Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Damascus and the UN peacekeepers | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It seems that Damascus today is experiencing a case of schizophrenia; in its streets and main squares, and between buildings and balconies, orange, yellow and white banners are hanging down emblazoned with clichéd expressions such as “bright future”, “participation” and “building”…Its walls are tarnished with posters of the regime’s candidates for the next parliament, looking on innocently as if nothing has happened. However, these are a few hundred images seeking to compete with the thousands of faces that are imprinted in the collective memory, namely the people we have lost over a year of sniper fire and shelling. “Election” marquees have been set up along a number of roads, competing with the processions of thousands of funerals, each resulting in further deaths of new martyrs.

Damascus has been forced to bow down and bear the shameful promotion of the idea that nothing has happened, that the capital is still the stronghold of a regime that is in its heart and in all our hearts, and that the Annan plan will not stop a regime that behaves as if it will last forever. It considers Damascus to be its last bastion, and it ridicules all of us whenever we encounter an election poster.

However, also in Damascus, activists have put up posters of their own candidates; images of the martyrs of freedom, placed alongside and on top of the regime’s candidates’ posters in all neighborhoods and districts. Likewise, dozens were arrested over the past few days in Damascus, during a beautiful youth movement campaigning to “stop the killing”. We have seen silent protests in front of the Justice Palace, Marjeh Square, the parliament and elsewhere, as well as the red banners raised in al-Zahira. Graffiti artists have also intensified their work, adding further words and expressions to the city’s walls. As beautiful as a poet, as brave as a knight, the graffiti artist moves with his pen to rewrite Damascus letter by letter, with the vocabulary of freedom.

Youths are blocking the roads at night with burning tires, and the sky of Damascus is lit with the hope of salvation. One of those youths, Uday Jumblatt, was martyred when the tire blaze alarmed the regime’s troops and security forces, who subsequently opened fire.

During the first few days of the month of May, more than 20 people have died in different parts of Damascus. During these same days the Kafr Sousa district rose up and revolted in solidarity as it was bombarded with heavy weaponry. Thousands took to the streets in these neighborhoods first as demonstrators, then as mourners, each time calling for the overthrow of the regime.

The volume of violence carried out over the past few days against uprising areas in Damascus suggests the fear of the regime regarding the awakening of the capital and its mobility. The UN observers, with their pitiful numbers, prefer to go to the “hot” areas to carry out their observation tours, during which the shelling and sniping subsides – although sometimes not – only to resume immediately after the observers move on to another area.

Political figures who support the Annan plan say that the presence of observers will give an opportunity for peaceful mobility to grow, especially in the political and economic capital. If so, there is no justification for waiting until Damascus becomes a “hot spot”, where hundreds of new martyrs fall and heavy weaponry is used against its neighborhoods, sparking further reactions and clashes, only for the observers to come in and inform us about the number of times the Annan initiative is being violated by both parties per day.

Damascus is coming to the boil; its mobility is still in the most part peaceful, with the diverse participation of different Syrian groups, sects and age groups. This mobility is creeping towards the center every day, and the violence it has encountered so far has delayed it, and may distort it from its true path in the future.

The best that the UN peacekeepers can do is be present in the heart of Damascus, instead of waiting for an area to become “heated”, in accordance with the concept of observation. Perhaps this would accelerate an end to the state of schizophrenia that the capital is experiencing, between the tired images of regime candidates and their election marquees, and its citizens longing for freedom.