Champagne Flows While Syria Burns
Jul 9, 2012 1:00 AM EDT
A country at war with itself. Bombs and civilian massacres. Yet, in Damascus, the music plays on.
By the pool, glistening, oiled, and muscular bodies gyrated to a juiced-up version of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Atop huge speakers, a Russian dancer swayed suggestively in front of the young, beautiful Syrian set drinking imported Lebanese beer with salt and lemon. Behind them, columns of smoke were rising—signs of car bombs and explosions, of an encroaching war.
One woman in a tight swimsuit playfully squirted a water gun, joking that she belonged to the pro-government militia, the Shabiha, meaning ghosts or thugs, which is believed to be responsible for a recent massacre of more than 100 people, many of them women and children. “The opposition wants to kill us—they even announced it on Facebook,” the woman said, and blithely went back to spraying herself with water.
The pool party at the Dama Rose Hotel in Damascus was just getting started.
For 15 months now, Syria has been engaged in increasingly bloody fighting, pitting antigovernment rebels against the brutal regime of President Bashar al-Assad, costing the lives of at least 10,000 people, according to the United Nations. What began as a protest against his autocratic rule has developed into a violent conflict with sectarian overtones that now threatens to spill into neighboring countries.
For journalists, Syria has been difficult and dangerous to cover, and many dispatches have focused on the rebels’ fight to overthrow the dictator in cities and villages such as Homs and Houla. Life in the capital among the pro-Assad elite is less known to the outside world. What emerges from a recent trip to Damascus, and conversations with dozens of people there who say they still support the government, is a deep sense of dread, kept at bay by distraction and, perhaps, delusion. Damascus has long been a stronghold of Assad supporters who count many Alawites and Christians but also (mostly secular) Sunnis. To them, Assad is a guarantor of stability. And many express fear that if the rebels win, they will turn Syria into a more conservative religious country, along the lines of Saudi Arabia or Yemen. But with government forces unable to quell the uprising, the scariest scenario now also seems the most likely: continued fighting widening into a civil war.
by Janine di Giovanni, originally published by newsweek, all rights reserved.