Friday, July 27, 2012

Live from Akram: the many Damscuses

Akram, Angry Arab's correspondent in Syria, wrote me this account:

"For the first time ever, Damascus is Damascuses (or at least, this is what turned out to be the case). And this depends on who tells.

First of all, the heart of the city, the area not being touched by the ongoing fighting. People come and go, filling the streets trying to recover their lives. Stores are open and hawkers raise their voices in an attempt to promote their goods. Vegetables are available and their prices fell sharply while, in contradiction to what the government announces, gasoline is still rare, something that you may discover, right away, by just taking a look at the long queues in front of gas stations. But you can, easily, realize how false is this image of a city full of life, by looking in the eyes of people or by hearing their discussions. Then only, you can detect the amount of anxiety and uncertainty that fills their hearts.

The second Damascus can be seen in the accounts of the displaced people or their relatives. A huge amount of angry of what they describe as brutal practices of the army in the regions that witness combats. You can hear sad stories about indiscriminate shelling, homes that have been stormed and their poor contents that have been destructed, and mass arbitrary arrests of young men. A Palestinian taxi driver who looked exhausted told me that, since the early morning (Thursday), he was trying to evacuate his family from Al-Yarmouk, a large Palestinian refugee camp located South Damascus, until he succeeded by the noon. Another one, a friend, managed to evacuate half of his parents from Al-Sbeineh, a poor quarter to the south of Damascus that is waiting his turn in the "cleaning" campaign carried out by the Syrian army, while the other half preferred to stay at home because they didn't want to be "humiliated". The two men said the military operation succeed only to hit the civilians while gunmen could easily escape waiting for the army to go away before they came back. Increasing tensions are taking place in the regions that received displaced people. In Jaramana, a Damascene suburb, some dislocated people from the stricken city of Douma and who are sheltered in two public schools wrote anti-regime graffiti, something that raised the ire of the residents who are calling for them to be expelled. The same applies on Sahnayia suburb, where some of the displaced people of Al-Tadamoun and Al-Qadam neighborhoods, tried to organize anti-regime demonstrations.

The third Damascus is only seen on TV, in the Ramadan televised series. Damascus of the 19th and the early period of the 20th century, Damascus of the traditional quarters, the gossips of women and their naïve plots, the mannish acts of men with traditional costumes and big mustaches. Or another "modern" Damascus that few know about, Damascus of the villas and large apartments and luxury cars and international restaurants, Damascus of colorful girls and stylish men. The few series that tries to "deal with the situation" are late for at least one year in a manner that makes you laugh loudly.

The fourth Damascus is located in news broadcasts, news tickers and comments of unknown people described as "analysts" (Nasser Qandeel is the brightest star of the Syrian channels) that fill the screen: our brave military forces are still chasing the remnants of terrorists killing and arresting tenths of them, citizens (in this area or that) are grateful to the army for restoring safety and security after the terrorist gangs wreaked havoc in their neighborhoods, the Syrian army is fighting the final battle in Aleppo (earlier in Damascus), the cosmic conspiracy is living its final moments, the BRICS will retaliate, ...

Damascus is no more one Damascus, and it this isn't only because of the sectarian cracks which began to appear on its old face."