Nasser Rabbat, "Anatomy of the Syrian Regime", in London Review of Books, Vol 38, N° 14, 14th July 2016
In the summer of 1992, I took a ‘luxury cab’ from Damascus to Amman. The cab’s class was important: luxury cabs provided extra services at the border crossing, helping to circumvent the humiliations reserved for Syrian men every time they left the country. When we reached the Syrian border, the driver got out and promised to get my documents stamped in five minutes. He came back in two with an apologetic look: ‘I’m afraid you have to come in too: they’re asking about your draft status.’ I wasn’t worried: my passport stated that I was exempt from military service. But the officer demanded to see my official draft book. ‘I don’t have it on me,’ I replied. ‘Well, you can’t leave the country then,’ he said. I tried to explain but he wouldn’t listen. So the driver took me to see the man’s commanding officer: an army major sitting behind a big desk under the ubiquitous picture of the president, Hafiz al-Assad. I approached him, explained my situation and showed him my passport. The major barely looked at it, but said in a Damascene accent: ‘This document is not enough. You will have to bring your official draft book or you will not cross the border.’ ‘But Damascus is more than two hours away,’ I replied. ‘That’s not my problem,’ he said, and turned back to the two men sitting across from him, indicating that our discussion was over.