Deborah Amos reports: In Syria’s capital, Damascus, the Hamidiyah souk is a landmark — a centuries-old covered market linked to a maze of alleyways in the heart of the capital. Over the 15-month uprising, Syria’s merchants have supported the regime of President Bashar Assad. But that support is crumbling.
Shops selling everything from cold drinks, ice cream and spices to wedding dresses and electric guitars line Hamidiyah’s cobblestone streets.
Everyone in the traditional market is keen to sell something, so when these merchants closed their shops in May to protest a massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, a remote village far from Damascus, it was unprecedented.
A merchant who participated in the strike — who is too afraid to give his name — is still angry enough to say he was part of the strike the security police tried to end by force.
These merchants are mostly Sunni Muslims, who form the core of Syria’s business community. For decades, they were regime loyalists — the backbone of Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime — but no longer, says another merchant, who also wouldn’t give his name.
“The strike, of course, it is unusual. It is something very new in the Syrian society, because it’s a police regime here,” he says. “You cannot express yourself. You cannot speak up.”
So, for the businessmen to strike was a big statement, he says.
“Yes … it’s a message to the regime that merchants are not with him anymore,” he says.