Syrian Plastic Surgeons Doing Roaring Trade
Reema Darweesh had second thoughts before undergoing rhinoplasty, cosmetic surgery on her nose, late last year.
“My mother pressured me to go under the knife, but I feared the pain I would suffer,” said Darweesh, 19.
“She finally convinced me after she said the procedure would bring a suitor to my door. All my friends already married and I was worried about finding a partner.”
Darweesh, who lives with her parents in Damascus, said her apprehension vanished when she saw the results of the surgery.
“All of my pre-surgery anxiety disappeared when I saw my new nose,” she said. “And my mother’s prediction did come true. I became engaged shortly afterwards.”
The cosmetic surgery market in Syria has steadily expanded over the past couple of years. Procedures like rhinoplasty, liposuction and collagen implants are no longer the preserve of the wealthy few, as demand for them increases among middle-class professionals.
“Plastic surgery fever has become an international phenomenon, especially in this era of celebrity when we see movie stars getting new looks to appear younger and project self-confidence,” said Damascus-based sociologist Muhammed Juma.
Asmaa Mazin, a 22-year-old communications major at Damascus University, said she had a nose job to look more like the celebrities she and her friends watch on TV.
“Honestly, before going under the knife, my nose had no obvious flaws,” she said. “But so many other girls do it and they come out looking like our favourite stars. I thought, ‘why not do it?’”
While a source in the health ministry said there are no official statistics regarding the number of plastic surgeries performed every year, several doctors told IWPR that rhinoplasty remains the most popular procedure, followed by liposuction, facelifts and breast implants.
“Syrian men and women have nose jobs,” said Damascus-based plastic surgeon Dr Nariman Muhammed. “Facelifts are popular for women and liposuction is very popular among men.”
Muhammed estimated that more than 40 clinics specialising in plastic surgery operate throughout Syria.
“Plastic surgery used to only be offered at more general medical clinics, but these procedures have become so popular that surgeons have opened up solo practices strictly devoted to cosmetic improvements,” he said.
One factor contributing to the popularity is the cost of most procedures, which runs from 500 to 3,000 US dollars, according to Damascus-based plastic surgeon Muhammed Haj Khalil.
“Plastic surgery is no longer restricted to the upper class in Syria,” he said. “Over time, the price went down and now middle class and even men and women [on a lower income] can afford a 500 dollar procedure.”
Syria has become a desirable destination for Arab women from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates who travel to Damascus because of the lower costs and skill of Syrian plastic surgeons, Khalil said.
“Syria has a reputable network of plastic surgeons,” Damascus-based plastic surgeon Muhammed Abdul Rahman said. “They are professionals who excel at their jobs.”
Reports suggest that roughly 2,500 non-Syrian women underwent rhinoplasty in Syrian clinics and hospitals in 2006.
“I had a nose job in Dubai and paid 2,500 dollars but it looked awful,” said Sarab, 25, who preferred not to disclose her full name. “Some friends referred me to a Syrian doctor. Twenty days ago, I went to see him and had new surgery for only 500 dollars. Now I have a beautiful nose.”
Despite the reputation of Syrian doctors, not all surgeries are a success – or without risks.
“I didn’t know the doctor performing my nose surgery was an [ear, nose and throat doctor] with no plastic surgery experience,” said Damascus-based engineer Lamya Urabi, 29.
Urabi said her nose looked awful after surgery.
“I wrote a letter to the central doctors’ union and asked them to publish the names of certified plastic surgeons. I hope they will listen,” she said.
More than 30 complaints are reported to have been filed against plastic surgeons by patients who had surgery in 2007.
Dr Omar al-Mamoun, president of the Plastic Surgery League in Damascus, estimated that only 65 doctors are qualified to perform cosmetic plastic surgery.
“Yet hundreds of unspecialised doctors perform plastic surgery without being specialised or licensed,” he said.
Dr Ahmed Qassim, chair of the Syrian Doctors’ Union, said the union sent the health ministry a letter last year, urging the closure of clinics known to be run by unlicensed doctors.
He said increasing demand for the procedures breeds risks.
“Plastic surgery was originally created to address congenital and acquired defects resulting from accidents and burns,” said Dr Anwar al-Husseiniya, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Damascus. “Now, everyone just wants to look beautiful – usually for as little money as possible.”
Khalil said he tells his patients “to forget the word beautification and remember the word surgery. What we do is surgery, and surgery can be risky”.