Note: On January 20th, President Obama’s administration announced that the US would consider closing its embassy in Damascus, Syria due to a series of car bombings and other lax security measures, which the Syrian government has failed to implement. On January 25th, an international organization representative from the Red Crescent was shot dead by “terrorists”, according to the Syrian news agency. Later, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council nations recalled its observers from the League of Arab States mission to Syria.
Regional Analyst, Younes Abouyoub, Comments on Economic Implications of Sanctions
Today’s piece includes an Al Jazeera English interview by an earlier PITAPOLICY contributor, Dr. Younes Ayoub. Dr. Ayoub, who is at Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies, focuses on the free trade agreement that was canceled by Syria with Turkey. He also comments on Iran’s role as the sanctions against Syria increases.
Finally, below includes an eyewitness account by a Syrian-American shared with PITAPOLICY a series of observations in the last five months.
PITAPOLICY Interview with Syrian American Observer
When was the last time you visited Syria before the March 15th uprising?
– First of all I haven’t been to Syria for 5 years. I was expecting to see changes on the infrastructure, building, bridges,…etc. I didn’t see much of a change, almost everything is still the same except maybe for couple of tunnels inside the city.
Describe your first impression after returning to Syria after five years.
– It is the first time in my life I see militants in the street of Damascus. For the past 30 years we were living in harmony and we never felt afraid of anything. I used to hang out until 3-4 in the morning and never felt not safe. Inside Damascus there is not much trouble and violence, but once you see the militant in the streets you feel like you’re in a war zone. People in Damascus during the day are doing their life basics such as go to work, grocery, cook meals at home,.. but only the basic life stuff. I never saw restaurants in Damascus empty like this. After 10 PM the streets are empty comparing to the old days and most people like to stay at home. After midnight almost everybody at home.
How was the situation outside of Damascus?
– I went back and forth to Lattikia, I was driving most of the times but for the last two times I was scared to hell. The very last time I traveled was on 12/10 and for 160 miles between Damascus and Tartous, I was the only non-commercial vehicle on the road… I didn’t see anything on that trip but I was too scared since I heard a lot of stories regarding people kidnapping cars and people in the streets. My neighbor told me that his cousin had a BMW he was traveling to Lattikia from Damascus and armed people stopped him in the road. they checked his ID and new he was sunni so they let him go but took his car. when he tried to complain they told him that they’ll kill him if he say a word! The only accident happened with me on the road is one time I was coming back from Lattikia to Damascus (around 12/03/2011) and around 20 miles before Homs I heard shooting and bullets crossing the highway. some cars stopped and I was going to but realized that I’m gonna be an easy target so I drove faster. I’ve seen videos where massacres happened on the highway and it was done by the protesters not by the regime.
How is the day to day interaction with civil servants in Syria?
– The regime mentality is still the same in my opinion, I went to the Ministry of Health to get a paper for my cousin who’s registered there. It took me 5 hours of work and a wait of 10 days and the paper had to go to the minister himself. All I needed is a confirmation of a certain thing he has and I stamped the paper from at least 7 offices! Another similar thing happened to me when I was getting a paper from the civil court. I also had to stamp it over 8 times! Most of the employees stamped the paper without even looking at it and no one reviewed any document to certify that what he/she is stamping are legitimate or valid.
One time I was at the university of Teshreen in Lattikia. I was in the hallway of one of the schools there. I spotted where I was standing over 10 pictures of the president and his quotes. It wasn’t like this on my days 10 years ago. I took a picture of the scene and after 5 minutes a university employee came to me and took me to the dean office. The dean asked me why I’m taking the picture and what I need to do with it. I told them I needed a picture of the wall of fame which happen to be on that wall as well. He told me I’ll let you go because you don’t like “Mondas”, which is a term to describe Protesters and freedom fighters.
Homs is mentioned as a center of resistance. What is being reported in Syria about Homs?
– Homs now became the city of the Syrian civil war. According to immediate family lives there they can’t go out in the street after 11 AM. few of his neighbors were killed, some were kidnapped by people from the other sub-sec (Alwaite versus Sunnis). The Alwaits in the city believe that sunnis want to kill them because they inherited this old haterisam from their ancestors and the Sunnis believe that the regime is Alwaits so any Alwiats is security and they have the right to kidnap or kill him based on that. I heard stories like 40 people were killed and left in a truck just because they were Alwaits and the next day same thing happened to Sunnis. The important part is channel news like Aljazeera or Alarabiya has never come close to mentioning this on the news.
Please describe the media situation in Syria–in particular the SANA news agency, which is the official government controlled news source.
– People in Syria have no faith in media anymore. we see lies on the news all the time from all sides and parties. One time I was in AlSoliba which is a small neighborhood in Lattikia, while I was there in Aljazeera they were reporting protest on that street and to make it even worse they showed videos… I was shocked of how much lies they put in there! the official tv in Syria lies even more. Most of the people I’ve seen there don’t believe in any media anymore because everybody witnessed lies on his/her eyes. People usually see the channel they support based on what they believe in even down deep they know it holds so much lies.
How worried are you about a civil war?
– Family members now might fight and not talk to each other because of the side they pick in this situation. some of my family members don’t talk to each other because one allies with the system and the other with the protesters. when i look at this on a bigger scale I feel like the country is going to have a big civil war very similar to what we had in Iraq.
– With exception to bread, rice, sugar, and transportation, everything now is a lot more expensive. some dairy went up 80% like the baby diapers. people are so afraid that the economy is going down and there is no exit out of it. and families are storing food just preparing for the civil war and expecting to run out of food. On the other hand some friends of mine who want the system to go down are waiting for the moment when the economy gets down thinking that will bring the system down and trying to find ways to expedite the process such as stop paying bills…
– I haven’t witnessed myself or any of my family members security shooting on protesters but now it becomes like a fact for everybody after all videos people have seen. I personally believe that is what happened after all the videos I’ve seen. At the same time the revolution now is not peaceful as it started. At my brother’s office, two armed people from the neighbor hood went into his office and got his co-worker. when they tried to help him they threaten them. The two armed people took his coworker and the next day they found him dead in the street. when they were in the officer they called him “Awainee” which means a spy for the security. Another friend of my brother was stopped by armed people in Damascus suburbs and they took his car.
PITAPOLICY will continue to write about Syria as long as human rights abuses and economic sanctions challenge the people of Syria. Please send your eyewitness accounts to: firstname.lastname@example.org so that other pita-consumers obtain more information in spite of Syria’s government controlled media conditions.