Syria Countdown

by editor | 3rd September 2013 3:45 pm

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Breathing Easier, For Now…

Damascus

The morning following President Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria immediately, the streets of Damascus were packed with shoppers and employees heading to their jobs.  As explained to this observer by my friend Eyman, there were several reasons for this.  Some Damascenes who had fled their homes last week returned and the palpable sense of at least temporary relief pervades much of this capitol city. It was also the first of the month when in Syria government and other employees receive their monthly paychecks and need to stock up with food entering this uncertain month. Adding to those who crowded the streets were some who had fled Damascus last week and returned during this respite to check on their homes and neighbors, but preparing to leave again before next weekend’s possible attack. Some are deciding to stay here because the conditions for refugees they discovered in Lebanon led them to opt for essentially playing Russian roulette with death and awaiting their fate in beloved Syria.

A widespread and palpable relief extends across Damascus this morning as citizens scurry to workplaces and feel safe enough, at least for now, to go grocery shopping and do errands.  Even the gunmen who man electronic ‘frisking” equipment and a table outside my hotel and who search all who arrive seem genuinely relieved, happy and usually friendly, as do the army troops on downtown Damascus streets.

Friends in Damascus, both in government and private citizens, advise that there is an “uncertain relief” since last Sunday night and that the USA did not bomb yet but they are acutely aware that D-day may be coming soon. Others think the US attack may be delayed again with local news outlets reporting that the American public appears to increasingly doubt its efficacy. As for the Syrian government, it has been nearly mute internationally, not wanting to provoke the White House while as the same time assuring the public here that Syria can face all challenges and that history and God are with its people.

The weather has changed here in Damascus since my visit last month. While the days will stay oppressively hot for another month, the early mornings have turned cool with refreshing soft breezes as the doves and pigeons in the park opposite the National Museum on Beirut Streets coo and enjoy the large green space next to the Four Seasons Hotel which the UN CW investigators have just vacated as they prepare their report for UN SG Ban Key Moon.

This observer is constantly being amazed by the seemingly inconsequential things I observe around here, that given the current threats of an American attack that may well open the gates of hell seem rather incongruous.

For example, last Friday afternoon I was transfixed watching from a park bench, two public works employees as they weeded a few errant dandelions and weeds that had dared invade a beautiful manicured garden-park in downtown Damascus.  This struck me as a bit bizarre, given the then widely held belief, also by this observer that a US missiles blitz might light up Damascus that evening. On the scale of things these days, I doubted that a few weeds sprouting in the city parks were of great moment.  Or maybe they were? Perhaps carrying out ones duty and work assignment these day may be a metaphor for Syrian resistance to foreign invasions and the pervading attitude of people wanting to carry on with, or at least simulate, their pre-crisis lives and routines with their accustomed simple pleasures.  Maybe weeding gardens in Damascus, makes perfect sense these days.

A Palestinian family  from Latakia refugees camp up north who had fled their homes last December and joined thousands who have come to Damascus seeking safety,  as recently as this week,  were visiting with me this morning and  I asked how their beautiful  three and five year old children were adjusting to  the crisis atmosphere in their new surroundings. The mother replied, “When the bombing started over a year ago the children could not sleep well because they were frightened by the loud noise. But overtime they got used to it and slept fine. But last night they could not sleep because there was no shelling and it was too quiet for them. So what are we to do”? And she laughed.

It is true that there was no shelling and bombing here in Damascus during the night of Sunday, September 1 which the lady was referring to. And this fact is significant.  Informed sources report to this observer that the government decision not to bomb the suburbs including east Gouta, which normally occurs nightly, was taken at the highest level in order to send a reply message from Syria to America and personally  to President Obama, whose speech just hours earlier in Washington contained several messages for the leadership in Damascus.   What the  Syrian government was signaling, some claim, was its willingness to join Tehran, Moscow and Washington in finding a peaceful solution to Syria’s crisis, starting with Geneva II.

Meanwhile, the ever rising cost of living for Syria’s population, due in large measure to the US-led economic sanctions, designed at the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC), to target Syria’s civilian population so it breaks with their government, thereby facilitating the US White House goal of regime change in Syria and Iran, continues to devastate many families here.

With two student friends, this observer visited yesterday a government owned supermarket called “Marazaa Government Supermarket”, which is one of approximately one hundred government operated grocery stores in central Damascus We also compared prices by visiting  the privately owned “Supermarket Day by Day” in the Sabah Bahar neighborhood also in central Damascus. Government owned grocery stores, average between 5-15% lower prices, depending on the item, than at private grocery chains. The latter being frequented by those with more money who might seek European products and a wider product selection.  Government grocery stores sell only Syrian products.

