Tag: rumour

Another Damascan Friday

Friday started with the same ominous silence, from my balcony I looked down upon the empty eerie street, I thought to myself ‘what would this day hold?’… I couldn’t help wondering if Obama’s recent comments condemning Assad for the killing of unarmed demonstrators and demanding that he either ‘reform or get out of the way’ would spur them on.

From my balcony I could see the 50 or so guys given a days work by the government to ‘look out’ for protesters, some sat around smoking, others walked up and down twirling their ‘government issue’ wooden batons. The empty building where they are stationed is away from the public eye but close enough to be on hand if needed.

Across the street a man sits with his legs swinging out of his window, he is also looking down onto the empty market street below, “Good morning” he shouts, I look over stunned for a moment, he is perched between two huge pictures of the President, I smile at him thinking it may not be such a good morning for many of the thousands taking to the streets across Syria today. Though once again as usual, here in central Damascus, we hear and see nothing.

I am now the only guest staying in this 3 storey hotel – so I eat my breakfast alone accompanied only by a couple of goldfish and the cleaner who smokes as she serves breakfast. The news blasts out from the foyer, Friday payers finish and everyone braces themselves for another day of protest, in what has become known as the Arab spring.

Yesterday I met a taxi-driver who was convinced it was well-organised well-funded ‘outsiders’ who were taking to the streets to protest against the government, he told me that the television images of people dying in the Syrian streets were from Iraq not Syria; such is the power of Syria’s state run media.

Later I meet a European lady who is married to a local here in Damascus, she asks if I have seen any ‘action’ since arriving, “No” i reply, “Nothing”, “See” she proclaims “It is being blown all out of proportion by the Western media, they are pushing for change here more than the people themselves”.

But it seems my dentist has finally seen through the smoke and mirrors as she confides in me that she is frustrated and disappointed with the once treasured leader, “We didn’t expect him to behave like this… all this killing” she says sadly.

The awful images of protesters laid out on the floor and being jumped on by soldiers screaming “We’ll give you freedom” shocked the world. When the authorities tried to say it wasn’t filmed in Syria, that it was from Iraq, and that the soldiers seen abusing the protesters were American Special Forces, a 22 year old protester, Ahmad Bayassi, one of those who had been filmed being trampled on and kicked whilst laying on the floor, bravely went back to the spot where it happened and recorded himself there again stating that it was true and showing his identity card to prove that he was from Syria.

A couple of days ago after recording himself the young man was back in the hands of the security services, human rights organisations believed he had been electrocuted and that he had lost consciousness from the torture, there were also reports that he had died – rumour spreads fast in Syria these days. Then, a few days later the man appeared on Syrian state television and announced that “When they said I was tortured and killed I was surprised, no-one has imprisoned me, and I am leading a normal life.”

News starts to filter through via Al Jazeera of 10 or 20 deaths, but Damascus is as peaceful as it was last Friday. The empty streets, the 10 or more empty buses waiting, engines running, the army of baton carrying men sitting, smoking, in the security compound just round the corner, all waiting to see if the protesters dare to show their faces.

The streets feel nervous – people are afraid of being out in case they are wrongly (or rightly) picked-up by the secret police. But, again, no demonstration comes my way, it seems that the protests are happening away from the capital, in the smaller poorer rural towns which have been crippled by poverty, unemployment, and corruption, the parts of Syria that are generally hidden away from tourists.

And soon life returns to normal here in Damascus, the people finally feel safe enough to come out of their homes, and I’m heading out for a pint – My taxi driver is already drunk, sipping away on his 10% alcoholic beer as he speeds along, the car, the driver, and me, swing from side to side to the Arabic music blaring out of his radio as we enter the glitzy old city.

Another Friday is almost over, tomorrow is another day for this troubled country, a day when 60 more families will morn 60 loved ones killed simply for demanding freedom. My cab driver hands me his beer as I get out of the car, I take a swig, hand it back, and walk off into the Damascus night.

