Two Syrias, a World Apart

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It's a warzone in Syria, unless you happen to be an upper-class supporter of the president. In that case: Life is rather comfortable.

This week, the divide between mainstream Syria and the urban, highbrow elite has never been more apparent. Seven days ago the U.N.'s ceasefire went into effect but the implementation has been almost fictional and security forces continue to hammer the opposition stronghold of Homs and other cities throughout the country. But in the business corridors of Damascus and the second-largest city Aleppo, life is good.

This division was first pointed out in a YouTube campaign led by the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations. Pulling images from a glamorous Vogue photo-shoot taken last year of the wife of President Bashar al-Assad, the women juxtapose elegant images of Asma Assad with gory images of mortally wounded children. "Some women care for style," the narrator reads. "And some women care for their people." 

Yesterday Reuters reported that the Assads had finally become conscious of this divide. At a PR event to show the Assads stacking aid supplies for fellow Syrians, "Asma avoided any hint of glamour," the news agency reported, "dressing down in a sheer pink sweater over a simple dress with her dark blonde hair soberly braided and pinned up." Her husband followed suit. But a report from Bloomberg this morning says the "rugged" look was just a facade.

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In fact, if you know where to go, Damascus can be a pretty great town. Like at a bar called Bartini, where Bloomberg's Donna Abu-Nasr found that "Syria's elite dine and dance till dawn on tabletops to the thump of patriotic songs." 

"People seem more comfortable and the international situation is more relaxed," a local tells her. And the fun isn't restricted to the clubs. "Highbrow social and cultural life continues in the city's downtown area," she writes. "An audience of about 700 saw the U.K. conductor Howard Williams, indirectly funded by the British Council, at a Syrian National Symphony Orchestra concert on April 3. Williams, who said in an interview that he attended to show support for Syrian musicians, also noted that much of everyday life goes on amid an 'inescapable' military presence and numerous checkpoints." 

At the same time, 9,000 Syrian citizens have died in the year-long conflict ravaging the country. Just yesterday, 46 people died, according to the Local Coordination Committees. One the main problems is, the upper-middle class don't feel the pressure to renounce the Assad regime. According to Salman Shaikh at the Brookings Doha Center, this is not at all like Libya. "Those who have been connected to the regime and whose interests lie with it, they simply don't feel the pressure to move away from the regime," Shaikh says. "In fact, the last two months they've probably decided it's not the time to move." That's because they think the government is crushing the opposition and there is little actual threat to an overthrow. Unfortunately for Syria's citizens, they might be right.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.