Thursday, July 23, 2009

Syria: "Save us from the white shoes".

An interesting article by Khaled Saghia (Arabic) that is about the rise of neo-liberalism in Syria. I thought I would translate this for people who don't know Arabic. I am not a professional translator, so I apologise to the purists in advance.

Save us from the White Shoes.

Khaled Saghieh

Perhaps it was only a coincidence which drove Zeyad al Rahbani to choose his famous "Dust" sketch and present it in his shows at "The Castle" in Damascus last week. That sketch is taken from his radio show "The Brain is Decoration" which was presented on "The Voice of the People" in 1987.

In this sketch, Zeyad describes the silent rise of a petit-bourgeoisie class which destroys what it can in a society, and which cannot be stopped because it spreads like "dust". With this class, you cannot keep them away by closing the doors or windows in the winter, nor can you leave them open during the summer months. Whatever the case, the coincidence was well-placed.

Anybody who goes to Damascus these days cannot help but notice the widespread presence of this "dust". You will not find it in the common markets, as some might imagine, nor in the intimate places which have preserved some of their old charm. You will not even find it in the old houses of Damascus which have now been converted into bars and cafes.

Instead, you will find them in other types of cafes and nightclubs in Damascus, where this class of previously non-existent businessmen meet. We can rightly call this class "new money" and this shows by the style of dress they choose to adopt and in the way they move or dance in the clubs. Usually, this class will practice their obscenities in the poor districts, satisfying their inferiority complex and in order to show off their new found wealth. Those who have come to Damascus from Beirut recognise this class of people and know them well. For it is constantly being reborn through successive waves of migration, and from the old-boy networks which are renewed every time a "boss" inherits from his father.

What is interesting about this class is that the cigar and white shoes are constantly a feature. It emerged in Syria at a time when Washington and Damascus were politically as distant as ever. Yet in spite of this, the neo-liberal economic policies, so strongly advocated by the United States, found welcoming arms ironically in the capital of one of the leading countries resisting American hegemony in the region. As is usual, the rise of such a class is correlated with the spread of discussions about "development" - the latest fashion to arrive in Damascus.

That night, thousands of people gathered at the gates of "The Castle" and some of the people with white shoes were there too, in front row seats of course. When the applause began, they all clapped for the spread of "The Dust". How rare it is for one to be able to clap for themselves!

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