Michael Totten

Banned from Syria

I was going to visit Syria this week, but it looks like that isn’t going to happen. The government has gone into hyper-paranoid mode, even more so than usual. They are stopping Americans at the border and kicking them back into Lebanon.
One American friend of mine did manage to make it across after an eight hour ordeal. The border agents first said “no way” when he showed up. But he is a student at the University of Damascus and he insisted they had to let him back in. After eight hours of phone calls they finally decided to admit him — but only after an explicit exception was made for him in Damascus. I am not a student there, and I would not be so lucky if I tried.
My friend who did make it in told me Damascus is testing its air raid sirens for the first time in years, as though preparing for an invasion.
“What’s that about?” I said. “Paranoia or theater?”
“It’s totally theater,” he said, which is what I figured as well. Turning Americans back at the border, though, isn’t theater. It’s real paranoia.
But it’s time for me to leave Beirut again. So I’m going to Cairo, and I’m going tomorrow.