Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First hand account from Syria

This evening I finally caught up with a friend of mine who had arrived from Syria a few months ago. To my surprise, I found that H had been active in the protests that had been regularly taking place in the Meedan area of Damascus. The picture he painted of life in the city was illuminating. Coming from a traditional Damascene family, H describes how people speak frankly of their position regarding the regime. He and his friends speak of a Damascus where protests were regularly taking place after Friday prayers at each mosque. 

Security services are edgy and tense, and respond with live fire or overwhelming force when a demonstration starts. H described meeting five of his friends so far, each of whom had been detained and beaten for some time, emerging from the prisons more confident and eager to continue protesting. Far from crushing their spirits, the regime is strengthening the determination of protesters. 

The Damascus merchants were said to be providing the LCC and the revolutionaries their Ramadan alms, and he said that one individual volunteered four satellite phones (at the cost of half a million Syrian pounds each approximately) that he had bought on the black market, and arranged to have them sent to different people in the country. Far from a monolithic state, the Assad regime is seen internally as shaky and unable to maintain effective control at all places and all the time. An unconfirmed story he told me was that even the officers at the detention centres are unhappy with what is happening with the country. People are donating a lot to the revolution, according to H, though to whom and how he could not say. 

He's also noted how quickly people have become interested in politics, and that this is all that many people discuss. Nobody believes that Assad will make it through this crisis, but it is still not clear what alternative many people are seeking. H was sceptical of fears that Syria would be run by an Islamist government should Assad fall, and he felt that actors such as the Muslim Brotherhood were dinosaurs from a past age whose time had passed. The thing that made him most happy was that the fear which had paralysed a generation of Syrians is no longer there. He was also of the opinion that many Christians have joined the protests, though they have some fear about the future since they are a minority.

I can't confirm any of what H has told me, but a lot of it corroborates with what I've been hearing about events taking place in the country. Perhaps most surprising was his account of Damascus merchants donating funds for the revolution and how widespread the support for the revolution is within the city. 

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