The influence of social media in Syria has grown so powerful that it now seems to dictate Bashar al-Assad’s public relations moves.
After persistent online rumors of Assad’s demise, the embattled president emerged in a rare interview with Turkish journalists. The first question for Assad was simply: Are you still alive, Mr. President?
Assad confirmed that he was indeed still breathing and living in his residence in Damascus. He used the bulk of the interview to address the Turkish people. The appearance served as a platform to criticize Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once considered a friend of Assad, and critique the Arab League’s decision to strip away Syria’s seat, and legitimacy, in the region.
The interview triggered a standard reaction: it was praised as genius by Assad’s supporters, and slammed and ridiculed by his opponents. One user pointed out the fact that Assad insulted the sitting government in Ankara on a Turkish TV channel, while in his own country no dissenting voices were ever allowed to criticize Assad in the Syrian press.
A few days after the interview, rebels posted a counterpoint to Assad’s claim that an imam in the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheik Maqsoud in Aleppo was killed and decapitated by jihadists. In a YouTube video the cleric appeared alive – not headless – and said he has been treated well.
Humor features prominently in Syrian social media feeds, where jokes and funny videos are interspersed with gut-wrenching YouTube footage of air strikes and dead children. North Korea’s saber rattling last week offered some fodder for comedy, with many opposition leaders warning Kim Jong Un that a nuclear attack on the U.S. is a “red line” and that his days are numbered, playing on Washington’s rhetoric about the Assad regime.
Also worth noting, an email made the rounds in Syrian inboxes. It joked that the Syrian Embassy in the U.S. has urged its citizens to return to Syria, because death by Scud is less damaging than death by North Korean nuclear missiles.
Lately, an Internet meme poking fun at Islamist rebels has united liberal opponents of the Assad regime with regime loyalists and fence-sitters.
It isn’t clear how this meme started. The premise of these jokes is that a scary jihadist commander –Abu Mohammed al-Kurdi, a Jabhat al-Nusra commander in Deir Azzour – disapproves of immodest behavior, such as uncovered women at protests (left) or verses from a love song. He issues a threat to offenders that roughly translates to: “We’ll see about that, pimp.” The offense is rectified and the jihadist is appeased.
A Facebook page using the name Aba Qatada dedicated to these memes has gained over 16,000 subscribers in the past month. Many opposition pages have criticized the use of the jihadist’s image in jokes, and consider it disrespectful to both Islam and the sacrifice of the pious men who are fighting to topple the Assad regime.
Ending on a more serious note, this column tends to focus on Facebook because it’s the most popular tool used inside Syria, but Twitter has gained a sizable following, especially among English speakers in Syria. One user in Damascus (@kdana64) who should be followed has offered much insight into daily life in the capital, tweeting about work, shopping, checkpoints and bombings.
: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/on-Assads-interview-with-t.gif : http://beta.syriadeeply.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/baseeta-meme.gif