Damascus is apparently the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, so it may be useful to reflect on how it might transform itself and what we can learn about transition from it.
With Caliphates and Sultanates, Syria has had a lot of changes over centuries, but the most tumultuous was from 1949 to 1970, including a short period when it was united with Egypt, and military coups were frequent. The Assad family have ruled Syria since 1971. With over 22 million people, but an area of land not that much less that the UK, population density is about half that of the UK, income estimated at $5000 annual on average.
As Syria is one of the oldest civilisations, it is clear that sustainability is no easy thing to maintain.
Krak de Chevaliers has a great festival in August, but I guess current protests might make you think twice about how safe it is to go.
Clearly Syria has a lot of desert, but at over 1% water cover, and most people living nearer rather than further from the coast, it is not unreasonable to ask why things are as they are, that is, why they are very unsustainable.
The Beetles song, ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ seem apt here. Syria has had, and continues to have, some pretty unfortunate friends, though even those are now departing. The Geopolitics of ‘Friendship’ is probably one of the sicker aspects of societies, which date back to the origins of Damascus. Another term for it would be playground politics, the kind that has been going on in the US over its Debt Crisis, the kind of ‘if you will be my friend then I will be in your gang another time later’.
It was that kind of playground politics that crippled Africa, first when the battles were between the various European Navies, France, England, Portugal and a few others, then more recently with the old Soviet Union and the USA. That kind of politics also fractured South East Asia, leading to massive corruption and genocide.
This brings me back to Transition. As those involved in ‘Recovery‘ programmes know full well, whether it is recovery from alcohol or drug abuse or recovery from debt, with the wrong kind of friends you will find it very difficult to change for the better. R D Laing had it well documented in his books Self and Others, and Sanity, Madness and The Family, and it runs clear in Mike Leigh’s great film, Secrets and Lies.
So Syria will only come out of this when its ‘friends’ stop supporting abusive behaviours, when their intent is to be a true friend not a selfish friend.
Can this be done? Maybe this report on Brazil and Africa offers us some hope that some countries know what it truly is to be a friend.