Monocolumn: Syria Revolts: Expatriates Speak Out

Monocolumn: Syria Revolts: Expatriates Speak Out

In a small Lebanese restaurant on London’s Edgware Road two Syrian chefs sat sipping tea as they watched President Bashar al-Assad deliver his first speech since the anti-regime protests began last week.

  • 31 march 2011

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

In a small Lebanese restaurant on London’s Edgware Road two Syrian chefs sat sipping tea as they watched President Bashar al-Assad deliver his first speech since the anti-regime protests began last week.

This area of London, known affectionately as “Little Beirut”, is a microcosm of the Arab world, bundled into the carpetbags of Middle Eastern immigrants and unpacked just north of Marble Arch. With its Lebanese restaurants, Halal butchers and Algerian cafés this is where London’s Arab community comes to work, play and passionately talk about politics.

But yesterday, while an audience of Syrian parliamentarians frequently interrupted Assad’s speech with applause and shouts of support, the mood in London was distinctly muted.

One of the expatriates, a 48-year-old from Deraa – the scene of some of the most violent protests in Syria – offered a jaded perspective on the situation.

“If the government can be changed, then why not? But they’ve been in power so long I can’t really imagine it. It’s more than just removing the president, it’s a family business, an economic and political mafia. His nephew controls Syriatel [the country’s largest telecommunications company], his brother runs the army and his cousin is responsible for security in Deraa.”

When pressed on what he meant by security, the second chef interrupted. “You know how these protests started? Some children, 10 or 11 years old, were arrested for writing about the government. When they were released after several days, they had had their fingernails removed. That is security. I had no problem with the regime before but now…” He tailed off.

Daniel Jacobius Morgan is a Monocle staff writer

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