An invitation to travel to Syria

June 05, 2019 18:30
Pro-government forces stand amid the ruins in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus last year. The government is eager to show everyone that life is back to normal in Syria. Photo: AFP

Recently, a friend of mine invited me to go to Syria to attend a wedding; the groom is the son of the country's interior minister.

Some people would probably decline such an invitation. For them, traveling to Syria is a very dangerous proposition.

However, Damascus, the Syrian capital where the wedding is going to take place, is actually a lot more peaceful than many people would imagine.

Even at the height of the civil war, Damascus has remained firmly in the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its troops, and therefore relatively safe and stable. The majority of its citizens go about the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Damascus has not been immune to bomb attacks, terrorist strikes and political assassinations. But it is still like a paradise compared to cities that were once occupied by the Islamic State or the opposition forces in the eastern theater.

After the massive military intervention of Russia and the subsequent collapse of the Islamic State, entertainment life in Damascus, for example, has regained its momentum to a basic level.

In fact, in order to demonstrate that everything is back to normal in the country, the government has streamlined visa application procedures in order to attract more visitors.

Even same-day visitors from nearby Beirut are welcome.

So is it really safe to go and attend the wedding? There is no 100 percent guarantee of safety, of course, especially if one considers that the father of the groom, the interior minister himself, has survived five assassination attempts in the past.

As to whether the Assad regime’s efforts to revive tourism are intended to paper over the cracks and boost the country’s revenue, or whether the bigwigs are trying to raise foreign money to fund the civil war, there is really no easy answer.

Theoretically speaking, Syria has already become a Russian protectorate, whereas most of the insurgent forces are proxies of the West.

As such, the fate of Syria perhaps now rests more in the hands of the great powers than in the Syrians themselves.

If the ongoing ceasefire can continue in the long run, it is of course not impossible for Syria to truly get back to normal.

The problem is, given that the country is still pretty much the battleground of a proxy war, and that the current global state of affairs is so volatile, whether Syria can maintain its fragile balance and prosper under this balance like in neighboring Beirut depends more on external than internal factors.

And now let’s get back to the wedding. I told my friend that since I have been a little busy with my work in Hong Kong, it’s hard for me to visit Syria to attend the wedding.

Nevertheless, I also jokingly told him that I would definitely be more than happy to change my schedule and come to Damascus if President Assad was also attending the wedding, so that I could ask him to grant me an interview.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 31

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal