Protesters in Hama, Syria.(Moises Saman/NYT)
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The Semi-Free City of Hama

But the Syrian regime and its domestic opponents share a view of Israel

Marc Tracy
July 20, 2011
Protesters in Hama, Syria.(Moises Saman/NYT)

Intrepid New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid and photographer Moises Saman were perhaps the first Western journalists in Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city, since the regime, which elsewhere continues to violently crack down on dissent, essentially abandoned the city. Shadid’s report and Saman’s pictures are essential reading and viewing. Hama is currently some sort of large-scale experiment, a place in Syria that is actually free, except with the knowledge that the current state of affairs cannot possibly last.

Hama is also uniquely situated: It was the site of one of the most brutal crackdowns in modern Middle Eastern history, when Syrian President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, killed 100,000 to put down an Islamist uprising in 1982; and indeed, Islamism is more pervasive in Hama than in most other Syrian cities (the absence of members of the Assad family’s Alawite sect was a large reason why the regime decided to withdraw). I noted yesterday that the regime has resorted to playing the Israel card in a bid to unify the people, and if Shadid’s article is any indication, it can be played right back: A protest banner in a main square reads, “Here is Hama. It is not Tel Aviv.” Hama seems to tell us that no matter what emerges from what can increasingly be termed an all-out Syrian civil war, it is not likely to be particularly friendly to its Jewish neighbor (even as said neighbor wishes it well).

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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