Yesterday was a hastily arranged national holiday. It allowed the people to take part in the planned demonstrations of support for the Government. According to Syria TV (which, according to one of my students ‘is reporting from paradise’) there were 2million out on the streets of Sham, and 1 million in Aleppo. Both cities have populations of roughly 6 million (and I am not getting involved in the never ending argument about what does, and does not constitute part of Damascus). It certainly looked massive on TV, although a (Syrian) friend of a friend lives in the official university accommodation, known as the ‘medina,’ or city, which has a curfew and all sorts of other things designed to stop the party. She says that all of the students were told that they absolutely had to go to the rally, and couldn’t stay in the accommodation. She missioned back to her village and is hoping the authorities didn’t notice her absence.
Today I met my friend from the mosque to have lunch and watch the president give a speech to the Parliament. It turns out that punctuality isn’t one of ‘Abu Hafez,’ as his supporters are now calling him, many virtues. We watched in a restaurant and everyone was transfixed. My friend says she cannot remember him ever giving a speech to the people; he always does it out of sight somewhere. He does look very shy. I, and I think a lot of Syrians, find him strangely endearing, a tendency I’m fighting against. As someone pointed out, just because he looks like a Disney mouse doesn’t mean he’s got any legitimacy, He should be head of his local Specsavers*, not Syria.
Anyway, we were pretty disappointed by his speech, which was repeatedly interrupted by deputies telling him how great he was, much to his embarrassment. My favourite was the politician that told him that the Arab countries were too small for such a man to lead, he should lead the whole world, I’m sure no one (apart, perhaps, for his mum) has ever told Cameron that. Assad blamed outsiders for fermenting a plot, using what’s been happening elsewhere where as cover, announced it was defeated, said no blame can be attached to the people in Dera, announced some economic benefits, assured us he’d have made them anyway, shook the hand of every single MP and left, driving his own car.
*he’s a British trained eye doctor.