Wednesday, March 26, 2008 

P.S. the air raid sirens have been tested too! No I didn't think it was the start of the war. Honestly. Ok, maybe a bit.


The Summit of excitement

The Arab League Summit is the talk of the town.
This year's event is being held in Damascus. It should be the crowning glory for Syria. The city is three months into being Arab Capital of Culture. The Arab world is supposed to be looking in this direction with rose-tinted glasses for once.
Posters started appearing around town a couple of weeks ago. I have to think, if an EU summit happened in London, it would all be very missable. But here, this is definately soemthing to brag about.
'For a better future for the Arab World' read the massive signs - including some which are longer than a building, along the Fairground.
Men in black suits - who look far more scary than the police - have popped up around key buildings - Cham Palace, the Omayed Hotel, some of the buildings at Omayed Square. Inside the Cham Palace there are dozens more, all pacing around speaking into their cufflinks. Very James Bond.
And this morning, the airport closed (yes, that's right, it closed - shut down until next week - no civilian flights in or out of Damascus International Airport, and no-one is allowed to fly over Syria's capital). That was only announced a couple of days ago - unless you're a Syrianair passenger, in which case, it still hasn't been announced!. That didn't even happen during the Iraq War.
Whole chunks of the city are going to be closed off during the weekend and businesses are going to be shut.
But the craziest rumour is that there could be a curfew. No-one will be alowed into Damascus when the important people are in town.
As for the party itself, well, there are going to be a couple of empty chairs. Lebanon isn't attending at all (they haven't got a president anyway). Saudi is sending its Arab League Ambassador, and Egypt is sending a minor crony.
A better future? Or the same old nonsense.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 

Foreigners in Damascus

We used to play a game. It's called spot the foreigner. You get extra points if they're speaking Arabic, if they don't have a backpack, if they're walking fast.
It worked because foreigners were a rare species in Damascus.
Now, there is a flood. No doubt, it's because Syria is in the news. Five years ago, most people I talked to would need an explanation of where Syria is (between Iraq and Palestine is my favourite!).
So bravo to the foreigners who sought out Damascus a decade ago. Those who were here had clearly done their research. They knew what they were here for, they had a passion for this little known place. And they loved it.
Fast forward to 2008, and the types of tourists are very different. I'll hesitate to call them war-tourists (because they're not all that bad, and because there is no war!). But instead of coming here out of love, they're coming here as voyeurs. It seems they have a checklist of negative assumptions, and they're hnting for scraps of evidence to support their CNN-view of Syria.
But at least I guess infamy can be good for business.

Sunday, March 16, 2008 

Change in Saroujah

I've only been away for twelve weeks. Three months. But things seem more different than when I'd been away for years.
My nomadic existence has brought me back to Damascus after a short exile in London. But this isn't the Damascus I knew a few weeks ago. Things are changing at the blink of an eyelid.
My memories are dominated by images. I picture streets, and people, and buses. But something has changed here, and it isn't a sight - it's a sound.
Saroujah has a new sound. The muathin who read the call to prayer from the Masjid Al-Ward was probably my favourite in the world. His old trembling voice and colourful tones lit up the area. But in my short time away, he has left. In his place is a characterless monotone sound.
Saroujah sounds different.
And then there's the pavement. Parts of Saroujah are being repaved - though thankfully, much quickly and less damaging than the work in Straight Street. The cobbles are finally being replaced.
The smell has changed too. Most of the tourist cafes on the corner of Souq Saroujah and Bahsa have closed.
It's all a bit disjointing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 

Do it now!

Ok, so Samir Jaja is in Washington, and he's going to be spreading his wisdom at an event on Thursday. As Mickey Mouse, I am disappointed not to have been invited. So as my revenge, I will reply to the RSVP email address telling them that in fact, Mickey Mouse will be attending.

If any of my friends - Donald Duck, Tweety Pie, or even Roger Rabbit - are out there, first of all I miss you. And secondly, I advise you to email them quickly, and tell them you will be attending. Even if you won't really!

It will be the most intellectual audience Samir Jaja has had for a long time.

That email address is LIC@LICUS.ORG. Do it now!

On a serious note, such email harassment will possibly give the organisers a hint that wherever Jaja goes, trouble (like us) follows. If I was in Washington, I would like nothing more than to organise a loud demonstration outside the building. Jaja is a war-criminal, and he shouldn't be welcome anywhere but prison.

Sunday, March 09, 2008 

Human Rights Watch gives a voice to the un-oppressed

I'll start this by saying that I have had a long-running campaign against Human Rights Watch, academically and on this blog.

HRW is an overwhelmingly American organisation - the vast majority of its membership, employees and offices are in the US. It contributes to the imbalance in NGOs working in the developing world - overall 89% of NGOs and their workers are Western. Only 11% are from the developing world.

So would it surprise you to learn that at the HRW Film Festival, which starts in London this week, only TWO of their 25 films come from the developing world (and one of those is from Eastern Europe).

More than half of the films come from the West - most of those from America. And a handful are mixed western-developing world productions.

I am prepared to accept that many developing world filmmakers need assistance from the west. But still, only nine of their films have ANY involvement at all from developing world.

This is a film festival of movies by Westerners for Westerners. They've picked cinemas in Notting Hill and Greenwich, just so the privileged don't have to drive their Mercedes far.

In case you care, my thesis was on the normative role of NGOs in the developing world. Put crudely, Western NGOs - with HRW leading the way - are unwitting vehicles for the export of Western morals and values. (And, no, it wasn't that tired argument about cultural sensitivity and the universality of human rights. Some human rights really are universal. Female genital mutilation and torture can't be explained away by 'tradition'.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008 

US election angst

Isn't it tragic how we are staring at our TVs, watching the US election race with such enthusiasm.

This is an election in a country thousands of miles away, in which we have no control. But which will have a direct impact on all our lives.

Do Americans watch the outcome of the Swedish vote with such interest? Do the French care so much about the Italian elections? No, because by-and-large, whatever voters choose in those countries, only affects those countries.

The US election is the only international election, because the US is the only superpower. And we have no say over what happens in it - although it is Arabs who will live and die by the result of the vote.

Maybe the democracy parrots should think about that, the next time they trot out their worn out slogans.

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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