The unprecedented scale of Christmas and New Year decorations that have been installed in several Syrian cities and towns won’t change public opinion. Instead, they fueled resentment over deteriorating living conditions while hope for improved security and the realization of political solution continues to recede.
The victory train, which traveled from Bab Touma in the Old City towards the neighborhood of Kassaa on Saturday, succeeded in creating a choreographed festive atmosphere that did nothing to alleviate people’s pain. It didn’t reduce the severity of their poverty or improve their extremely limited purchasing power. Indeed, despite the owners’ best efforts to attract them, there were practically no costumers at the retail stores that the train passed by.
In contrast to the image that the organizers of the “Damascus the Capital of Christmas” initiative wanted it to give, that “there is light at the end of every tunnel”, this year’s exorbitant Christmas decorations further exacerbated people’s frustration. The electricity shortages persisted as the crisis in supplying the gas that families need to heat their homes continues to get worse and the shortage in the supply of basic food stuffs, like sugar and children’s milk, continues.
While the previous years’ decorations were tolerated, it seems that this year they will not. Damascenes are not prepared to accept a repetition of last year’s economic crisis, which led to food shortages and paralyzed the city for two months as drivers couldn’t fill their car with fuel. Damascus is starting to moan.
Pamphlets with various demands were distributed in Shamdeen Square, Al-Maysat Square, Chako Park and Assad Al-Din Street, and the neighborhoods of Rukn Al-Din and East Rukn Al-Din. The pamphlets demanded the release of the detainee, improved living conditions and services, and an end to the spread of sectarian discourse. They also denounced Iranian and Russian presence. “We want gas, diesel, electricity, gasoline, all the necessities of life”, “The detainees first ... all of them means all of them”, “Syria is for Syrians, not for Russians and Iranians” and “No to sectarianism in schools, government departments, in the streets, and everywhere; you slaughtered us.”
Security forces were deployed in the areas where these leaflets were being distributed and in Omayyad Square, which was decorated with Christmas and New Year ornaments for the first time in its history. A smaller number of forces was also deployed in the Abbasid and Bab Touma Squares.
Local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that tensions have been brewing in the rural suburbs of Damascus over the past few days. An anti-regime protest took place in the town of Kankar in East Ghouta. Graffiti calling for the release of detainees was also written on the walls and an attack on an Air Force Intelligence checkpoint followed soon after. In Douma a wave or arrests was launched after a state security checkpoint was attacked with gunfire at the Tibbi Roundabout. Graffiti was also painted there and in many other towns.
Our source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the distribution of pamphlets in Damascus, where security forces and intelligence agencies hold a firm grip, is a sign that “the Syrian internal scene cannot take any more pressure. It cannot handle more of the infuriating actions of the regime, which seeks to hide its inability to save the economy with infuriating carnivals and celebrations. It is unacceptable that electricity is wasted on decorations while most Damascene neighborhoods are dark and residents are suffering from the blistering cold”.
The sources added that the residents of the Bab Touma, Al-Kassaa and the Abbasid neighborhoods, where these events are organized, “do not appreciate the transformation of their neighborhoods into centers of chaotic celebration, celebration that confirms lies and delusions about the reality of Christians in Syria, more than 50 percent of whom emigrated during the war."