Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
A Damascus Cameo
By a Friend in Damascus
April 17, 2011
The Syrian turmoil is a surprising and challenging experience for Bashar and his governmental disciples. Over the last few weeks, Damascus has witnessed immense and eager protests in support of the current regime, while reports of uprisings calling for freedom, release of political prisoners and ends to corruption also spring in different quarters of cities all over Syria including Damascus. Security personnel have shaped the response to these pro-freedom rallies with the use of weaponry and brutality. Media notarization of the events has also been curtailed by the state; many foreigners in Damascus are seen as conspicuous agents propagating a falsified image of the turmoil in Syria. Further, the state and Syrian media have continually declared that foreign media in hand with foreign and sectarian entities have created plots to spark unrest in civil society. Thus, the blame has continually been on external agents whom would benefit if the country were to go up in flames and see the dynasty and the Arab heart of the Middle East crumble. Syria’s defiant position against Israel and America validate its argument for many Syrians, especially those in Damascus.
The pro-Bashar spirit in Damascus is a force to reckon with. There are numerous reports that these protests are fabricated by the state, however, it is undeniable that many of the populace abide and adore their current president. Many believe he is a true reformer but the governmental parameters of his operation impede his ability to rejuvenate Syrian economy and society. It is also factual that many configurations to Syrian society have developed since his inception of the presidency in 2000; examples can be the economic liberalization policies that have allowed many to thrive economically with the opening of international banking and investment services and free trade economic agreements with its neighbors. These reforms have loosened the formerly nationalized country and it has opened up a platform of modernization and liberalization of Syrian society. Hence, many of the peoples whom have gained from these policies and reforms glorify and applaud the president in face of the restrictive experience they witnessed under his father, Hafez Al-Assad.
On the other end of the spectrum, these pro-Bashar rallies also evoke a sense of persuasion, coercion and sense of fear. In the streets of Damascus since the past Friday, many cars honk and blast nationalistic songs, almost all commercial spaces have attached posters and flags of the president to show their loyalty. If you are not part of the festivities, it somehow radiates you in the space. As an example, many block main streets by parking their cars horizontally, thereafter the people start to dance, chant and hold flags to show their belonging to the presidency. Thus, all the congestion and all the parades are deliberately trying to remove people from the vehicles and join them for their theatrics; it becomes an imposition. A young Damascene who was driving in the streets discussed during an evening where the major rallies were going on for Bashar, some protesters slapped posters on his car and gave him flags to carry or attach on his car because his vehicle was lacking these pro-regime artifacts.
On Tuesday the 29th of March, all Syrian schools, public and governmental agencies, and members of the public were given the day off to join in on the protests that were summoned as the day of Bashar, hundred of thousands of people came to protest in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs in jubilation of the regime and president. This governmental strategy presents a deliberate measure taken by the government to force people to take part in the protests; further, the Syrian media and officials alike hail these protests. This was the day before Bashar’s first public speech due to the unrest.
For the last week on a daily basis the Syria channel has been showing a urban diary of cities all over Syria, where people continually advise and discuss that matters and processes in the city as all very normal and everyone is devout to the regime, and that they patronize those victims of these external forces or ‘devil whispers’ as the Syrian TV channel described. The Syrian channel continuously proposes that this unrest is only due to sectarian and foreign agents trained to create unrest in Syria. Groups from Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, America, Palestine and Iraq have been blamed for trying to create instability. A recent article published by SANA, the Syrian news agency, discusses that Amir Bandar, the former Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to America, and Jeffery Feltman have financed and created a organized plot to overthrow and destabilize the Syrian regime.
Foreign media is also seen as another agent that is exaggerating and creating malfeasance to the Syrian stability. As an example, On the 29th of March pro-regime protesters threatened to storm the Al-Jazeera news building in Damascus if they were not shown on the Al-Jazeera screen because, according to them, the news agency was not showing a just picture of the happenings because they are in much appreciation and diligence to the current regime. On the 16th of April, yet again many Damascenes gathered outside Al-Jazeera news stations offices in Damascus and claimed these media corporations are creating sedition and subversion about the events in Syria. Al-Arabiya and BBC Arabic are also targeted as propagators of the events in Syria.
It is clear that Syria is at a divide now, although the commonality between these divisions held is reform. Many people in Damascus are very much in support of the regime but there are many questions about their honesty in the way they showcase it. As an example, the student rallies that happened at Damascus University were all wearing black hooded sweaters, but underneath the sweater students wore t-shirts that read “we love you Bashar”, in this manner if security was to come to detain and disperse the student protesters they would show them the t-shirts which would provide security with no reason for imprisonment or abolishment of the protest. Certain measures taken by the regime have enforced people to partake in these rallies to solidify the regime’s position, further, the extensive use of nationalistic artifacts and symbols has also created a sense of you are with or against the regime. The word on Damascus streets is that if a person is to be part of the planned protests, they are considered against the regime and an enemy to the stability and position of Syria. It is clear a policy of divide and conquer/control is being implemented here. Syria has continually advised that unrest is due to external agents but there is also a certain strategy that is creating a sense of brainwashing and mainstreaming the population into propaganda media and belief that is only fostering divisions and challenging the harmony of Syria. Many billboards and posters have surfaced all over Syria warning of sedition. One particularly interesting poster is one warning people of men posing and hoaxing as Syrian security personnel whom are shooting at civilians. Others read “no to disturbance and all for Syrian unity”.
It is quite undeniable that now the majority of people in Damascus resent those protesting. A Syrian local said “I hope 500 die or even 1,000, how dare they challenge our country and be a victim of these plots to demonize Arabs”, he later added “If they give me a choice I would have no problem killing these shaabi (popular) animals, I cannot believe they dared to come in and walk in al-sham (Damascus)”. Protesters from Douma, a Damascus suburb, tried to march all the way into the center of Damascus to reach Al-Abassiyeen Square on the 15th of April, this march aggravated many people in Damascus. He lastly added how was John McCain able to prove that on Friday many protests were to be held in cities all over Syria in his announcement on Thursday the 15th, this statement only combusted to the wide-held Syrian belief that the unrest is a planned external strategy. Many now believe, even anti-government or pro-freedom lobbies that Syria is under threat of armed groups that have been able to mobilize clashes in Syria, maybe not at the start of the events but have infiltrated along the month of Syrian instability. Al-Tayar il Mustaqbal, a political Sunni group from Lebanon has been declared by Syrian officials as smugglers of weapons and sending trained people to trigger upset in the Syrian street. Further, other reports of Khaddami loyalists have influenced the dynamic events of Baniyas, Khaddam’s hometown. Syrian media and TV channels are persistently showing footage of weapons and people that Syrian security apparatus has recovered since the inception of the unrest; most of it validating external forces is shaping up the unfolding events in Syria.
The picture gets more perplexing when the flow of information is curtailed and expelling of journalists is a common tactic. The main fright in Damascus, whether anti or pro government, is if the Muslim Brotherhood was to take precedence in the governing sphere. Given the volatile history between the Muslim Brotherhood and the general restrictive operation of Sunni Islam under the Assad dynasty, this alarm is substantiated. The lack of transparency and ongoing complexity of the turmoil make the mood eerie and paranoid, as there is a major lack in defining or understanding the events in Syria. Everyone hears various opinions or facts about the unrest, “it leaves everyone conscious that they are manipulated and part of a massive propaganda machine”, as one humble Syrian citizen said.