The Second Coming of Bashar

Soldiers at the normally dour border crossing between Lebanon and Syria were dabka circle dancing and passing out candy. The streets of the Syrian capital were lined with tents stocked with tea and shawarma sandwiches. Billboards Proclaimed: We Believe in Freedom, We Believe in History, We Believe in You. Syrian state television blared old fashioned […]

Postcard from the Golan: Picnic in a Once (and Future?) War Zone

The southwestern Syrian province of Golan is normally off limits to most civilians because parts of it — the famous Golan Heights — have been occupied by Israel since the war of June 1967. But every year on Independence Day, when Syria commemorates the end of French rule in 1946, the government lifts the security […]

Woodward and Bernstein in Syria

On Friday night, I held a screening of All the Presidents Men — the Watergate movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford — for a group of Syrian and Palestinian writers whom I’ve been training to be journalists here in Damascus. As expected, they all got a few giggles out of the impossibly ideal conditions […]

The Departed: Iraqi Refugees in Syria

What happens to a country when its population grows by more than 10% in three years? In Syria, which has absorbed more than a million Iraqi refugees, you can see cosmetic transformations. Iraqi-accented Arabic is heard constantly in the cafés and streets of Damascus. Real estate prices have skyrocketed. Food prices are rising. There’s even […]

Postcard from Damascus: The Actor’s Life in Exile

Just days before the American invasion of Iraq, Nahdi Mahdi, one of Iraq’s most famous comedians, was starring in a play called The Wanderers at the National Theatre in Baghdad to a packed house of almost 2,000 people. Like many then living in the misinformation bubble created by Saddam’s regime, war was the farthest thing […]