DAMASCUS, SYRIA – Much is being said of Syria in the headlines lately that I’ve been delaying posting this, holding my breath for an awe-inspiring Egypt-like turning point to happen here. (President Bashar al-Assad may be replacing his cabinet, but protests continue.) Shortly after January 25th, there was talk that the country would face its own people-powered democratic revolt, with a Facebook page calling for exactly that – Syria’s “Day of Rage.”
That day, however, failed to materialize.
When Mohan and I visited Syria on that second week of March 2011, the world’s eyes had not yet been directed at the seeds of unrest taking place within the country, but were focused on the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan and the escalating unrest and civil war in Libya. Speaking of large scale uprisings, a revolt like that would never happen in Syria, I was told by locals we met in Damascus and Aleppo. They unanimously acknowledged the need for greater political freedoms and social reform, but pointed to the relatively large and comfortable middle class population in the country, as well as the “respect” and “admiration” Syrians have for their president as reasons why a revolution wouldn’t work here. (Keep in mind, this was just our experience as travelers passing through. The locals we spoke to were nearly all involved in one aspect or another of the tourism industry – which like in Egypt is temporarily suffering – and their interests lie in having a stable country, not one shaken by a revolution. Likewise, those not in the tourism industry may be fearful of arrest, may have been intimidated by the police-state, and may, on the whole, not feel comfortable speaking openly about state politics with foreigners. We often take such things for granted in America.)