For the Syrian regime’s faithful mouthpieces, victory is always around the corner.
BY SAM HELLER | APRIL 23, 2013
In the Damascus suburb of Jdeidet al-Fadl, according to the Syrian regime media, all is well.
This is the sort of victory that defines the worldview of the Syrian regime media. Television, radio, and print outlets controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad articulate a single vision of the war: that the Syrian Arab Army is waging an unrelenting campaign against terrorists led by Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al Qaeda, who are the vanguard of a “universal” conspiracy against the Syrian people. But Syria will prevail, state media contend, and its people will build a new, better country founded on dialogue and openness — an oasis of religious and ethnic tolerance.
This is the war Assad chooses to show, and more importantly, it is the war as the regime’s supporters understand it. This narrative has been broadcast to the Syrian public for over two years now by the core of Syrian regime media: SANA; the newspapers al-Baath, Tishreen, and al-Thawra; the official Radio Damascus; the state’s satellite television network and its sister news network, al-Ikhbariya; and the technically privately owned but staunchly loyalist al-Watan daily and Addounia satellite TV network. And in this narrative, the Syrian regime is winning.
The regime advances its understanding of the war most effectively through its daily battlefield reporting. These reports are nearly identical across all media, and they employ a set, limited vocabulary. The regime’s Syrian Arab Army is “our brave army” or “our brave armed forces.” The enemy consists of “terrorists” and “mercenaries,” and the Syrian military typically “destroys” their “nests,” “eliminates” them, and “leaves [them] dead and wounded.” Often, state media give names for the militants killed in combat, and in keeping with the media’s emphasis on foreign fighters among the rebels, their nationality is provided if they are not Syrian.
The regime’s narrative robs the anti-Assad forces of any agency. The Syrian military is always “pursuing” or “targeting” terrorists, but it is never ambushed or attacked. The armed forces sometimes “clash with” or “repel” terrorists, but there are never regime casualties. The regime’s enemies only have initiative when they murder and rob civilians due to those civilians’ “rejection of the terrorists’ crimes and refusal to harbor them.” Terrorists’ actions are “desperate” or “attempts to raise [their] morale” after significant losses.
The pro-regime media acknowledge no divisions among the opposition, painting the many factions as an undifferentiated bloc of militant fanatics. When coverage is more specific than simply “terrorists,” militants are most often identified as belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra, though “the terrorist gangs belonging to the so-called ‘Free Army'” make occasional appearances. When Jabhat al-Nusra publicly pledged loyalty to al Qaeda on April 10, regime coverage was not nonplussed: The announcement was “nothing new,” reported regime television; it was only something “the external opposition and their supporters had insisted on denying for appearances’ sake” while secretly arming the group.
The regime’s media outlets also supply a rationale for why these foreign terrorists have come to Syria. The West and its tame Arab allies, they say, have targeted Syria because it has championed the resistance against colonialist and Zionist plots to dominate the Middle East. In Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi’s words, the terrorists’ goal is to “break apart the countries of the Arab world, loot their resources, and destroy their social fabric.”
Who are the chief conspirators in this plot? State newspaper al-Thawra identifies them as “Zio-American circles and oil and gas sheikhdoms in the Gulf” — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the NATO countries. The United States and Israel ultimately steer events, the media report, and U.S. President Barack Obama is “the maestro of the war.”
The United States may publicly disavow terrorists like Jabhat al-Nusra, but according to al-Ikhbariya, Washington quietly pushes its minions in the region to fund and arm them. After all, America and its allies “created these terrorist organizations so that, like a mount, they might ride them into the region, divide its land, and tear apart its people.”
The rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are regularly described as “a’arab” — uncultured Bedouins, it is implied — of whom Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani comes in for the most vitriolic criticism. Syrian television regularly cuts to stock footage of the Qatari ruler when it refers to those who conspire against the Arab people. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the media report, “are blessed with peace and tranquility because they send death abroad and export terrorists.”
The international media aren’t spared the regime’s criticism. Foreign media engender a sort of free-floating hostility; the state media accuse them of “beat[ing] the drums of terrorism in Syria.” But Al Jazeera, which is financed by Qatar, is singled out for having “long played a role in spilling the blood of Arab peoples.”
