I took a walk round old haunts from the three years I spent living in Damascus. I peered through the grimy windows of Etana, a bookshop once filled with intellectuals, to see empty shelves and boxes. Mazen, the purveyor of all my nightdresses, was gone. The rug seller: gone. My favored jeweler: gone. In the place of shops that once sold artifacts to tourists, cheap stores toted nail polish and knock-off goods like “Luis Vutton” handbags. The few dissidents and intellectuals I found who hadn’t left the city pass the hours talking of friends gone and times past, all the time fearing arrest. On July 18, one of them, Youssef Abdelke, a painter, was picked up by security forces. A longtime dissident who only returned to Syria in 2005, after spending years in jail under Bashar’s father Hafez, he was detained along with two other members of an internal group that has been critical of the regime (all three are from different Syrian minorities—Christian, Alawite, and Druze) during another wave of political arrests.
In their place: destitute refugees from the suburbs hiding among the affluent supporters of the Assad regime. Abdelke's wife is trying to free him.