Hello Everyone: 1/28 Syria Not Ablaze
Traveling in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world at this time is exciting and a deep learning experience. People in Aleppo (the second largest city) and Damascus are making references to the troubles in Tunisia and Egypt. We have been in Syria for the last week, but Seattleites’ knowledge of events is as probably as good as mine, as information in Syria is restricted. I mostly have to rely on general impressionistic accounts and upon conversations with people who speak English. Nonetheless, there appear to be no troubles, demonstrations, etc. unfolding in the Syrian Arab Republic at this time. Life seems to be tranquil. The government has for some time blocked access to Facebook, My Space and You Tube. Yesterday, an English language paper in Damascus reported that all cell phone-accessed chat rooms would be blocked. The government is probably taking precautions no doubt, but it is a bit hard to read. We arrived in Amman, Jordan this afternoon, and went to an internet cafe, but discovered that their routing access had been cut off because of the troubles. But, I found another cafe that had access, for how long they don’t know. I don’t understand the mechanics of this.
I interviewed a couple of men extensively this week about the situation in Syria. Both men are educated, knowledgeable and fluent in English and have served in the military; one man is about 30, the other about 40, and the younger man is a graduate student in English at Damascus University. Both men said that the economic situation was very difficult and the availability of jobs, particualry for young people, is bleak. High food prices and general inflationary problems seemed to be the major concern of these two men, and I heard that from other people as well. Real unemployment is about 25%. The older of the two men I interviewed has been a hotel desk clerk for seventeen years and earns $150 per month, the same salary that he earned when he started there in 1994. He needs about $700 a month for his family to survive! The younger of these two men reported that, even if he gets a good job as a translator with the government, there is no chance that he will be able to afford to purchase a home. Both men also said that older people have vivid memories of the severe repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, when thousands and thousands of people were massacred, a chilling memory indeed. The English major said the university campus shows no signs of unrest. These two men believe that their government, although it has problems, is not like the governments in Tunisia or Egypt, and they are willing to give it time. Both men think that President Bashar al-Assad, whose portrait is ubiquitous, cares, is responsive and trying to address the problems of the country. However, both men, were very clear that the cost of living and jobs for young people would have to be addressed or future troubles may unfold. Yet, for the present Syrian nationalism appears to carry the day.