The worst moments in the siege of Dammaj came in late November and early December of last year. During those weeks, the villagers in this little-visited, extraordinarily pious settlement in the northwest corner of Yemen had no access to the only hospital in the region, and dwindling supplies of food. Meanwhile, from day to day, snipers in the hills picked off the citizens as they walked to their mosque. The origins of this conflict lie in the age-old Sunni-Shia split. The attacking army is made up of fighters who adhere to a tradition within Shia Islam known as Zaydism.
Many Damascenes these days prefer to watch the government-run TV stations. Elsewhere, the news is bad. The local channels, with local announcers, speaking in proper Syrian Arabic, are often sweet. Often the broadcasters on these stations are beautiful young women. They smile a lot. Their channels say that in some outlying districts, vandals and religious fanatics have moved in, and have had to be removed by the army. But now all is back to normal. One cannot trade one’s Syrian pounds for dollars in Damascus anymore.
I was living in Damascus in early 2009 during the Gaza war. The entire city turned tense, and my neighborhood with it. Store owners along the popular shopping avenues decorated their windows with pictures of blood splattered, scorched Palestinian kids. A popular caricature of Tzipi Livni, who was then the Israeli foreign minister, had her lipstick melting into a drool of blood and her eyes colored to suggest beaming demonic light. Across the exterior of the mosques, citizens hung banners depicting recently killed Palestinian soldiers.