By Sharmine Narwani
Aftermath of the Midan bombing that left 26 dead and dozens more wounded
Crossing over the Lebanese border into Syria was anticlimactic. The lines of people waiting to have their papers checked did not look markedly shorter than during my two previous visits, both having taken place well before popular Arab revolts broke out across the Middle East.
Even security checks — looking into the trunk of our car and the kinds of questions asked by immigration personnel — appeared, if anything, less probing than my earlier experiences.
But two things caught my notice. Posters vilifying certain media networks — Al Jazeera, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, and the BBC — dotted the walls of the border crossing. One to the right of the counter for “foreigners” hovered over the head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) crew in line in front of me. Ah, I thought — the rumors that foreign journalists are now trickling into Syria may be accurate.
The second noteworthy detail was the whispers among border personnel that a busload of Syrian soldiers being transported from their barracks had been bombed by a roadside IED — near Zabadani, a town now claimed by the armed opposition. I have no confirmation of this.
I was worried about my stay in Damascus in the Christian quarter of the Old City. Just four days earlier, on a Friday, a suicide bomber had detonated explosives in a crowded area in Midan — inside the capital — apparently targeting a bus of policemen, although the casualties were mostly civilians.
I was keen to see if there were tangible ramifications of this act of terror in the heart of Damascus — 10 months into the protests, the city is still largely viewed as being supportive of the government. Damascus counts. No uprising will be complete unless this city of 2.6 million shifts that balance. The capitol will eventually have to be a battlefield for any revolt to succeed, even if only a political one.
Syria is icy cold this time of year, which may account for some of the empty streets that are normally bustling with humanity. But the Friday after the suicide bombing, the streets were noticeably devoid of people, cars were minimal — the city, quiet. Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, is usually spent with family, so it wasn’t altogether clear if the stillness was due to the previous week’s violence.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s voice greeted us on the radio as my friend and I drove into the country a few days earlier. He was delivering his fifth speech since protests broke out in March last year. It was long-winded and my companion translated every so often. I waited impatiently for these tidbits which lasted well after we were sipping tea in a Damascus hotel lobby — guests and conference attendees crowding around the TV screens to pass their judgments.
Later that day I met with the first on my list of regime opponents, most of whom had served prison terms at some point in their lives. I will write in more detail about these men and women later, but they varied from those who desired an overhaul of the regime while keeping Assad’s presidency intact, to those who would not consider dialogue with any part of the existing government. There were some commonalities. All rejected any foreign military intervention and the militarization of the protests. The majority were scathing about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and external opposition groups like the Syrian National Council (SNC), so liberally quoted by the Western media as the definitive voice of the Syrian “opposition.”
“Their decisions are made in America and Turkey,” said one regime critic about the foreign-based Syrian opposition. “I want decisions made in Syria.” (more…)
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