Why the Gt?
are less forthcoming in conversations about the future than any of the
other nationalities we have dealt with so far. We inquired about possible
interviewees, but it is quite a difficult situation. Most people are afraid
to talk because they think the security police are everywhere (and they
might be right). Moreover, it was not easy to find interpreters because
Syrians do not like to talk in the presence of Syrians (for fear of the
same secret police). At the university exams were going on until the end
of January, which complicated matters further. Nevertheless, we managed
to have many interesting meetings during our time in Syria.
and Bram had met a couple of young men on their journey from the dessert
into Damascus. They had been eager to talk and make contact and wanted
us to visit their sports club where young men and boys learned martial
arts and break dancing. When we wanted to take an acquaintance from Damascus
along on our second visit, they were worried at first. Only when they
learned that our company was American, not Syrian, did they agree. "For
Syrians it is no good, they do not like our dancing, we cannot do it on
the street and do not to let anyone know about it." Our American acquaintance
found it amusing that a dance genre that had been outmoded in his own
country since he was a toddler, could be considered subversive here. To
the Syrian 'Break Boys' team it was a given with which they had lived
all their lives. When pressed about the possibilities for change, the
young men did not sound hopeful. To be able to continue their work in
sports clubs professionally they envisaged a move to Lebanon, rather than
a relaxation of the general environment in their own country.
Maya visited the university
quite soon after arriving. Because exams where ensuing she could not conduct
any interviews until later in the month. But she did meet a young woman
who was studying English who invited us to her family's home. On that
visit three sisters from the Golan Heights talked about their ideas on
the future. They stuck rigidly to personal ambitious, concerning work,
marriage and the home-life and general statements about religion and peace.
When their older brother entered, the conversation turned more towards
international politics. Internal politics and the state of the country
where treated with caution. Syria is recognised to be an important stabilising
power in the Middle East. Although it is relatively small in surface area
it has a significant role in the conservation of peace. It exercises power
over the Lebanese leadership as well as playing a role in Muslim activism
in the area. Unfortunately it is difficult to discuss this subject publicly
in any other than the 'official' version.
Maya had a more worldly
two hour conversation with a sociologist at the Damascus University. His
main subjects are 'youth and women' and 'ecology'. He is also responsible
for the science library of the Damascus University. We decided to try
to have some of his students conduct our brief questionnaire next academic
During our stay in
Damascus we also met a young American, studying the Quoran. During our
interview with Bilal, he talked about his ambitions for the future, the
Muslim organisation of which he is a zealous member and about his views
on future evolutions in the world. His position as both a proud American
and a Muslim was obviously an important issue during our talk. Bilal took
us to the Friday lecture of the Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Kuftaro.
We went to the Abu Nur mosque twice and after being vetted by the interpreter
(whom we interviewed also), we visited the holder of the highest religious
authority in his private mansion and asked him for his ideas on the future.
Later we interviewed Murhaf, the young man responsible for the Grand Mufti's
website. In the last two years he created what is Syria's largest web
sites, www.kuftaro.org. It has more hits than any other in the country
and boasts many audio-visual recordings of the Grand Mufti's lectures
and interviews (parts of our own will also feature).
When Maya went to
a talk about volunteer work at the Goethe Institute she met a brave lawyer
who is works for women's rights in Syria. She is studying domestic violence.
We talked about the discrepancy between women's public role (they are
expected to work and are educated in equal amounts as men) and their private
lives (in which they carry the sole responsibility for household work).
She also emphasised the problems of private law, which deny women equal
rights to men in family matters and talked about her dream to set up a
shelter. In Souq Sarouga, the oldest neighbourhood of Damascus, where
we stayed several weeks, we learned about plans to demolish and build
anew several blocks of housing. We interviewed some of the local shopkeepers
about this and went to a public meeting concerning the neighbourhood's
future. A young female architect of a 'government supported NGO' (I'm
not kidding, that's what they called it) which works for the conservation
of historic areas in the capital, called the meeting.
Read more on Agence Future's adventures in the middle east:
<< 4.5: Aleppo | Index | 4.7: Beirut >>