The Country Formerly Known As Syria


Photo: Flickr/FreedomHouse

“MY COUNTRY is being destroyed,” sobs Ahmad, a student from the eastern city of Deir ez-Zor who joined the protests when they began in March 2011. “The regime is killing us, many of the opposition fighters are becoming criminals and the world is watching it like a film.” He is worried that onlookers may think this is normal, seeing that Syria lies in the centre of a region which is no stranger to wars and strife. Syria, with its chemical weapons, alliance with Iran, shrinking government and spreading militias, has become the confluence where all that is worrying about the Middle East comes together.Two years ago Syria was a rather sleepy place. The muezzins’ call to prayer and the peal of church bells mingled above the rooftops of Damascus, the world’s oldest continually inhabited capital city, where Syrians liked to boast that Christians and Muslims, as well as people from a smattering of other sects, lived side by side in peace. People bustled through the markets. Women could stay out safely alone past midnight. Men played backgammon on the pavements with their neighbours. The Syrian accent, spread through the region by the country’s soap operas, conveyed hospitality and simplicity to fellow Arabs.

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