Shops and restaurants close early in Damascus these days, their owners eager to get home before dark, which sometimes brings shootings and other crime. Blast walls and checkpoints ring government buildings to guard against car bombs. Residents struggle with spiraling prices and power outages.
In my first visit in nearly a year, I found Damascus transformed by Syria’s deadly and divisive uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime. A capital once considered one of the safest in the world has become tense with worries over violence. A city that had grown boisterous and optimistic with an economic blossoming in recent years is now grim with fears for the future.
Electricity outages lasting up to 12 hours a day have forced residents to buy private generators, and the din from their engines echoes along the commercial Hamra Street. Much of what I saw reminded me of Iraq and my hometown of Beirut, where 22 years after the Civil War ended, electricity cuts are still frequent due to the dilapidated infrastructure. At one point when I got stuck in a hotel elevator, I thought for a split second that I was back in Beirut.