Regime media also attack the Turkish government for openly supporting terrorists in Syria, implying that Ankara is motivated by imperial ambitions. The Turkish government is referred to as “neo-Ottomans,” while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly “dreams of restoring the sultanate of the ‘sick man [of Europe].'” The Turks are also accused on occasion of selling Syrian refugees’ organs before burning their dismembered bodies.
The Syrian regime, which has long presented itself as “the beating heart of Arabism,” reacted to the Arab League’s recent decision to hand over its seat to the external opposition with contempt. The Baath daily called the Arab League’s March summit “the Summit of Shame.” The event, Minister of Information Omran al-Zoubi explained, was “convened in Qatar under the control [of Qatar] and its money, which allowed it to hijack the league and do as it pleased.”
The political opposition is covered as an afterthought in the regime media — as a front for the terrorist core of the insurgency. The aforementioned Baath report calls opposition leaders the “kumbars of global terror.” “Kumbars” means “film extras”; it doesn’t quite map onto English idiom, but the point should be clear.
Of course, this array of enemies doesn’t necessarily mean that the Syrian regime portrays itself as confronting “global terror” alone. State media are quick to emphasize anything that runs counter to a narrative of Syria’s international isolation. This ranges from any official support — including statements from Russian and Iranian officials — to popular support, like a “mass” solidarity march in São Paulo or reports that “dozens of Yemeni youths” are ready to head to Syria to support the military. Foreign experts and media reports are also given prominent placement when they reinforce the regime narrative. Some foreign journalism is faithfully reported, but sometimes the source material is made more palatable for the regime narrative. An article on a King’s College London report on Europeans joining the rebels, for example, referred to the Europeans as “mercenaries” — a charge absent in the original study.
The Syrian state also leans on support from religious leaders as a key source of legitimacy. It promotes calls by Pope Francis for a political solution to the crisis, for example, and highlights a mixed assemblage of Aleppo priests and imams who participated in the lead-up to the country’s national dialogue. While foreign media often emphasize the conflict’s sectarian dimension, the Syrian official media consistently stress what they portray as Syria’s relative religious harmony. Damascus is, in the words of Syria’s satellite station, “the Damascus of Arabism, the city of love, tolerance, and coexistence.” This ecumenical language reinforces the regular portrayal of the terrorist rebels as takfiri — extremists willing to murder the insufficiently pious.
In contrast to the rebels’ alleged nihilism, regime media consistently advance what they describe as “the only way out of this crisis” — a political solution. Syrian media report daily on meetings held by the “ministerial committee tasked with the implementation of the political program to solve the Syrian crisis” — meetings to which the external opposition is invited, it is emphasized. The process is meant to strengthen respect for a plurality of opinion and ultimately build a “strong, new, united Syria.”
But this regime-run process of dialogue seems, in practice, to amount to little more than a monologue. While the government and its interlocutors do reportedly engage on concrete issues — including security, housing, and municipal services — participants interviewed stress their total commitment to both Assad’s political program and the ongoing military campaign to purge the country of terrorists. This is a discussion in which participants may differ on the details, but the broad themes are fixed. As al-Ikhbariya puts it, its goal “is to bring everyone together for dialogue under the roof of the nation, with an emphasis on the need to combat alien takfiri thought and to root out the forces of terrorism.”
The challenges of the moment aren’t necessarily papered over. Regime media acknowledge the economic hardships facing average Syrians but frame such difficulties in terms of their determination to persevere. “The terror of militant groups in Syria hasn’t been able to prevent the student, the employee, the laborer, and the simple shopkeeper from going about their lives and performing their duty for their nation,” SANA reports.
Prime Minister Halqi, meanwhile, reassures the public: “The Syrian Arab Army is at its strongest and its best, and the Syrian people are behind the state. They believe in it, and their morale is high. If the feeling of concern is legitimate and natural, fear is not.”
