Feature: Syrian refuses service, is hero

By THANAA IMAM  |  April 26, 2002 at 2:29 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, April 26 (UPI) -- Majd Niazi Tabbah has become a national hero overnight. Two weeks ago, Tabbah refused to serve the U.S. embassy's consul in her Damascus restaurant to protest what Syrians see as Washington's blind support of Israel in its war against the Palestinians.

"I am receiving dozens of calls every day from various Arab countries and Syrian immigrants thanking me for what I did and saying that I expressed the points of view of all honest Arabs," she told United Press International at her restaurant Oxygen, located in one of the old neighborhoods in downtown Damascus.

She said an Egyptian man came to the restaurant specifically to kiss her hand in appreciation for snubbing the U.S. consul.

"A hairdresser offered to fix my hair for free, a physician proposed to be my personal doctor and a lawyer did the same," she said. "I am surprised. What I did was a very normal, spontaneous reaction to the massacres committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians."

She strongly denied she was "pushed by the authorities" to behave in a hostile way towawrd U.S. Consul Roberto Powers, saying, "I have received no official comment -- neither praise nor condemnation for what I did."

Tabbah said she approached Powers when he entered the restaurant and took a seat.

"I asked him to leave and (to) inform President George W. Bush that all of them (U.S. officials) are not welcomed in my restaurant," she recalled. "I could not stand Powers having dinner in my restaurant while the Palestinian children are being killed with U.S. weapons."

Tabbah said although she considers the consul as "a poor, simple U.S. individual," she justified her reaction for "he represents the U.S. government and not the U.S. people."

Powers kept silent but stayed 10 minutes before leaving the restaurant. U.S. embassy officials refused to comment on the incident.

Tabbah's action drew her more clients, who flocked to the restaurant as a sign of support.

Abdel Qader Awad, chairman of al-Hamra Computer Center, said he came to the restaurant "to thank them for what they did" at the request of many of his friends in Lebanon and Iraq who heard about Tabbah's refusal to serve the consul.

According to witnesses, the holy man at Omar bin Abdel Aziz mosque in Damascus praised the Oxygen owners, saying "the presence of people of that kind in Syria means that the country is in very good shape."

The snub of Powers is but one indication of growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Syria and in the Arab world in general.

Since the Israeli military offensive against the West Bank city of Ramallah and other Palestinian areas on March 29, millions of Arabs have taken to the streets in support of the Palestinians and to denounce the Israeli massacres.

Their anger soon shifted to the U.S. for its "blind" support and bias of Israel. The U.S. embassies and products became the target.

Arab demonstrators have called for boycotting U.S. products. In the streets of Damascus large placards encouraged the boycott while protesters distributed lists of what they said were Israeli-affiliated U.S. companies and products, such as Head and Shoulders shampoo and Marlboro cigarettes.

Many Syrians have switched to French cigarettes. Nevertheless, the gesture's impact is more symbolic than tangible as Syria imports few U.S. products.

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