Restaurateur who barred American consul is toast of the town

DAMASCUS: Among the most visible signs of anger at US policy in the region are two restaurants in Damascus that have taken stands against Americans, albeit with different messages.

Majd Niyazi Tabbaa became famous last month as “the woman who threw the American consul out of her restaurant,” which is actually owned by her husband and located in the Old City of Damascus.

More than a month afterward, Tabbaa said that she continues to receive a stream of telephone calls and messages of support, whether locally or from outside Syria.

Various versions of the incident circulated through the internet and media, which Tabbaa said required clarification.

“It happened on April 7,” she recalled. “When the consul, Roberto Powers, walked in, he went to the bar. I went over to him and told him: ‘Mr. Roberto, tell your George Bush that all of you are not welcome ­ please get out.’

“He’s a nice guy and I don’t have anything against him, but because he represents the US government, it was the only way to reach the US government and convey my feelings and my message,” she continued.

The US Embassy declined to comment on the incident.

Tabbaa said that Powers, who frequented the restaurant, had also been at Oxygen on the night of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

On that occasion, “I told him: ‘Mr. Roberto, we’re sorry about the innocent people who died. As a Syrian citizen, I give you my condolences.’

“But unfortunately, the US government forced me to behave this way with its representatives,” she said, describing her more famous later encounter with the consul.

The message she wanted to get across, Tabbaa continued, had to be as “harsh” as the

one conveyed by President George W. Bush, “whom I can’t accept saying that (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon is a ‘man of peace.’

“The American people are good, but their government is falsifying reality and 100 percent in the grip of Sharon.”

Tabbaa said she received an unending stream of phone calls of support as news of the incident spread, taking out a stack of business cards dropped off by admirers.

“Many people have come to see the restaurant where the incident took place, with a lot of people from Jordan, Lebanon, other Arab countries. An American businessman came in a few days ago, and said it was a pleasure to meet me.”

Tabbaa said she was not a member of a political party, and while not officially coordinating with grass-roots boycott campaigns, she has taken part in candlelight marches to protest the Israeli military offensive on the West Bank.

The 41-year old mother of three is a painter, and several of her works adorn the walls

of Oxygen, which is located in a restored traditional stone house in the Qaimarieh neighborhood, near Bab Touma.

She said the restaurant, owned by her husband Aref Tabbaa, had not experienced a radical improvement in business after the incident, since it was doing well in the first place.

But Oxygen has become a household name, where everyone seems to have heard of the “famous restaurant.”

Drawing a clear line between the US administration and the American people, Tabbaa said she disagreed with the “No Americans Allowed” message put up at a restaurant called Mondo in the posh neighborhood of Malki.

Mondo’s owner, Ahmad Diab, said he put up the sign at the height of the Jenin massacre and disregarded advice to send his message only to “official” representatives of the United States.

“The message is directed at all Americans, not just diplomats. All Americans are involved in what’s going on. The killing is taking place with their weapons and planes. Don’t they pay taxes?” he asked. “Many of my friends, some of whom are naturalized American citizens, advised me not to do this. They encouraged me to only target diplomats. But how many US diplomats are there in Syria?”

The owner also brushed off the notion of a contradiction between the message outside and the Statue of Liberty poster and other American decor inside, as well as banana splits and American coffee on the menu.

As for failing to distinguish between Americans and their representatives, Diab said that an American girl called the ban “disgusting.”

“We told her about the kids who are dying. Do they differentiate between armed and unarmed people?”­





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