The tide has turned in favor of the Assad government
As many of us observe the great Arab and Islamic awakening of 2011 in stunned amazement, as it rapidly spreads across the region, this observer agrees with those who declare, " well it's about time--Godspeed to the rebels and goodbye to the despots."
Indeed, most of the despots had been installed and propped-up by the US government and its allies without many American citizens' awareness or liking.
What I continue to find in Syria and what I saw during my first 24 hours in Damascus shocked me. It was not at all what one expected to find having read a fair bit of the Western and some of the Arab media reports, and arriving from the Syria-Lebanon border at Maznaa.
One expected to see fear, tension, and people hiding in homes, ubiquitous police and partially hidden and disguised security personnel in the shadows, watching from behind tinted glassed cars, curtained windows and from roof tops. I expected to see military vehicles, empty streets after dusk, reticence to discuss politics, tense faces on the streets.
None of this was to seen in Syria's capital and villages to the west.
Today, Damascus is as it always has been during my visits, bustling, clean, parks filled with families and couples, ubiquitous green spaces with beautifully planted and manicured gardens, packed outdoor cafes and coffee houses with young and old seemingly discussing any subject including current events and appearing very much at ease.
The streets of parts of Damascus as late as two in the morning appear like Georgetown on a Friday night. Of course, it did not take long for an American acquaintance to say precisely what I was thinking: "which American city would anyone feel as carefree and comfortable meandering around at any hour of the day or night with no policeman in site, as in Damascus. Not my city for sure!"
Life in Damascus, even during this period, is a far cry from Beirut in many aspects including the welcomed fact that Damacene drivers do not insanely honk their horns constantly and insult one another, people actually wear seat belts, drivers stop for red lights and don't always race their cars if they see 20 feet of unoccupied road space ahead of them and drivers here seem to respect pedestrians and don't appear to frantically search for every chance to gain an inch on the vehicles next to them by quickly cutting in front and pretending not see the other driver.
In short, Damascus appears energetic but relaxed and tension free.
Exactly what is going in some parts of Syria cannot easily be reliably known to foreigners given the sporadic and unverified, often politically skewed reports, but it is clear that the areas visited are normal, at least on the surface.
While lunching this week with old and new friends in a house that was built in 1840 in the heart of Old Damascus and its Souks, near Hamman Al Bakra, and restored in the mid- 1990's to its original authenticity, one could not help recalling what history teaches about this special ancient place known for tolerance.
Located near the Jewish quarter of Damascus, we enjoyed a truly divine meal of Mukabbelat (seemingly endless plates of delicious Syrian oeuvres) near an old Synagogue, next to a 12th century Mosque and around the corner from a Byzantium Church. An old Jewish man taught us with his stories about the brotherliness that existed in this region before the 19th century Zionist colonial enterprise glopped itself onto Palestine and commenced modern history's most sustained criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing, now in its 7th decade.
Americans in Syria I spoke with, some tourists and a number of students studying Arabic are not alarmed by the "travel warnings' issued from the US Embassy advising them to leave. As in Lebanon Americans here learned long ago that Embassy warnings for them to leave or not visit, appeared more related to periodically punishing Lebanon and its economy for supporting the Hezbollah led resistance than concern for the safety of US citizens. More times than the State Department wants to admit, both Hezbollah and the Syrian government have not only protected US citizens but also US Embassies as they seek stability in both countries.