Students at Damascus University no longer wear the colours of their favourite football teams. The flags of Brazil or Italy, draped round shoulders or hanging from satchels, have been replaced by the yellow flag of Hizbullah and the tricolour of the Syrian Arab Republic. Young men have dug out combat trousers from their military service days and, in the trendier parts of town, girls wear tight tops the colour of army fatigues. The minibuses that shuttle commuters around Damascus reverberate to patriotic Lebanese chants. It seems a long time since almost everyone in the city's restaurants, coffee shops and barbers - the three places where men (rarely women) gather to exchange news - was watching the World Cup and cheering for their adopted teams; now, every television is tuned to al-Jazeera or, in the Shia districts, to the Hizbullah station al-Manar, which despite repeated bombing of its transmitters is still managing to broadcast. When it's reported that the Lebanese resistance - as Hizbullah is known here - has inflicted losses on the Israelis, there are loud expressions of satisfaction. The excitement quickly fades, though: soon the Syrians may need more than just cosmetic defiance.
LRB 17 August 2006 | PDF Download