Wednesday, October 31, 2007 

Iraqis in Damascus - Saida Zeinab

The first thing that hits you on the road to Saida Zeinab is the red number plates on some coaches, marked Baghdad. Saida Zeinab is a Shia shrine in the south of Damascus.
Refugees are pouring into Syria - despite the recent change in visa requirements - and many of them end up here.
The traffic slows as you head towards the mosque in the centre of the suburb, and black veiled Iranian pilgrims strepping off coaches take up most of the space on the pavement.
I went last week for the first time in ages, and I felt like a tourist. So much has changed.
Of course, like any poor Damascene suburb, the street scene doesn't look much different. Old men and children selling food and cheap plastic electricals on the pavement. Electricity cables stretching between buildings.
But walk down some streets east of the mosque and you won't hear the typical Damascene drawl. It's replaced by the harsher Iraqi accent.

Another giveaway is the Iraqi flags. They fly from shop windows, in front of street stalls, they're sold by young boys in red, white and black caps. Boys even wear them as bandanas.
In fact, across Damascus Iraqi flags are being sold. Walking across Jisr Ar-Rais at night, some of the night time essentials you can pick up on the way home are a bottle of water, a chocolate bar, and the Iraqi flag.
And look over the edge of the bridge and you'll see two large white tents on the site of the old International Conference Fair Ground. One is marked UNHCR (the UN's refugee organisation) and the other is the Turkish Red Cresent. They are used to register some of the Iraqi refugees entering the country.
But let's go back to Saida Zeinab, and the increible mix of people. Iraqis seeking a save place to live, away from the violence at home, and Iranians drawn to the site out of devotion for their religion.
I stood outside the mosque waiting for some Iraqi friends, and started to eat some food I'd been carrying around. Within two bites of the bread, some children rushed up to me and asked me to give them one. I handed it out and another one wanted one. But his friend grabbed it.
They were fighting each other for crumbs of food. And they were speaking with an Iraqi accent. I told them to calm down, and I tried to make sure they each got some. Tears came to my eyes, not just because they were fighting to fill their stomaches, but because of the imbalanced nature of the interchange.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I was standing there with my silly clothes and my camera, intruding on these people's lives. And looking in on them as if they are zoo animals.
I couldn't control the youngsters so I asked their elder brother to hand the food out fairly. He was sheepishly sitting on the pavement nearby.
There is no end to this post. There is no way to end it. No nice conclusion, or contrite observation.

(Again, sorry if there any errors in this - it was sent from my phone.)

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Monday, October 29, 2007 

Change in Syria

I started this blog to paint a picture of life from the streets. But I get too easily distracted by big politics and international arguments.
So right now, I'm going to change that.
Things here are changing. And changing fast. Changing too fast for some people. It's affecting some people too much, others not enough.
But the outlook is positive. If you thought the shutters were being pulled down in preparation for war - by the officials, or by the people - think again.
Private banks are everywhere. French, Saudi, Lebanese, Syrian. And there are cash machines on every street corner. Ok, it's no Lebanon. But people do have access to their money. Society is not relying on cash as much as it used too. But every second coin or note I'm given is a shiny new one.
Talking of new, Pepsi and Coke are here. Pepsi cans even proclaim 'Now in Syria'. The Americanisation doesn't stop there. KFC in Shaalan is doing well.
The open air Z-Bar on top of the Omayaed Palace Hotel decorated with painfully trendy black furniture with views towards Jebl Qasioun wouldn't feel out of place in Beirut or London.
But that's all superficial and affects so few people.
The rich are getting richer. Travel to Saida Zeinab and meet some of the newly arrived Iraqi refugees and it will bring tears to your eyes. But more on that in a few days.
And talking of visitors to Syria, the tourist industry has exploded. I have never seen so many foreigners in Damascus. Germans are everywhere. Every hotel is full. And the taxi drivers are rubbing their hands with glee.
New restaurants and hotels have opened up across the Old City. A couple of years ago there were just two or three.
There are real attempts to clean things up. Baramke bus station has closed. And about time too. It has always been the place I hate in Damascus. Dirty, dusty, busy, polluted and filled with the worst type of people.
It has been replaced by a brand new one outside of Mezzeh.
Jisr bus station has also been closed.
Outside the city people seem more happy than ever before. Syrians seem to realise they have something no-one else in the region has - peace. And there seems to be an awareness the worst is over.
So while officials put up posters ever so subtly reminding us of the threat from outside ('Syria doesn't bow to anyone except God') - the people are a lost more content.
Strangers are talking politics like never before. People who know nothing about politics are willing to thrust their opinion on people they don't know. In the street, in cafes, in taxis. The streets are buzzing with politics.
And so will this blog.
(Technical note - forgive me for any errors - I'm sending this from my phone so it might come out a bit strange.)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007 

Amnesty criticises Lebanon's treatment of refugees

Amnesty International has condemned the Lebanese government's treatment of Palestinians.

