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Exclusive – War Introduces New ‘Alien’ Social Norms in Damascus

Exclusive – War Introduces New ‘Alien’ Social Norms in Damascus

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019 - 08:00
A market in Damascus, Syria. (AFP)
Damascus countryside – Asharq Al-Awsat
The eight-year war in Syria has created new “alien” and unfamiliar social norms in the capital Damascus to replace thousands of years in traditions.

A simple example is pedestrians who before the war were in the habit of greeting their acquaintances. Now, the majority refuse to return a greeting.

Abou Eyad, 70, expressed his wonder at the deterioration of social norms. The Syrians used to be an example of loving relations, but the sectarian practices committed during the war created “great sensitivity”.

“We are living at the end of days,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat with a weary sigh.

The deterioration of social relations has extended to families that have been torn apart by the war.

Umm Marwan, a mother of seven, revealed that five of her sons chose to leave the violence and seek a better life in Europe.

“I have not seen them in five years. I have to make do with hearing their voice over the telephone,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Condolences via Facebook
The changes in Damascus have also reached mourning habits. Prior to the war, wakes used to abound with relatives and friends seeking to pay their respects. The war has changed all that and funeral halls are often empty.

Abou Yazan, 50, lamented the state of affairs between relatives, attributing the change to the mounting worries among the people.

“Every person is too preoccupied with their own concern,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another local, Mahmoud, said that it was too much of a hassle and a danger for people to move from one neighborhood to another to attend a wake. They instead opt to offer condolences over Facebook.

Moataz revealed that he did not even hold a wake for his father because he was forced to flee the capital. He now resides in the northwestern Damascus countryside where he has no relatives or friends.

Marriage via Skype
Marriage ceremonies and celebrations have long been a source of pride for the Syrians, who used to hold days-long parties for their guests. With the war, these traditions have been replaced with marriages over Skype given that many of the would-be brides and grooms have been forced to leave their country,

Such marriages are usually arranged by the relatives of the groom who are residing in Syria. They often visit the families of the potential bride and this is followed up with meetings over social media by the would-be couple. The marriage vows are then exchanged via Skype in the attendance of a religious cleric. The groom’s tradition to wear a suit and the bride to wear a white dress have, however, not been abandoned.

Spike in robberies
The looting by regime forces of houses and stores in areas under their control have led to the emergence of markets for “used” goods, such as furniture, electrical appliances, carpets, doors, shoes and cars. The residents label these establishments as the “spoils of war” markets.

Supporters of the regime are eager to shop there to strike bargains over what they consider to be legitimate prizes of war because they have been “seized from terrorists.” Refugees and displaced people refuse to shop at those markets because they say the goods have been illicitly acquired.

Rise in poverty
The war has led to a “catastrophic” decline in the Syrian middle class, said economic experts. They said that middle class stood at 60 percent of the population before the war and now stands at less than 15 percent. The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Five percent of the population, said the experts, are of the upper class, but they acquired their wealth during the war “at the expense of the Syrian economy.”

Greater female role
With many men heading to the battlefronts and forced to flee Syria, women have been left to assume the vacant positions they left behind. It has become common to witness women working jobs that previously used to be strictly occupied by men, such as menswear, pastry and ice cream vendors.

Women are now expected to be the breadwinners in the families, which was uncommon before the war. The ratio of female to male store workers has reached as high as 80 to 20 percent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that at least 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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