Such sentiments are intended to communicate confidence, but the Syrian regime’s messaging is, at best, primitive. In a conflict where new media — both pro- and anti-regime — have helped shape events on the ground, the traditional Syrian state media feel robotic and derivative. The print media coverage consists largely of rewritten SANA news releases, while Radio Damascus’s call-in shows — and their suspiciously articulate participants — sound like playacting. The one bright spot is Syria’s official television: If you can detach from the content of the coverage, the reports are frequently so acid and sarcastic that they’re hilarious. ((For subtitled translations of Syrian television reports, see here and here.)
Average Syrians’ views, however, seem to get lost in the mix. State media produces man-on-the-street quotes and interviews, but only with proud citizens who express unflinching support for the regime. In a report about a school for martyrs’ children, for example, a war widow says, “I still have a girl and a boy, and I, all of us, would love to give our blood and our lives in the defense of our mother, Syria.” Now, this sentiment is real. A broad segment of Syrian opinion is committed to the regime’s vision for the country — or terrified enough by the opposition to side with the familiar. But when you see this in the Syrian media, are they showing that genuine commitment to Assad’s Syria — or a sort of facsimile thereof?
Still, you can be forgiven for occasionally thinking that the regime media’s accounts offer a glimpse of something real — something that taps into the suffering of Syrians, for and against the regime, who are seeing their lives fall away from them. Reporting from Damascus’s Sabaa Bahrat Square after an April 9 car bomb, Addounia narrates that the area “once more polishes its veneer and restores a luster that says, ‘Syria is for us.'”
As it shows people sweeping dust and debris from their storefronts, the television network assures its viewers: “Not one speck of Syria will ever fall under the control of monstrous takfiri terror or be at the command of bastards coming from the depths of ignorance and its garbage dumps, supported by the sellers of gas and slaves, traders in white flesh, and owners of red rooms.”
And then the report cuts to locals estimating the cost of rebuilding their livelihoods — figures in the hundreds of thousands or millions of Syrian lira, a lifetime’s savings. And the Syrians just look tired.
No one can deny that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is stuck in a quagmire, militarily speaking. But when it comes to the media he is free to manoeuvre.
Earlier on in the civil conflict which is devastating Syria, he voiced the theory, ‘We dominate the ground while they control the sky’ with reference to pro-opposition Arab satellite channels. Now he has changed his tactics.
When Assad speaks to a foreign newspaper, it makes headlines across the world. Newspapers and broadcasts splash his words while intelligence experts analyse them.
Syria’s president chose Al-Ikhbareya news channel to make a statement marking Independence Day.
The interview was clearly well prepared. We can’t rule out the possibility that Assad’s presidential office prepared the questions themselves, while the interviewer’s role was limited to reading them off to avoid potential repercussions or violations.
The president wanted to address as many authorities as possible in his answers. I will clarify exactly what here. READ ON HERE
Both Assad senior and Assad junior advocated resistance against Israel. This slogan was hollow, serving the regime merely as an insurance policy against any demand for freedom and democracy.
As strange as it sounds, everyone in Israel loves Arab dictators. When I say everyone I mean both Jews and Arabs. The favorite dictator of all is president Assad. As Assad junior inherited the oppressive regime in Syria, so did both Jews and Arabs transfer their affection for the dictator from Damascus from Assad senior to his son.
Following the intifada in the Arab states, Bashar al-Assad maintained in an interview to the Wall Street Journal that the situation in Syria is different, adding that Syria is not like Egypt. He also emphasized that Syria was not susceptible to sliding into a similar situation, because it was in the “resistance” front and belongs to the anti-American, anti-Israeli axis.
Well, Assad is right. The situation in Syria is indeed different. The Syrian regime is more like Saddam’s defunct regime. The Ba’ath Party that ruled Iraq and the one still ruling Syria both held aloft flags of pan-Arab national ideology. But slogans are one thing and reality is another. All the ideological sweet talk was only talk. For the Ba’ath Party, both in Iraq and in Syria, constituted a political platform to perpetuate tribal, ethnic oppression.
Indeed, the situation in Egypt is completely different. If we put aside the Coptic minority, then Egyptian society is homogenous religiously and not tribal at all. The demoted Egyptian president, Mubarak, never had a tribal-ethnic crutch to lean on. The Egyptian army is also different and not at all like the Syrian or Iraqi armies.
