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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Syrians glum about US polls

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Damascus

Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore is showing in the Sham Palace theatre in Damascus - in full, completely unedited.

Damascus cafe-goers watch the sunset
Syrians have been under pressure to conform to the US world view

Not a minute of it has been censored. It is probably a first in Syria.

From foreign movies to foreign books, everything goes under the watchful eye of the censors in this tightly controlled, one-party state.

But Bush-bashing is one thing that does not appear to be frowned upon here - and the Syrians loved the film.

They laughed their heart out when George W Bush was ridiculed in the movie and many people around me actually cried when they saw pictures of Iraqis being killed in the war.

As she came out of the theatre, Leyla Haidar, who watched the movie with her sister, was full of praise.

The American people, with their government, always support Israel and they don't pay attention to our world here because they know nothing about us here
Damascus woman

"It was wonderful, just wonderful. I hope Americans will watch it. They need to know all this," she said.

"If they watch it, I'm sure Bush will be defeated - but then who knows if Kerry will be better?

Mid-East conflict

The presidency of George Bush has been a difficult time for Syria.

It has been constantly criticised for allegedly meddling in Iraq's affairs and chastised for interfering in the politics of its smaller neighbour, Lebanon.

The Syrians have been under intense pressure to conform to the US world view.

Shopping in Damascus
US support for Israel will always be to Syria's disadvantage, many feel

But at the same time, Syrians feel disappointed by the approach this US administration has taken to the Middle East peace process.

Riad Daoudi, an adviser to the foreign ministry, says Syria has constantly tried to tell the US that "if they want to seek stability in the region... the best thing is to look for a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict".

"This was the position of the previous administration and now it should be the position of any coming administration," he says.

Mr Daoudi and most Syrians say that, regardless of who wins the US presidential election, America will always support Israel - first and foremost - and that, they feel, will always be to Syria's disadvantage.

Promoting Syria

So do Syrians actually care about who wins the Americans election? A woman at a busy cafe in Damascus told me her opinion.

Syria-Iraq border crossing
Syrians fear that after Iraq they may be the next US target

"I care, although I know that whoever is selected will never do us any good. I mean, they're only interested in their nation, their country - which is right, it's only fair.

"But when they interfere in other countries' politics and lives, then we care."

A man nearby says he does not care who wins: "No matter who is elected, Democratic or Republicans, it is the same for Syria; as long as America decides to rule the world, not lead it, it's the same."

A woman points out that US policy would always favour Israel at the expense of the Arabs "because we don't promote ourselves".

"The American people, with their government, always support Israel and they don't pay attention to our world here because they know nothing about us here and it's our fault, I believe," she said.

Next target?

These views are shared by many Americans who live in Syria despite the tense diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Some are businessmen and many are working as English teachers.

An American man echoed the view that the Democratic and Republican stance on Israel is essentially the same.

But "if you vote for Ralph Nader, you're taking votes away from Kerry, so it's almost like you're voting for Bush," he says.

"For that reason, I probably won't vote this time - and also, I know many Muslim-Americans. We were kind of upset at the last election.

Although most Syrians believe that not much will change for them if the Democratic challenger John Kerry is elected, they will still be closely watching the outcome of the US elections on 2 November.

After all, US troops are just across the border in Iraq and Syrians worry that if Mr Bush gets to serve a second term, they might well be the next target of his war on terror.




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