, whole Syria is today a red zone, from north to south, from the borders with Lebanon and Jordan to the Turkish ones. Anti Assad activists are everywhere, even in his strongholds Damascus and Aleppo.
Peaceful and armed opposition control several suburbs in the capital, and dominate other main cities as Homs, Edlib, and Daraa, especially after thousands decided to desert the army and join forces with militants who chose to start their fights against the regime since the beginning of the revolution.
Today the army defectors are called the "Free Syrian Army", but they aren't the only armed party on the Anti-regime side despite being the main umbrella. Several militias are active around the country and have their names, some coordinate with the FSA and others work independently; therefore it's difficult to know who is doing what, and this situation fueled tensions between opposition fighters.
The clearest and strongest example was the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese pilgrims on their way back from the Shiite holy shrines in Iran to their homeland Lebanon in Aleppo. Neither the FSA nor the Syrian National Council was able to identify the captors who were claimed to be with the opposition. Even the Turks who back the FSA and the SNC failed to secure the release.
Armed opposition proved to be a hit to those backing peaceful moves, as people supporting the revolutionaries deserted demonstrations to join the fight. Moreover, they found that armed struggle is more efficient and capable than daily rallies, a finding that was faced by a counter debate that the regime is using the armament of the revolution as a pretext to hit strongly on one side, and on the other to say that the crisis in Syria isn't a popular revolution rather an armed insurgency.
Both Anti and pro Assad know that the war in and on their country wouldn't end soon. The country as most of them agree is divided, and as a result, this division is costing both nation and people who fear that their country might be going towards a fate similar to a shattered Lebanon or Iraq, especially with news of sectarian cleansing around the country getting common, and the rising level of hatred between people from different sects.
The Syrian war reminds me of a masterpiece by a famous Syrian director, Mohammed AlMagout. Thirty years ago, he directed a film titled "The Borders", a story about a taxi driver who was stuck in the middle of his divided country without a passport, where he had no chance to cross from one area to another. So, he built a coffee shop bringing together the soldiers fighting on each side to daily parties and helping them overcome the differences.
Today it's clear that AlMagout's movie became a real story with one missing element, "The Coffee Shop" that brought together his warring brothers.

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