Friday, February 18, 2005

Of life in Syria

I had drafted this memo on August 25th 2004 as part of my travel series and always meant to post it , well maybe now is the right time to do so. Some news maybe outdated, but I don't feel like editing. Here I go, I look forward to your impressions.

I have found the Syrians to be resourceful people, I don’t think the US sanctions are a good idea as it does not really affect their life directly only makes it harder to purchase some very specific items and also it antagonizes the ordinary populace which cannot grasp what is it they are punished for.

For as long as I know Syria had been under some kind of sanction or the other, either self imposed or imposed by outside forces. This has thought the Syrian people to rely on themselves. You should see the cars that run in the streets ,some dating back to the 30’s..instead of being relegated to the museums they are actually functioning excellently and to this day being sold at exorbitant prices. I was happy to notice that lately car import has started to be permitted but 700 000 SL ( 1$= 50 SL) for a tiny Daewoo is just too much and unaffordable by the average employee whose basic salary is approximately 100 – 125 US$. YES believe it or not and he/she has to raise a family on that! Thank God Syria does not need to import food products otherwise people would starve.

The Syrians love life and you will see them in restaurants cafes, gardens, nightclubs, beaches, picnic areas, markets, family gatherings and everywhere in public places …
You will find all the dress styles, from the traditional clothes, the hyper western stuff or even very conservative dress….

The Syrians still like to store food supplies as in old times when there were no refrigerators; this is an annual ritual where seasonal fruits or vegetables are processed in a special manner to be kept for a long time. They make delicious jams and marmalade, homemade cheese, tomato paste, dried aubergines and wine leaves, lemon juice etc… all ready to be used when needed.

The negative part is the rampant corruption of many civil servants, I understand they do this to increase their ridiculous wages but it does not reflect well on the country image and makes way for abuses of people’s rights, although I did notice lately that there was a hotline to which you could report any officer or civil servant suspected of bribery .

As I said, Syria is very hospitable to its Arab brothers and the living proof of this is the thousands of Iraqis which have flocked to it this summer and which have actually caused a rise in the property market prices by buying and renting houses and offices there. Iraqis have become a familiar site in hundreds of public places there.

The other people who were made most welcome are the Palestinian refugees since 1948.
They first arrived and were installed in camps but these camps are nowadays actual cities and buildings and schools etc.. Palestinians in Syria have been treated just like any Syrian, they go to their schools, they are employed in the civil services or elsewhere and the same rules apply to them. In fact they may fare better than the Syrians because they also get special help from the UN, in education, allocation of extra food etc…They are even granted Syrian passports and ID and are allowed to own property in Syria. The only difference is that on their passport it is written Syrian- Palestinian so that their nationality is not lost forever and to guarantee their right of return if they want to the Palestinian (otherwise known as Israel) homeland either when it becomes independent or when the Israeli-Palestinians conflict is resolved. I think that this is a very fair deal because they have lived in Syria since 1948, also they are not allowed their own militias, police or arms or whatever like in Lebanon not to threaten the sovereignty of Syria. And frankly I think that is fine as well, as they should not have that in Syria - their host country- not to repeat the disastrous Lebanon situation of having a state within a state. We all remember ( I hope) how that ended and how precarious is now the Palestinian’s fate in the Lebanese refugee camps. Lebanon does not grant Palestinians the Lebanese nationality by the way!

While I was in Syria and Jordan I met some people who actually witnessed the fall of Baghdad, and the battle of the ex- Sadam airport. I hope that one day sooner rather than later many truths will see the light just like the atrocities in Abu Ghraib came out….What I would like to say is that we are not aware of the whole picture really and neither is the media, that's why the internet and blogs is so good.

The feeling of the Syrians towards the war on Iraq and its occupation? They are delighted that Saddam is gone, but like the rest of us they wish to see the back of the US army ASAP. The ordinary person is very much aware that America’s reasons were not altruistic, he/she is powerless to do anything about it at the moment, but threatening Syria( or Iran for that matter) is not a good idea either because it does not send the right message to the man on the street , it just makes it more obvious that America does not really care about bringing democracy to the Middle-East, as it states , nor about liberating the people there but only about itself and its safety and economy. This may not be what I think, but this is what it looks like to the masses. The war has brought them less safety because of the border with Iraq through which all kinds of persona non-grata are smuggled, in addition to unwanted goods and which the supposedly American occupying forces who were manning it during the war and after it couldn’t care less what was going on. I’m sorry to shock you people but some of your soldiers and officers took as low as 20$ bills to look the other way. I don’t really blame them, they have to survive in hostile territory so why even care about a country or people which are not their own. Plus many of these people are not so well off that’s why they signed up for the army didn’t they? So honestly I don’t have a grudge towards them, this is war. In fact I would like to thank whatever patrol was there in the winter of 2003 and who was compassionate enough to give a bag of ice to be used to lower the temperature of a baby who has a special place in my heart stranded in the Iraqi-Syrian no-man’s land. Thank you guys, you probably saved his life!