For example, when the United States invaded Iraq, the Iraqi army splintered into its tribal and ethnic fragments. The soldiers took off their uniforms and each joined his tribe and ethnic community. Saddam too adhered to those tribal codes. He did not flee Iraq but went to hide in the well-protected areas of his tribesmen. This is what happens in these societies. In the land of the cedars, as soon as the civil war broke out, the Lebanese army dissolved into its ethnic components and disappeared.
True, Syria is not Egypt. Syria is also different in terms of the price in blood inflicted by the tyrannical Syrian regime. The Syrian tribal government is based on the force exercised by the security branches ruled by the tribesmen and their interested allies.
Inherently, a tribal regime of this kind will always be seen as a foreign reign. This kind of reign can be called tribal imperialism, which rules by operating brutal terror and oppression. This is underscored when a minority tribe rules, like in Syria. Thus every undermining of the government is seen as a challenge to the tribal hegemony and a danger to the ruling tribe’s survival. Such a regime by its very nature is totally immersed in a bloodbath.
Both Assad senior and Assad junior advocated resistance against Israel. This slogan was hollow, serving the regime merely as an insurance policy against any demand for freedom and democracy. The Syrian “resistance” government has not uttered a peep on the Golan front since 1973. Instead, the “resistance” regime was and still is ready to fight Israel to the last Lebanese, and if that doesn’t do the trick – then to the last Palestinian.
As voices in Israel have recently spoken out in favor of Hamas’ continued rule in Gaza, so many Israelis are worried these days over the Syrian regime’s welfare. Astonishingly, not only Jews are praying secretly for the Damascus regime’s survival, but many in the Arab parties as well. These parties’ leaders have been dumbstruck, their voices have been muted and no outcry has been raised against the Syrian regime’s massacre of civilians.
All the hypocrites, Jews and Arabs alike, have united. It seems Assad has wall-to-wall support here, as though he were king of Israel.
Lakhdar Brahimi told Lyse that change in Syria ‘has to be real’
When President Bashar al-Assad spoke defiantly on Sunday about a Syrian political solution without “foreign interference”, many asked what was left of international mediation led by the UN and Arab League’s envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.
“I don’t know about my job,” Mr Brahimi told me in Cairo. “But I don’t know what it has done to his job.”
The world still blinks every time that Bashar Al Assad speaks, as if it has not learnt anything from 21 months of violence.
In his speech yesterday – his ninth since the uprising began – the dictator offered a plan that would include a lengthy, complicated process of gradual change and “truth and reconciliation”. That would, in theory, lead to a new coalition government and a new constitution.
The speech was preceded by an aggressive two-week diplomatic campaign by the regime’s allies and the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That renewed push for diplomacy followed 140 countries’ recognition of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, Nato Patriot missiles and military personnel that were dispatched to Turkey’s border, and pledges of increased support for the opposition.
The diplomatic overture by the regime is part of a Russian-backed plan that would keep Al Assad in power until presidential elections in the summer of 2014. And the diplomacy appears to have succeeded in slowing down aid to the rebels, with reports that arms supplies are drying up. But the speech yesterday should remind the world that this dictator has no place in a future Syria and that support for the rebels is the only way forward.
Russia probably pressured on Al Assad to announce a plan of reconciliation. But the speech sounded more vindictive, dismissive and exclusivist than even his previous bombast. For example, he said the plan was directed at only segments of the opposition, and that “those who reject the offer, I say to them: why would you reject an offer that was not meant for you in the first place?” In other points, he emphasised vengeance rather than reconciliation. He also blamed the rebels for the destruction of infrastructure and for cutting off electricity and communications.
“Syria accepts advice but never accepts orders,” he said. “All of what you heard in the past in terms of plans and initiatives were soap bubbles, just like the [Arab] Spring.”
It was clear that he tried to sound steadfast, but his voice betrayed him several times. And before his departure from the room, the crowds chanted “may God protect you” – a chant that is used when someone is threatened. The usual party line is “with our soul and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you”.
Why would the regime offer a plan now, when it has not made a single meaningful concession since the beginning of the uprising? The violence would never have reached such staggering levels had Al Assad offered reasonable reforms from the beginning. Any hope that he can engineer an end to the violence is an illusion, which will only prolong and worsen the crisis. If anything, the speech showed that the regime will not change its policies except under duress.
