As the civil war in Syria continues, a significant number of Syrians remain loyal to the embattled government of Bashar Al-Assad. One Christian friend explained to me that although they didn't like the current regime, they considered it inevitable that, should it fall, Syria would descend into a state of violent chaos reminiscent of Afghanistan or Somalia.
The Syrian government has now established a permanent network of surveillance over the old city. One night recently I was strolling through the souq and saw a figure walking slowly ahead of me in the poorly-lit passage, an object dangling from their arm. When I drew within a few paces, he started and turned quickly to face me, watching me closely as I passed.
The announcement in Qatar on November 10 of the formation of the Syrian National Coalition with an elected president is an event of monumental importance, in my opinion. There will be the usual misgivings and apprehensions about the chaos that is expected to follow the collapse of any of these very long Arab dictatorships but none of that will materialize, and the Syrian nation as a whole will do quite well, with a little help from its friends.
The Sunday before last, a bomb exploded in Bab Touma Square in the middle of the morning, killing 13 people and injuring several others. While bombings of government targets and public spaces have become increasingly common over the last few months, this attack constituted the first of its kind in the old city since Syria's political crisis began in March last year.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country as a direct result of the violence that has engulfed the country since the outbreak of the civil war. Meanwhile, many of those that have so far escaped the violence are suffering the economic consequences of the crisis and are thus trying desperately to find a way to escape the country.
To the East of the old city there is a busy road that tanks and other military vehicles often drive along as they travel between the nearest base and whichever suburb they happen to be fighting in on a given day. Recently, a friend saw a tank drive down this road in a convoy with some other vehicles. On its side its crew had had spray-painted, in big white Arabic letters, "Assad! -- or we destroy the country."
While many Syrians have suffered immensely during the current conflict, others continue to live much as before. One week, a young single mother and her two-year-old son came to stay in my house for a few days, her home destroyed and ransacked. Later that week, I went out and met a western friend for a drink in the old city. All of the girls were expensively and revealingly dressed and danced with their male companions seemingly unencumbered by their towering heels, while everyone was knocking back a range of exotic cocktails and shots.
These are but the latest set of condemnations following a week of the Assad regime's massive atrocity crimes. I remain haunted by the poignant and painful final words of UK-based correspondent Marie Colvin before she herself was murdered, "In Baba Amr. Sickening...Watch a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped..." That was from some four months ago.