Feeling groggy and refusing to be a part of any social interaction at 9 in the morning I lean my head against the car window and soak in the weathered ancient mountains of Damascus and the sparse green landscape enveloping us. However, a part of this picturesque scene does not fit; the check points and armed gunmen speckled everywhere.
On our arrival to our destination we discover that all public places in and around Damascus have been ordered to remain closed. A car slows down and the driver asks if we are going back to Damascus, to our surprise he informs us that they have barricaded all routes back into Damascus and won’t let foreigners nor Syrians in. Nonetheless, we make our way to Damascus and ahead we can see two army trucks filled to the brim with soldiers. We arrive at a checkpoint; the armed gunmen in civilian clothes refuse to let us through. A Syrian friend attempts to negotiate our entry back into the city, enticing the armed men with our ID’s and telling them to keep it. The security forces, although holding guns equally hold worried expressions only worrying me further. I suddenly feel the need to be home in Damascus.
We arrive at a mini castle on the outskirts of Damascus where a friend’s uncle lives. After introductions and small conversations, we gather around the TV constantly switching the channels between Al Jazeera Arabic, BBC Arabic and Al Arabiya, meanwhile, listening to the uncle’s brother who happens to be a journalist. He explains to us how the ‘situation’ in Syria has been fabricated by the Lebanese and Iraqi news stations who film riots and protests in Lebanon and Iraq flooding the Arab news with lies . He continued by stating that the sole reason ‘the situation’ began in Daraa was because of Saad Hariri and Fath Islam, whom provided all the weapons to angry thugs. Then my friend intervenes and presents her theory of this ‘situation’ by revealing to us that sometime last week a girl handed her a leaflet telling her she should go to the main library to protest for Bashar al Assad. However, before she drove away a policeman stopped her and asked her where she had gotten this leaflet from, after she explained to him he told her firmly it was a setup for an anti protest and she should stay away. Later that day state TV warned people to stay away from the library because, as it was Manal al Assad (Rifaat al Assad’s daughter) who was planning an anti government protest. Syrians are fearful that Rifaat al Assad is the ‘thug’ behind the riots and protests, suspecting he is planning to take back what he claims is rightfully his.
Streets are deserted and shops are shut. I receive texts from Syrian friends constantly warning me not to leave the house, especially after 9pm. Insanity prevail the streets of Damascus; the demon lurks behind closed doors. People dare not speak about the protests, arrests and killings taking place around us. I descend the stone staircase near my house heading to the internet cafe, as each day passes by it becomes my place of solitude and refuge, providing me with the current news that Syrians are too terrified to share. Upon arrival I find the cafe locked up, the owner of the cafe walks towards me, gravely explaining that they have blocked the internet as a result of the current ‘circumstance.’ As my friends and I later crowd around the TV watching the news, one receives a call that a friend of theirs is missing. Panicked and confused their friends went to her house and broke in only to find that her grocery shopping is lying on the floor untouched.
Syrian friends continue to warn us not to leave the house, when asked why they all provided the same answer, because of the ‘situation’. In need of food supplies, we scoured the streets as all shops in Damascus were closed, which is strange, especially as today is a working day. The uninhibited streets become a familiar sight. The Foreign office from London has called me every day since Friday and today they informed me it’s required for all British nationals to leave Syria as soon as possible. The internet in our area is still blocked and Western Unions are shut. Damascus has turned into a ghost town, which no one would dare pass through in fear of any ‘situation’ arising. We hear that the neighbours houses have been raided by the security forces. As our friends left our house they were questioned by armed gunmen, confirming that security forces were increasing by the day, suffocating our every move. The ‘situation’ has turned into the unspoken cancer of Damascus.
I find myself immersed in that same anxious feeling I felt the days before Mubarak left and the days after when I flew out to Egypt to celebrate. Their words were itching my thoughts, I felt agony as they told me that they will join the protests, they will join and they don’t fear the consequences, regardless be it death. ‘We don’t care anymore, it’s our country, and it’s our freedom’ two Syrian friends say. ‘But what about your family’? As I asked they looked at me incredulously, ‘it’s why we are doing this, so our younger sisters and brothers may one day be more free than we.’ The fear takes hold of me. My father warns if I don’t decide to leave now I may not be able to leave later. Army tanks have moved into Damascus, soldiers are now seen everywhere. Checkpoints are peppered in and around the city. Police and armed men are constantly checking ID’s. They have shut the Jordanian border, not allowing anyone into or out of Syria. Walking out the door our friends say ‘now there is a war. Now it has begun.’ Can you hear the cracks of the perfect facade built over 47 years?
No Friday has come and the unbelievable has happened, Syrians are trapped in their own homes. Groups of armed gun men and soldiers guard each street. No Syrian is permitted to step outside their house. As a testimony to this absurd action my Syrian friend called me as he tried to leave his house to get to me, as he got closer to the soldier I could hear over the phone a frustrated voice yelling ‘go back to your house, go back!’ ‘Becoming a fugitive in my own home isn’t what I expected’, my friend exclaimed. As foreigners, my friends and I had the privilege of walking around freely on the abandoned streets of Damascus. We head towards Bab Touma with difficulty as there is hardly any taxi in sight the massive green doors of the main mosque of Damascus, Ummayad Mosque, were tightly shut. The armed gunmen wearing plain clothes came from various age groups; from young teenage boys to much older Syrian men. I began to pack my bags, later that afternoon, preparing to leave my landlord warns me that every taxi driver has been keeping an eye on us and they know where we go and when we come back home. Extremely saddened at the thought of leaving this city that has become my home over the course of a year I hear the news presenter claiming that protests have reached the heart of Damascus, but having just been at the heart of Damascus I know that any small fire being lit the security forces put out as quickly as possible because breaking the fear barricades of Damascus officially means that the revolution is well under way. The security forces, the armed gunmen, the Shabiha and of course the army are very tight knit with the ruling family, consequently the fight against the ‘thugs’ will be fierce. Freedom has never been so revered in Syria and fighting for it has never been so powerful and destructive.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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