Eid al-Fitr for Syrians in Saidon: Assad’s eyes are everywhere


Inside Sidon’s Old City, Syrians are not under official curfew but know their lives are restricted. 

Youssef looked disgusted.

“I cannot look at him”, he said, of the president of his country, Bashar al-Assad.

It was the eve of Eid al-Fitr in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. The 28-year-old carpenter from Latakia in Syria knew his family would not be celebrating the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan heartily. This year, there would be no lamb with nuts, or helewiyat – sweets – or presents for his three young boys.

So the sight of President Assad in a posed photo with Syrian Arab Army, tucking into a large iftar in supposed solidarity with his soldiers was rather too much to stomach.

“Bashar al-Assad has the eyes of the world on him,” Youssef says. “He needs to make a good impression.”

I say how the regime has been publishing images like this frequently, and that pro-regime media says nothing of attacks on civilians.

Bashar al-Assad has the eyes of the world upon him.

“The Alawis [the minority sect from which the Assad family hails] have no fear of God. When many others in Syria went without a car, they had four. Other people did not have much and they ruled in money, politics, everything. The Alawis were the ones with the power.”

“All my friends have been killed apart from those who escaped here and two who went to Europe”, Youssef continues. “Everything is destroyed.”

Throughout the final days of Ramadan, the Instagram account of the Syrian Presidency was filled with propaganda photos of Bashar al-Assad and his British-educated wife Asma doing goodly deeds. Here she is, glossy locks and all, cuddling a child, greeting the families of “martyrs”, as the descriptions go; here he is, offering moral support to Syrian Arab Army soldiers, breaking the Ramadan fast with them. The image of the President’s iftar is taken at the Marj al-Sultan airbase in the Ghouta region of rural Damascus province. It does not, of course, show the thousands of people starving in villages besieged by the regime just kilometres away.

A Sunni Muslim carpenter from the Alawi-dominated Latakia province on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, Youssef now works from 8am to 6pm for $20 a day, in both Beirut and Sidon. His three children, aged one, four and five, are not in any type of care or education now, and it is now up to his wife to try to teach them at home. Eid will be a subdued affair.

“My parents have been dead for three years; they died in an airstrike. So I have not had Eid with them for three years.

“My children will say ‘where are the presents?’ But we cannot afford Eid presents this year.

“We will have nothing more than olives and bread, maybe. Life in the south here is very hard.”

He hopes to return to Syria for future Eids, and find again the celebrations in the street, the rich meals of meat and nuts and sweets, and gatherings with friends.

And to be with your family?, I ask.

Youssef stops and looks at me. “But my family has been killed, apart from those who escaped here.

“My parents have been dead for three years; they died in an airstrike. So I have not had Eid with them for three years.

“I want to see my children grow up. I do not want to see more children killed.”

Youssef is thankful he can speak more freely here – at least in comparison with Syria. But he wants his life back.

“We can see that they don’t want us here [in Lebanon]. We are living under restrictions and we live in fear and danger. Bashar has his hands everywhere.”


Saidon’s Old City souk was busy with buyers and sellers on the eve of Eid al-Fitr.

Earlier, out in the beautiful souks of Sidon, a city state for the Phoenecians, destroyed by the 551 earthquake during the Byzantine era, and conquered by Crusader Baldwin in 1111, the alleyways bustled with pre-Eid excitement and trade. Children zoomed on small tricycles across the town squares and soak themselves in the fountains on a roundabout beside the bus station. People buy chocolates and new clothes by the stackful.


Since a double suicide attack on the Christian village of El Qaa near the Syrian border, Syrians have faced restrictions on their movements, making Eid a less than free affair. The attacks have been variously blamed on people from refugee camps and assailants who came specifically from Syria to carry out the atrocity, ordinary Syrians have been living under tight security, with more than 400 arrests made and frequent raids on camps and apartments in towns and cities.

In any normal situation, Syrians in Lebanon are required to obtain permits for public celebrations, such as weddings or parties. In the current climate, things would be even tougher and more subdued.

One international NGO separately told me that their local partner had toned down Eid al-Fitr celebrations for Syrians in the Bekaa valley camp where it operated.

I spent the last iftar of Ramadan 2016 with Youssef, his wife and three boys, in the tiny flat up a perilous spiral staircase in the Old City. With us were the Palestinian woman, Amal, who rented it to the family, alongside a Lebanese woman, her daughter, and another seven-year-old girl whose mother’s whereabouts were unclear, although they later spoke on the phone.


The last Iftar of Ramadan 2016 : olives, fuul and vegetables.

It was crowded, but the iftar was good. We ate labneh, mint, kilos of tomatoes and bean stew, with squidgy olives and plate-sized flatbreads. They argued over how they would have bought chicken if they had known I was coming.

I went out onto the platform that lead, somewhere, down to ground level, although I could not see the souq floor from where I stood.

The azan, the call to prayer, was accompanied by hour-long Eid prayers and recitations, bouncing between the mosques clustered in the Old City and beyond. The sound of firecrackers rings in between them, and I am pretty sure that some of the whizzes and bangs are coming from celebratoty gunfire. Other than that, it is silent, and rather strange.

Around 12.30am, cries, whoops and whistles return to the streets. What is that, I asked Youssef’s wife, Ba’diya, with whom I am sharing a room for the night. “It is Lebanese parties”, she answers. “Are there any Syrians in the streets?” I ask. “No”, she replies. “We are staying here, inside.”





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