The Syrian street speaks on Lebanon

In Damascus, street reaction to recent events in the region, including political unrest in Beirut and withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, has been a mixture of ambivalence, resentment and distress.

    Syrians are returning to Damascus in search of work

    The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri has resulted in a rollercoaster of political developments between Lebanon and Syria.

    A wave of popular demonstrations demanding Syria withdraw its military and security forces was overshadowed by the failure of pro-Syrian politicians to form a government.

    A consequent investigation into the assassination was deemed flawed by a UN fact-finding team.

    Foregone conclusion

    For taxi driver Ahmad Shuqayri, al-Hariri's assassination has resulted in some predictable consequences.

    "Al-Hariri's death cleared the way for Walid Jumblatt and the opposition to take power," he said.

    Unrest in Lebanon is not a good
    omen for neighbouring Syria

    While he does not think the Beirut turmoil bodes well for Syria, Shuqayri is optimistic Damascus will not go the Baghdad route.

    "People are worried, you can sense it on the streets," says Shuqayri, who works on the Beirut-Damascus route on an almost daily basis.

    "The US-Syria relationship can be mended, there is hope."

    Common views

    Shuqayri's is a view echoed by many Syrians. They believe the assassination was just the excuse the US needed to meddle in their country's relationship with Lebanon - and Syria is getting the raw end of the deal.

    Some argue Israel and the US
    will gain from Syrian withdrawal

    Ali Ziyatir is a civil engineer who spent the better half of his life working in Lebanon for one of the late al-Hariri's many construction companies.

    "The opposition is behind the assassination, definitely - along with the West - Israel, France, and the United States. It was all a plot to make Syria withdraw its forces.

    "The reality is Syria had nothing to do with it. But the US will not attack. If it wanted to, it would have attacked by now.", he says.

    Economic troubles

    Ziyatir recently moved to Syria, after Syrian troops began to withdraw and a spate of bombings ravaged Beirut. Out of job and with few job prospects in his hometown of Damascus, he resorted to driving a taxi.

    "Syrian workers like me built Lebanon. And without us there, Lebanon is only going to get worse"

    Ali Ziyatir, civil engineer

    "Syrian workers like me built Lebanon. And without us there, Lebanon is only going to get worse," he said. "The withdrawal of our troops and our workers, will hurt the economy."

    After al-Hariri's death, the UN Security Council, prompted by the US, passed resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of Syria's military and intelligence apparatus from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militia and for holding free and democratic elections.

    But the resolution has not been received kindly in Damascus.


    For 23-year-old medical student Yusuf Sabir, it is an insult and a double standard.

    "Why doesn't the UN force Israel to abide by its resolutions?" he asks, noting that when asked the same question during a news conference a few weeks ago, UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace, Terje Roed-Larsen had declined to answer.

    Some believe the blast was too
    sophisticated to be by Syria

    "It is absolutely ridiculous.

    "Besides, Syria does not have the capability to carry out a bombing like the one that killed al-Hariri. Our 30,000-strong military is a joke.  Everything is outdated and defunct."

    Just kilometres away from the Syrian-Lebanese border earlier in the day, an ageing military vehicle on its way back to Damascus attests to his assertion, losing power halfway over a small speed bump.

    Sabir says the Syrians are living in an illusion, and that in reality they do not take kindly to their president ruling over them with an iron fist.

    False heroes

    "Everyone just pretends to love the president. They want to stand behind him in the face of outside pressure, and the regime loves them back as long as they acquiesce.

    "But the moment anyone tries to rise up and revolt, they will be faced with brutal force," he says in reference to the 1982 Hama massacre, when Syrian security forces, under orders from then president Hafiz al-Asad, quelled a Sunni uprising in the city of Hama by killing an estimated 30,000 citizens, followed by razing most of the city.

    He looks over his back and rolls up the window to his car as he speaks. "Military spies are everywhere, you can never be too careful."

    Praise for Bashar al-Asad is said
    to be only hollow

    Others, like hotel maid Nada Musa, say while they do not personally feel the reverberations of political unrest in Beirut, they fear it will negatively impact peace in the region.

    As a working mother of five, Musa's priority is to see better working conditions and employment for young graduates such as her son.

    "All we want is a comfortable life - we want it to be calm and peaceful. We need to find a solution for the rampant unemployment, so that fresh graduates don't have to resort to work in janitorial services."

    Musa says she believes the US is behind the recent bombings and that, while the withdrawal of Syrian troops was inevitable, Beirut, not Damascus, is the loser.

    "If it had not been for our troops, they would have lost the war in the south."

    "The US goal is to reach Syria through Lebanon, but it won't work. You can quote me on this: Lebanon will ask Syria to come back.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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