300,000 refugees are denied access to work, education, adequate housing and health care, according to the human rights group.

They face persecution and racism from the people and are blamed for many of the country's problems.

The Palestinians in Lebanon are treated worse than in any other Arab country in what the group calls "systematic discrimination".

Amnesty says the government has got a duty to improve conditions in the 12 refugee camps. Maintenance is left to the residents, with the government offering no help. The size of the camps has not been allowed to increase since 1948 - even though the number of refugees has increased four-fold in that time.

They say 10 people often share one room, with no ventilation.

The full report is here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007 

Attacks on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon increase

"Families of soldiers who died in fierce battles with Islamists at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon on Friday briefly prevented Palestinian refugees from returning to the camp.

Some 400 men, women and children burned tires and placed stones at the northern entrance of Nahr al-Bared camp forcing a bus filled with refugees to turn back.

Some of the protesters threw bricks while others hurled abuse at the refugees."

Via Angry Arab.

Saturday, October 13, 2007 

They just don't get it

Four and a half years after the invasion of Iraq, Americans still think it's all going wrong because they just didn't plan it well enough.

If only they planned it better, there would have been no insurgency, and they would've been welcomed with flowers and sweets.

THAT is the real tragedy.

Friday, October 12, 2007 

Syria at its best

It has been said before, but rarely as articulately as this.

Qunfuz's analysis of the Arab relationship with Bin Laden shows what the Syrian blogosphere can do when it tries. Not angry rants, not winding grumbles, but clear, eloquent argument.

It's a shame the ones we call journalists and academics can't write as well as this.

He doesn't write often. But it's worth waiting for.

"Americans should have asked themselves the following questions [after September 11]: What has provoked this attack? Why do we encourage Israel in its aggression and oppression? ... At the very least, why have we been funding people like bin Laden and the Taliban? But instead of engaging in a process of self-questioning, America swallowed the line ‘they hate our freedom’. Instead of using its suffering to better understand the suffering of others, America demanded that the world recognise September 11th as uniquely terrible, as if American victims matter more than those from other countries.


So I don’t find Arab cheering for bin Laden difficult to understand. But it is misguided and stupid.


The September 11th attacks were a gift to that section of the American ruling class which wanted to rearrange the Middle East and Central Asia for the benefit of American capital. The neo-con Project for the New American Century report ‘Rebuilding America's Defenses,’ published in 2000, said that the American people would oppose these plans unless there were “some catastrophic and catalysing event – like a new Pearl Harbour.” September 11th gave them what they needed.


Iraq is of course the most obvious case of a national opposition movement being undermined by Wahhabi-nihilist violence. Look at the different responses of Shia Iraqis to the first and second American assaults on [the Sunni city of] Fallujah. During the first attack, Shia clerics led protests against America and sent supplies of weapons, food and medicine to the besieged city. During the second attack, Shia clerics were either silent or said the Fallujans were getting what they deserved. The change was a result of al-Qa’ida violence against the Iraqis they described as Saffavids or apostates.

Which brings us to the third reason why Muslims should reject bin Laden: his promotion of sectarianism, this curse which keeps the Muslims divided and weak, and which distracts their attention from the real causes of their suffering."

More here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 


I have left this post for so long because I don't know what to say.

Yazan, I can't imagine how difficult it is for you at the moment. And I'm not sure if these words do anything to help you, or if they're just self-serving. If there is anything I can do, even if it is just listening, I am here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007 

Witnesses say it looked like a trainign aircraft - but there were no military markings.

The wreckage has been taken by truck to the Mezzeh Military Airport, which is near to the crash site.


Plane which crashed did not hit houses - came down in gardens according to witnesses.


The plane which crashed was a small military aircraft.

At least two people are dead.


Plane crash in Damascus

An unidentified plane has crashed in Damascus.

It came down in Muadamiet Ash-Sham, four miles west of the centre of the city.

The reports are coming from witnesses. It's not clear if there are any casualties.

Updates to follow.



Thursday, October 04, 2007 

On Arabblogs

Roba really has one of the most readable, and visually pleasing sites on the Arab blogosphere.

While we - the vast majority of Arab bloggers - spend our time complaining, in e v e r y single post (prove me wrong, go on), Roba fills my evening with happiness.

Look at this - a homage to Mansaf, and feel the's Gus.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007 

Comment of the week

Our irregular, and certainly-not-weekly feature - comment of the week.

This week: "So not only is Lebanon burning figuratively, it's burning literally, too."

Syria Almighty talks about the Lebanese forest fires.


1 woman dies in Lebanon forest fires

1 woman has died and dozens of people have been injured in forest fires across Lebanon.

Areas near Beirut, and in the north are worst affected. Government negligence is being blamed.

Some fires are still raging, and Jordan, Cyprus and Italy have sent helicopters to try to douse the blazes. It is feared other areas could reignite.

5000 acres have already been destroyed.

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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