When I arrived in Syria it was end of school time. One thing I noticed was that the school uniforms had changed, from the khaki green used for girls and boys since secondary school for everybody, to grey and peacock blue suits . Blue for 7th-9th grade, and grey 10-12th grade. The going joke was that the state had a surplus of this material in it’s textile factories and wanted to sell it, but the true reason ( the going local rumour ) was that when Colin Powell visited Syria in 2003 he made a remark to the effect that 'was all the population of Syrian youths in the army?', to which he got the reply that 'no the school uniforms where standard khaki military green'. Immediately after his visit all the school uniforms were changed. Though this may not be true and I think it is hilarious but this is the attitude I hate, the servility WHY? Who cares ? America will not bomb the Syrians just because the schoolchildren wear combat greens would it ? I mean all teenagers around the world love to wear surplus army clothes, camouflage trousers and skirts and T-Shirts and they think its super fashionable. Needless to say that this change has added a strain on the pockets of the average citizen and the students are not happy because the guys think they look sissy and the girls like the gas cylinders which are the exact same blue in Syria ….


Anonymous said...

What!!!!...they changed the khaki school uniform...the girls looked hot in them...Hanging around girls schools...those were the days....;)
Bring back old memories...


Hannibal said...

I think many the arab and moslem world share the same thoughts you have posted on Syria and Syrians. I am not pro-american or pro-syrians but I think that people are not to blame it is governments who should be aware of the needs and aspirations of their peoples but you have to look around and see that many arab countries have been opening up to the world. The path is long but when there's a start it better than nothing. I never visited Syria but from what i see it seems a country very influenced by the idea of the military and to be honest I was glad that syrian schoolboys and girls gave away their military uniform. I think this is a step towards focusing on other issues more important than the militray such as economic, political and social reforms we are living in the 21st century and we have to cope with this changing world.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to my blog Hannibal and you're blog is quite interesting I was over there 5 minutes ago...yalla good luck and hope to see you often

AlanK said...


nice that you were able to post on syria, very long though I dont think I can match that length of post

also did you find syria to be similar to libya or a very different country


Anonymous said...

All we Americans care about is ending international terrorism. Nothing else. We have looked at the world and decided terrorism is caused by Tyranny. The solution to Tyranny is to remove the tyrants and replace them with democracies that will allow people voice themselves. This is not altruism; this is hard nosed real life real politics. The side benefit is freedom and greater wealth for the people we liberate. It is not a gift that one on high given to those down low, it is a solution to a problem we have and this solution will benefit us all. Work with us not because you trust our motives, work with us because our goals are in your own best interest, No other type of nation is even 1/5 as successfully as a modern democracy. Join the club, you will like it.

Highlander said...

To anonymous 10.19PM, thank you for passing by it must feel so good to be able to say this advice with such assurance, I'm afraid things are a little bit more complicated than that. However, I do agree that terrorism may not be such a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Uncle has been repeatedly mad murdering and war crimes from the before even WW1.

In Phillipines Uncle S. grabbed the fillippines from Spain with the help of the indigenous independance movement. Once the Spanish left Uncle S. reverted to his mass murder mode and killed millions of civillians while trying to bomb democracy into Phillippines.

Then Uncle Sam jumped into WW1 (the war to end war). Uncle S. and his companies made lots of money. In between the WW1 and WW2 Uncle stages many invasions and mass murder in aouth america and Central America.

Along came ww2 and Uncle vaporized 200K + innocent civillians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was to impress the Soviet Union that Uncle s. takes marr murder very seriously.

For the record Uncle S. killed 200K+ innocent women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to save lives.

Uncle s. whole claim to fame is Uncle's S. publicizd his intention and ability to mass murder.

Then came millions in Korea and more millions in Vietnam. Millions of innocent killed while Uncle was trying to teach the gooks finer points of democracy and freedom.

Again Uncle S. jumped into Iraq and managed to Kill 1 million + Iraqi civillians and made refugees of 23 millions.

Only white christian morans buy Uncle S. brazen lies while the rest of the world knows better.