Kareem is, by his own account, the publisher of an underground newspaper in Damascus and an activist performing relief work and media relations for the Local Coordination Committees of Syria in Damascus and in Homs, where he grew up. He talked recently on Skype with Syria Witness about the difficulties of living in Damascus and about the political evolution of opposition groups in the capital. Kareem is not his real name. He recently wrote about a woman who lost her sight when her sons were detained by the government.
The Syrian government restricts independent reporting within the country. We invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for personal safety reasons, some contributors do not use their real names. Texts are edited for reasons of clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
Damascus, October 11, 2012
SW: What’s going on in Damascus?
Kareem: There were lots of clashes within the more centralized and the countryside of Damascus. They [rebel forces] were attempting some targets inside the center. So there were, for example, in the quarter where the security forces called the Air Force Intelligence Branch. They managed to send a lot of explosive materials via vehicles there and make a huge explosion and lots were killed. There were some passengers and from security forces on the main gate. They were also attacking some kind of small police stations if we can call the like this. They were not huge buildings, but still places where security forces could collaborate and coordinate and detain captives.
SW: How has this affected life in your neighborhood?
What they can do to survive … There is no life, no real life, no normal life you can call it – Kareem in Damascus
SW: What are the basics?
Kareem: Anything to keep them alive. The basics for living: just food and medical stuff and try to keep as much money or cash money as needed or as they can because you never know when this money can be useful to people.
SW: Are people leaving Damascus?
Kareem: Yeah, lots of people have left already.
SW: In your neighborhood?
Kareem: Yes, yes. Of course. If we are talking about Damascus, lots of guys who already having good medium to small business have already left. They used their money to go away and start their business somewhere in Egypt or Lebanon or even in the Emirates or to another Gulf country, according to what they could, where they could because they had visa to go they had already left …. Unfortunately I estimate about 200,000 Syrians have left in the last few months. They are not refugees.
SW: Did you say 200,000?
Kareem: Yeah, yeah.
SW: And they are not refugees, there are people that …
Kareem: No, no. Yes, yes. They are normal people struggling to seeking first of all security, maybe running away from the shelling, or maybe to even trying to work because maybe they are broke and looking for an opportunity somewhere else, another destination until they find some home. They leave with friends and family or they rent.
SW: What do the streets of Damascus look like?
Kareem: Yes, lots of damage. Anyway, a lot of lot of military vehicles. We didn’t use to see this before. It was not really common in the capital to see lot of military soldiers so you can see lots of checkpoints, sometimes five or four, where you need to pass these checkpoints to reach your work. The normal taxi drive would take you maybe even 2 hours because you have to pass by many checkpoints on the road.
SW: Do many people still have jobs?
Kareem: Yeah anyway, there is lot of work, and anyway the government didn’t stop paying their employees.
SW: Is it hard to get bread?
Kareem: No. No really. But there are lots of trucks and you can say … its all crowded.
SW: When did things start turning bad in Damascus?
In the daytime it’s controlled by Assad, the nighttime is not controlled but it belongs … more to the Free Syrian army and the opposition – Kareem in Damascus
Kareem: If we go back in a timeline it is difficult to decide but we can summarize like this: It started in Daraa, then there was a uprising movement in there, then moved to Homs and to all neighborhoods of Homs, slowly to Hama and to Idlib, you can say. Then, when it was told in the north side, the movement started a little bit to show up, to flow in Aleppo, things were getting worse and worse in Damascus, so we can cay it was in parallel to the north when the Syrian army was so much engaged in new operations in Homs and the north of Syria and Aleppo, Damascus. Also, it has shown Damascus something different than before with the Free Syrian Army having more action and more events and … some kind of they call it military operation against the regime which was witnessed never before.
So you can say today, it’s like this in Damascus. In the daytime it’s controlled by Assad, the nighttime is not controlled but it belongs … more to the Free Syrian army and the opposition. And the revolutionary groups are more active in the night until the early morning. In the daytime, sometimes it happens anyway to have an explosion but the clashes and more of the shelling is taking place more in the nighttime. Assad is having more of his operations planned more at the nighttime.
SW: When did the shelling become intense?
Kareem: Since the beginning. They didn’t start in the normal way. The intensity of the shelling from the beginning was light to medium weapons they used against the civilians, the protestors. They were utterly peaceful at the start of the revolution. But when it started to take on a kind of militarizing face or side, they started using tanks and later on, airplanes. It didn’t take them long to use heavy weapons.
Some people we haven’t, we didn’t really deal with, maybe it was sleeping, the whole time, these ideas, these concepts – Kareem in Damascus
SW: How has life changed for you?
Kareem: Not my life. The whole Syrian people’s lives. It is totally different now. There is too many aspects that we can talk about now. Anyway, we are now aware of lots of things we were not before the uprising started.
We are now aware of lots of new concepts, how to deal with our thoughts, a social movement, how to deal with different groups, also new concepts not of religion but of religious principles. Some people we haven’t, we didn’t really deal with, maybe it was sleeping, the whole time, these ideas, these concepts.
But we have been aware of these things, and mainly every single Syrian I know whether he is pro-regime or pro-revolution, whether he is so much active or not at all active, both sides, his life has been changed according to what’s been going on there emotionally, in the material situation. And even I know some people lost their jobs because they couldn’t really focus on the work because they are so much attached to what’s going on. Take the chance to be part of the movement because they couldn’t manage to do both.
SW: Is this new concept sectarian or secular?
Kareem: If we are talking about the new future …
Kareem: So, nothing is clear at the moment. There are always those who worry about having division, anyway, according to many factors. Religion is one of them, anyway. The nature of our plan, religion is always important in the Arab life.
They always worry and wonder if this factor will play a very major role to drive it to a bad state, maybe to failure. Sometimes we think okay we lost it we lost if forever. But we always keep trying and suspect that this factor will play a very main role and we keep hope and we‘re trying to keep this division – if not disappear – but so to shorten it, to make it smaller and smaller, so we can bring all the different groups all together, these military groups, these peaceful groups, these religious, these radical, these sectarian groups. But though, I guess, it will influence a lot later on.
Middle East Voices welcomes your comments on Kareem’s Damascus report
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.