Bread was being rationed last week, in government bakeries, at least one of which exists in every neighborhood.  A citizen is currently allowed to purchase one plastic bag with 22 loaves per day and I saw plenty of baba’s and their daughters do just that. The government plastic bag weighs three kilos (roughly 6.5 pounds) and sells for 50 Syrian lire or a bit less than USD 25 cents.  This quantity, I am advised by a super market store manager, normally feeds a family of at least three for one day given that the average bread staple consumption in Syria is three loaves per person per day. Normally, even during this 30 month crisis, a citizen could purchase as much as they desired from government stores but the American attack threat has caused yet more market complications in Syria for the average citizens.

In private bakeries, severe inflation has hit and just seven loafs of bread which would feed two persons for one day now costs 150 lire or approximately 75 cents. Despite the wide price differential between the government shops, that have not raised their prices since the regime of Hafez al-Assad, many people are shopping at the private shops because it can take five or more hours waiting in line at the government bread shops.

The price of eggs, before the crisis was 125 lira (about 25 cents) for 24 in a carton.  Last week before the most recent crisis, the price was 500 lira (one us dollar ) for two dozen eggs and this morning in Damascus it is 700 lira.

Friends in Damascus, both in government and private citizens, advise that there is an “uncertain relief” since last Sunday night and that the USA did not bomb yet but they are acutely aware that D-day may be coming soon. Others think the US attack may be delayed again with local news outlets reporting that the American public appears to increasingly doubt its efficacy.

As for the Syrian government, it has been nearly mute internationally, not wanting to provoke the White House while as the same time assuring the public here that Syria can face all challenges and that history and God are with its people.

In seeking to end this crisis, Syria is fortunate to have tough and resolute allies including Russia and Iran and, perhaps equally important, a skilled diplomatic corps and group of officials who have exhibited remarkable acumen and insights as well as nerves of steel during this crisis, including over the past several days of brinkmanship. To name just a few who this observer had the honor to meet with personally, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and his Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad[1],  Information Minister Omran Zoubi and his able staff,  Presidential Adviser Dr. Bouthania Shaaban,  and her dedicated office colleagues, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Jihad al-Laham.

Friends in Damascus, both in government and private citizens, advise that there is an “uncertain relief” since last Sunday night and that the USA did not bomb yet but they are acutely aware that D-day may be coming soon. Others think the US attack may be delayed again with local news outlets reporting that the American public appears to increasingly doubt its efficacy. As for the Syrian government, it has been nearly mute internationally, not wanting to provoke the White House while as the same time assuring the public here that Syria can face all challenges and that history and God are with its people.

Perhaps close to a majority of the Syrian people, in this observers view, do not believe that President Obama, Defense Secretary Hagel or Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey or a growing number of Members of Congress and most importantly the American public want war.  Some are thinking, wishfully one imagines, that without a strong Congressional vote in favor of the Obama request, he will not order a criminal attack Syria’s civilian population for if there is a US attack that is what it will be.

Surprisingly perhaps, Obama is being praised by some for his courage in not caving to the neocons and Zionist lobby, and order the US military to begin bombing, as it was feared last night.  As one Syrian journalist told this observer just hours ago, “Obama still has the opportunity to earn that Nobel Prize, which he received  a few years back for I have no idea why, and secure his legacy as one of American’s great Presidents.  If he has the courage and vision of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Before ending a very long day with sleep, this observer invited the Palestinian family to dinner near my hotel as it was not apparent that they had been eating much recently.  As we talked about prospects for the Syrian Arab Republic and Palestinian refugees, so many of whom have been internally and externally displaced as result of this maelstrom, and as I interacted with the  wonderful children, one became wistful. Just contemplating the certainty that it is these children and Syria’s poor who are condemned, unless the American people prevent it, to suffer the brunt of this latest US adventure as their country becomes more divided, and a new batch of terrorist group’s spring up like mushrooms after a summer rain.

Washington’s ill-considered criminal attack will aid and abet these largely Gulf financed militia   and provide justification, in their minds for literally hundreds of often competing jihadist groups to spread carnage across Syria.

The innocent in the USA and the West will also eventually suffer a severe pay back price as was the case 9/11/2001 and a decade later on 9/11/2011.  And on and on it goes.

This observers is frequently asked these days, as the bombs and rocket hits appear ever nearer, if  the American people have the political and moral will to take to the streets and to their Congressional representatives’ offices, whose salaries they pay, and make history that will revitalize our county and its claimed democracy.  Each American and all people of good will have the power to do this service to humanity.

And they can do it in the coming days.  If they fail, who do we blame but ourselves because it’s our country.  It doesn’t belong to the politicians or the corporation or to those who pledged fealty to a foreign occupying power, half a world away. It’s our constitution and if each of us doesn’t d protect it we cede it to others to sully and use as they will.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o [2]fplamb@gmail.com[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDYQqQIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fworld-middle-east-23924805&ei=f1gkUoDdOq-k0AW7-IDAAw&usg=AFQjCNGEpjXn0Qj-6Sm7J2lYXYjwxiXQmw&sig2=zQ-x6Qgt-yWaNnGSCHNufg&bvm=bv.51495398,d.d2k
  2. : mailto:fplamb@gmail.com
  3. fplamb@gmail.com: mailto:fplamb@gmail.com

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