Rumour + Truth = Paranoia

When Ali’s friends were arrested by the security forces the first thing they demanded to know as they beat them was what was their Facebook password.

Rumours are rife that Facebook is being ‘tapped-into’ with the latest high-tech Iranian spying devices; so says a man who had to give-up his desk in a leading telecoms company to an Iranian brought here especially to implement the technology and teach the engineers how to use it. But who really knows, truth rumour, belief, and fact are all mingled into one these days.

Such rumours and stories abound and do nothing but increase the general state of paranoia we are living in so I try to be suspicious of them all. A friend invited me for lunch the other day then called 2 minutes later and cancelled, when I met him later he said there was a bunch of secret police sitting at the next table and he and his friends (of Iraqi decent) didn’t need the attention they would get from eating with one of the very few Westerners left in town.

I’ve noticed my friend becoming more and more anxious these days, “Most people worry more”, he says, “Things were much easier before this unrest, now we can be stopped by the police for no reason”.

In the internet cafe a ‘secret police officer’ enters, my friend sends me an email (I am at the other side of the room), “Keep your fucking mouth shut, there is one of them just over there”, meanwhile, in Arabic, the man enquires about whether the owner is taking copies of customers passports – the owner lies and replies that he always does, I make a quiet exit out of the place.

We walk the long way home avoiding the secret police station now manned 24 hours and more vigilant then ever, my friends closest friend had been arrested for attending a small demo 5 days ago, he was caught because he ran back to help a woman who’d fallen, after 5 days in a tiny room with 26 other men, bound and blindfolded, he was released, he brought with him horrific stories of beatings and torture. They had picked on his friend the most because he had previously been in prison for political reasons, they would beat him, screaming “Is this the freedom you want?”

On the television in the corner of the room I can see the graves of men being unearthed, their blackened hands bound and tied, killed by bullets to their heads, are these civilians, or more soldiers executed by fellow soldiers for not killing civilians, nothing is clear, facts are changed, truth is no longer relevant? Now there are images of tanks rolling across the countryside (just minutes away from here), intercut with scenes of soldiers making their way steadily, heroically, across the green pastures, it looks like a real war out there I think to myself, whilst, from the ‘safety’ of my Hummus restaurant, life passes by quietly.

Damascus is a city of wonderful spicy smells and great vivacious food dishes which have, for a moment, distracted me from the troubles on the edge of town where well over 1000 Syrians have now been killed by the regime in its crackdown on the democracy protests.

Soon, my friend joins me for Hummus – he cannot hold back at his anger at the thought of his friend, a doctor, being subjected to such torture and humiliation at the hands of the secret police. He tells me of new rumours that the Government are going to install CCTV cameras all around town – he says Syria will be like Orwell’s 1984 – I joke that the UK already is, he replies that the difference here is that the CCTV is to be used to identify protesters and hunt them down… a little different to how it’s used in the UK he continues, I tell him that is exactly what the police in the UK use it for at, and after, demonstrations… We talk and eat, lost in the lazy sun, tasty pickles, and fresh hot Hummus, for a moment we are transported, no longer in Syria.

Suddenly, my friend stops and glances to his side, “Fuck me it’s one of them” a man stands close-by staring at us, he is in his late 50’s, behind him a younger man also stares. My friend tells me to finish-up and leave, he stands up nervously walking around the big man who doesn’t move an inch, I watch my friends nervousness against the curiosity of the large man, wondering who is making who nervous here… such is the paranoia inflicting this nation right now.

My friend suddenly changes tack and instead of trying to leave talks directly to the man firmly shaking his hand, a smile breaks across the strangers face, it appears that the man is out with his son and is merely curious about us two guys talking excitedly and animated in English. As the man and his son walk to another table I breathe a semi sigh of relief, nudging my friend and repeating that it was simply a father and his son out for a meal, nothing to be worried about, a silly misunderstanding, maybe my friend says maybe you are right, but then again…