A Facade Of Normal Life In Syria's Capital Even though Damascus is far from the protest battle zones, tourists are staying away from the Syrian capital. At public events, there is a facade of normalcy. But people are afraid to be asked whether they support the regime or the revolution.

A Facade Of Normal Life In Syria's Capital

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


The uprising in Syria shows no sign of slowing down. It's now in its fifth month. And neither does the government's fierce crackdown on protestors. That's not slowing down either. Many of the biggest demonstrations and the most violent clashes have been in Syria's outlying cities. The capital city Damascus has seen fewer demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. But residents say the city has changed dramatically since the uprising began. NPR's Deborah Amos was in Damascus earlier this week and filed this report.


DEBORAH AMOS: Just a few months ago, it was almost impossible to get a table at the Z Bar. There was a long wait for parties announced on Facebook. This trendy open-air restaurant overlooking Damascus was a hot spot for the young.


LOUISE KELLY: (Singing) Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains...

AMOS: On this night, guests sipped mixed drinks under the stars and the crystal chandeliers, but the velvet couches were half full, the conversation dominated by one subject. Many know people who've been arrested, beaten or killed. Still, the crowds are starting to come back now, says owner Hassan Saloom.

HASSAN SALOOM: People are getting to know how to deal with this situation, to go on living. Life is going on. This is life.

AMOS: Roula Dodoch opens the heavy wooden door of her boutique hotel to an empty courtyard and a disastrous tourist season.

ROULA DODOCH: Yes, of course. For the foreigner, this is a big risk to come.

AMOS: So what are you doing?

DODOCH: Having sheesha, chatting, so...

AMOS: Unidentified Woman #1: You walk in the streets, you can smell the fear among the people. You look in their eyes and they are scared. They look at you, they think, who are you? Who are you with?

AMOS: Unidentified Woman #2: The last Friday there were like 21 locations in Damascus and on the outskirts of Damascus.

AMOS: Is it harder to protest in Damascus than it is any other place?

INSKEEP: Certainly, very tight security, let alone the other unofficial guards, let's say. Where they just carry whatever weapons they want. They can wreck(ph) havoc.

AMOS: Two were killed in Damascus last week, but the protests are spreading, she says. On Wednesday night, security forces arrested 30 well-respected artists who staged an anti-government rally.

LOUISE KELLY: Now, yeah. I mean, because it is spreading way more than before. People are dropping fear rapidly, which is a good sign.

AMOS: And where some choose to protest is surprising.

MARCELL SHAWHARO: Marcell Shawharo. I am a blogger, Syrian blogger.

AMOS: Shawharo chose to protest at the national dialogue this week. The meeting was proposed by Syria's president to find a solution to the crisis. Shawharo was a delegate. The meeting was boycotted by opposition figures, rejected by street protesters - many of them Shawharo's friends.

SHAWHARO: Even my friend, my closest friend, they don't want me to be here. I told them, there's people protesting the in the streets. I came here to protest. People are being arrested, people are being - dying all the days, and that's not okay. We should stop it.

AMOS: The 27-year-old said she'll continue the campaign on her blog.

SHAWHARO: A year ago, if you write something against the government you will go to this prison for three years or five years. Now we are going for 10 days, and 10 days is, wow, achievement. I'm going to put 10 days for my freedom.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News.

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