The aim seemed to be threefold: to create the impression that the rebels refuse political settlements; to add to the world’s reluctance about arming the rebels; and to question the legitimacy of the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.
The proposal of a new constitution is merely a red herring. Syrians did not rise up against the constitution, nor have they demanded constitutional change. People rose up against brutality, and the fact that the existing constitution was never honoured – the mukhabarat apparatus has dominated almost every aspect of Syrian life. The immediate cause of the uprising in Deraa was the mukhabarat, who arrested and tortured school boys for writing anti-regime graffiti and then humiliated their families.
Nor did Syrians rise up to be included in a coalition government. Any government that includes these same criminals will be no different.
Borzou Daragahi, lundi 31 décembre 2012, 17:34 ·
This is my guide for Syria analysts and journalists who want to defend Bashar Assad while continuing to retain their credibility in the West.
1. Keep mentioning Jubhat al Nasra and other Islamic jihadi groups without mentioning that the vast majority of armed groups are not nearly as extreme, are mostly locally based folks defending their towns and villages.
2. When referring to the armed opposition keep using the magic word: AL QAEDA
3. Make cursory mention of the regime’s brutality (you won’t have any credibility if you don’t) but avoid resurrecting the roots of the conflict in peaceful opposition to Bashar’s dictatorship. Avoid mention of wanton use of air power against civilians in bread lines and in their homes.
4. Keep talking about NATO, the Gulf countries and Western support for opposition; that will boost Bashar’s anti-imperialist creds among the campus leftists.
5. Focus on faults of incompetent and disorganized Syrian opposition abroad instead of networks of activists and homegrown civil society already establishing governance inside.
6. Frame Russia as an honest broker trying to peacefully resolve conflict instead of a shrewd chess player that doesn’t give a damn about Syrian civilians and murdered tens of thousands of Chechens in an attempt to put down a rebellion in the 1990s.
7. Keep warning about consequences of Syria state’s collapse: sectarian war, refugees in Europe, rise of an Islamist state.
8. Keep raising rare instances of rebel misconduct and faked videos and frame them as emblematic of the overall opposition.
9. Make the opposition look intransigent; they’re the ones who won’t agree to a peaceful settlement, not the president who did no reforms for 10 years and dispatched shabiha to murder peaceful protesters when they spoke out.
10. Pray to God (even if you are an athiest) that the rebels don’t get to Damascus, open up the files and find out what you did for the regime, the details of conversations on how you got your visas and your access to officials.”
Exclusive Telegraph article
The most senior politician to defect from the Bashar al-Assad’s regime has revealed that the President repeatedly rejected calls by his own government for a political compromise, in favour of all-out war.
By Ruth Sherlock, Amman,04 Nov 2012
In his first full interview with a Western newspaper since he fled to Jordan in August, Riyad Hijab, the former prime minister, told The Daily Telegraph that he and other senior regime figures pleaded with Mr Assad to negotiate with the Syrian opposition.
One week before his defection, Mr Hijab, the vice-president, the parliamentary speaker and the deputy head of the Baath party together held a private meeting with Mr Assad.
“We told Bashar he needed to find a political solution to the crisis,” he said. “We said, ‘These are our people that we are killing.’
“We suggested that we work with Friends of Syria group, but he categorically refused to stop the operations or to negotiate.”
Mr Hijab referred to the war waged against the Muslim Brotherhood by Mr Assad’s father, Hafez, which led to the deaths of up to 10,000 people in an assault on the city of Hama.
“Bashar really thinks that he can settle this militarily,” he said.
“He is trying to replicate his father’s fight in the 1980s.” Mr Hijab was speaking as key anti-regime figures gathered in the Qatari capital Doha to replace the fractured opposition Syrian National Council with a new government-in-exile. Once formed, the new Council would seek to gain formal international recognition, and, crucially, better weapons.
Mr Hijab said he rejected an offer to be part of the US-backed proposal, promising to be a “soldier in this revolution without taking a political position”.
He said the lack of serious action by the West had consolidated President Assad’s confidence.
