It was dazzling, I am told, that public celebration declaring Damascus the capital of Arab culture for 2008. Pavements, throughout the city, even those finished mere weeks prior to the celebrations were (re)dug and redone so that more of our illustrious officials can cash in on the event, or, to be more precise, so that some can cash in more than others. All in all, the entire budget dedicated to this event needs to be spent, and officials will always find ways to achieve that. But in this, Syria may not be different than any other country, I guess.
Where Syria is different these days, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and which more than justifies the selection of Damascus the capital of Arab culture for 2008, is in its levels of repression, corruption and inflation. As the most repressive Arab regime, the fourth most corrupt Arab country (preceded only by Sudan, Iraq and Somalia), and with galloping inflation rates quickly gnawing away at whatever credibility the regime has left in popular consciousness.
Now more than ever Syria is a country held together by fear, and nothing else.
The participation of leftist intellectuals and writers, such as Noam Chomsky, Milan Kundera and Isabelle Allende, in the celebrations come to underscore how political ideology continues to trump human rights even among those who build their careers highlighting human rights abuses in their own countries and/or perpetrated by their own governments.
Addendum: we just received this email from Allende's assistant:
Dear Ammar Abdulhamid and Khawla Yusuf,
Isabel has made no plans to visit Syria in the near future.
Assistant to Isabel Allende