Today is Revolution Day in Syria, celebrating the 1963 Ba’ath party coup (for the record, I was disappointed to discover there were no parades or hoopla, just a lot of flag-waving). The day off from class was a welcome respite, and gives me an opportunity to follow up on another edition of Syrian voices.
The nightlife in Syria is all about dining. The restaurants in Damascus offer some of the best traditional dishes. My personal favorite is grape leaves filled with rice and meat. Dinner is typically followed by debke, a traditional Syrian dance that is fun to watch but not easy to replicate. Syrians are adamant about bringing foreigners onto the dance floor to try debke; Refusals are unacceptable.
I soon found out that joining in quickly endears you to them. In a Bedouin tent in Palmyra I experienced this first-hand. The goodwill it earned allowed for a discussion of sensitive issues later in the night.
I intended to focus discussions on the recent appointment of Robert Ford, but it seemed no one was interested in discussing it. The lack of enthusiasm may reflect a general indifference towards U.S. policy, but that’s just a guess. Instead, the group of Syrians I spoke with steered the conversation towards Iraq. I peppered them with a typical question: With the U.S. planning to withdraw, why doesn’t the Syrian government do more to help stabilize the country? Most of them rejected the notion. They admitted that they were happy to see the U.S. bogged down and not setting its crosshairs on Syria. However, we all agreed Syrian and American interests are compatible with bolstering stability in Iraq. I then asked why Syria continues to provide sanctuary for Iraqi Ba’athists. The answers were mixed as no one was truly qualified to answer it. That said, one answer did strike me. A student of law who was also interested in international affairs informed me that Syria does not reject anyone looking for a home (extending the infamous Arab hospitality). He rightly pointed out that Nouri al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, spent more than ten years in opposition in Syria, and no one confuses him for a Ba’athist.