“Bashar used to be scared of the international community – he was really worried that they would impose a no-fly zone over Syria,” he said. “But then he tested the waters, and pushed and pushed and nothing happened. Now he can run air strikes and drop cluster bombs on his own population.”
Mr Assad’s acceptance of ceasefire proposals by the United Nations envoys Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi during the 19-month crisis was “just a manoeuvre to buy time for more destruction and killings”, he said.
Indeed in a speech to his cabinet Mr Assad extolled only the dictums of warfare, Mr Hijab said.
It was as he watched his leader speak – coldly, confidently and gripped by the blind conviction that only military force would crush his enemies, he said – that Mr Hijab knew he had no choice but to break away.
“My brief was to lead a national reconciliation government,” Mr Hijab said. “But in our first meeting Bashar made it clear that this was a cover. He called us his ‘War Cabinet’.” The explosion at the Damascus national security building that killed the country’s defence minister and the president’s brother-in-law marked a turning point, Mr Hijab said. After that, no holds were barred.
“The new minister of defence sent out a communiqué telling all heads in the military that they should do ‘whatever is necessary’ to win,” he said. “He gave them a carte blanche for the use of force.” In recent months the formal government had become redundant, Mr Hijab said. Real power was concentrated in the hands of a clique comprising Mr Assad, his security chiefs, relatives and friends.
Certain that he had lost all influence, and watching the tendrils of smoke rising from his home town of Deir al-Zour near the Iraqi-Syrian border after another wave of air strikes, Mr Hijab plotted his escape: “A brother spoke with one of the Free Syrian Army brigades in Damascus,” he said. “We had expected to be at the border in three hours, but it took us three days.”
Since then, the violence has worsened and new fronts have opened across the country. On Sunday a bomb exploded in the centre of Damascus, wounding 11 civilians, state television and activists reported. The blast was detonated close to the Dama Rose hotel, which hosted Mr Brahimi during his recent visit to Damascus.
Rebels also claimed to have seized an oilfield near Deir Al-Zour, while fighting continued around army and airbases west of Aleppo, which the regime have used to strike rebel-held areas in recent weeks.
Mr Hijab said the violence would continue and the regime would stay in power for as long as Russia and Iran continued to provide support. But even if they cut their allegiance, he said Mr Assad would most probably still refuse to quit.
“I am shocked to see Bashar do what he has doing,” he said. “He used to seem like a good human being, but he is worse than his father.
Hafez is a criminal for what he did in Hama, but Bashar is a criminal for what he is doing everywhere.”
June , 2012
From: Members, Executive Committee, International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies
We are scientists and medical doctors who are members of prestigious national academies worldwide. Our humanitarian work is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the rights of all people. Because we cannot defend all rights for all people, we focus on those of our colleagues—scientists, engineers, and health professionals—whose rights are violated. Since the spring of 2011, we and many others involved in our network have made repeated private appeals to you for the release of our colleagues arrested since the Syrian uprising began—apparently to no avail.
The Syrian Armed Forces, having already taken the lives of more than 9,000 of your citizens, relentlessly continue to inflict terror and brutality on the Syrian people. They are also systematically singling out Syrian health professionals for arrest and often murder. Today, some 500 names of such colleagues have been collected.
Given the gravity of this situation, we, an international group of prominent scientists—including medical doctors like you—now publicly appeal to you to urgently take the following steps:
- Demonstrate respect for medical neutrality and the obligation of health professionals to provide medical care to all people who are ill or injured;
- End immediately the arrests, torture, and sadistic killing of health professionals such as Dr. Sakher Hallak, who was detained and tortured to death in the most barbaric ways imaginable—his mutilated body dumped in the ditch.
- Release now the several hundred health professionals detained in your prisons—including, among others, Syrian medical doctor Muhammad Bashir Arab, a pathologist held incommunicado since November 2, 2011—and facilitate their return to medical service.
Surely, President al-Assad, an ophthalmologist and fellow medical doctor such as you is aware of a patient’s right to nondiscriminatory treatment, a doctor’s obligation to treat the sick and injured, and the principle of non-interference with medical transport, facilities, and personnel.
We appeal to you to find within yourself the necessary compassion for your fellow medical colleagues to immediately order their release and facilitate their medical work with the thousands of sick and injured in your country.