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Syria Conflict Reaches Far Beyond Its Borders

International efforts to end the violence in Syria are moving slowly, and some experts are warning of months of bloodshed ahead.  Meanwhile, the conflict is affecting Syrians outside the country, as well as those inside. 

From some angles, this road looks like it could be anywhere in the Middle East.

But it’s not. It is Edgware Road in central London, a meeting point for some of the city’s hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern residents.

At a restaurant promising Syrian home cooking, the manager, Damascus native Firas Abdin, says the crisis back home is never far from the minds of his customers, and it made an activist out of him.

“In the beginning, I was not against regime.  We thought that Bashar Assad will fix everything, he will punish the people who did that.  When he did nothing," Abdin said. "That’s where the revolution started.  When his father died, we thought everything will change.  And what happened?  We discovered that we were very wrong.”

Abdin says before the Syrian revolution started, he and his friends would play cards and go to parties.  Now, he says, no one is in the mood to do that.  Meanwhile, his family back home cannot speak freely on the telephone, and he can’t visit them because of what he has been doing for the last year.

“When there is any march against the Syrian regime, when there is any demonstration against them near the Syrian embassy, I always go,” Abdin stated.

The international community is trying to end the violence, even appointing the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a special envoy and convening the first of a series of international meetings.  But the second meeting has already been postponed,

Experts, including Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, do not expect a breakthrough any time soon.

“There’s no clear solution ahead.  So, I think we’re in for a protracted civil conflict,” he said.

One problem is disunity in the Syrian opposition.  Although the United States and other countries are trying to help the Syrian National Council become the umbrella group, other exiled activists are resisting.  

Among them is Paris-based journalist Samir Aita of the Syria Democratic Forum.

“There is a general difficulty of, let’s say, the political opposition.  They have a lot of egos.  They have a lot of problems between them because there was no real political life in Syria," he noted. "But if you look at the real differences between them, they are not so big.”

At the restaurant, Firas Abdin is frustrated by the lack of a clear alternative to President Assad.  But, like many activists, he rejects any suggestion that Mr. Assad might stay in office.

“The people, they will never accept.  Not now.  Maybe in the first one, two, three months, maybe.  But now it’s too late," Abdin said. "No one will accept that.  No return.  No way back.”

The conflict in Syria is 3,500 kilometers away from Edgware Road, but for many who come here to eat or shop, it feels much closer.

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