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Social Media Buzz: A Fatwa to Defend Assad

Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week Syria Deeply monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.

Written by Mohammed Sergie Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

It took one week for Syria to transform from “the last bastion of secularism in the region,” as Bashar Al Assad described it in his recent interview with The Sunday Times, to a state where clerics issue fatwas to encourage enlistment in the military.

A state TV presenter read a statement Sunday prepared by the top Islamic clerics allied with the Assad regime that said Syrians have a religious obligation to defend their country, and they should support the military. After two years of vilifying Islamists, the incongruent message from the government was immediately panned.

Yassin Al Haj Saleh, the Damascus-based intellectual and dissident, had a more substantive response on his widely read Facebook page: “The Assad regime has always been jihadi and extremist, but its religion was based on the principle of: there is no God but Bashar… The attempt to employ religious jihad now is a sign that the regime is done, that it lost confidence in its Assadi religion.”

Of course the spread of extremist Islamist ideology and sharpening sectarian divisions are cause for concern in Syria’s conflict, and these tensions have played out in social media conversations over the past two years. One measure of this debate is in the naming of Friday protests, which are suggested by the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page, the largest opposition site (with alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood), and are then voted on by visitors to the page.

(For more on the issue, read Amal Hanano’s article on protest names published in April).

Many Fridays had divisive religious names in recent months, and the trending label for last Friday was a repackaging of the revolution as a battle against the Majoos in Iran, a slur against Shiites who are dismissed by some Sunnis as heretic fire worshippers and Zoroastrians. Liberal activists lobbied their followers to participate in the vote, and they succeeded in pushing the second option that was also sectarian in nature — but less offensive (“your plans for a sectarian [Alawite] state won’t succeed.”)

In the end, many protesters on the ground ignored both names and dedicated their Friday to celebrate international Women’s Day, Prominent Facebook and Twitter feeds shared pictures of women who supported the revolution (bottom left). Many people shared a witty response to fire worshipper slur, which was an image of the Zoroastrian deity asking: “what do I have to do with this?” (bottom right).

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Debating hot issues and sharing news are the most common uses of social media sites and the main focus of this column. Propaganda wars aren’t regularly featured in this space, but at times they become a hot topic of many news feeds. This week, there was a stir over one of the many tales told of Hafez Al Assad, Bashar’s father. Collectively, these tales helped  to create a cult of personality around the Assad family that has been enforced in Syria for the past three decades.

The post below, explaining how Bill Clinton felt after meeting Hafez Al Assad, is just one example of an apocryphal version of history that glorifies the Assad family as the world’s most powerful leaders. Syria is full of posters and statues that reinforce the Assad personality cult — and, in the digital age, spoken tales of grandeur are passed from user to user on the social media feeds of the family’s supporters.

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[]: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jihad-for-bashar.gif []: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/woman-week.jpg []: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/majoos.jpg []: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/clinton-on-hafez.gif

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