Running the Party Line in Syria

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

My article on the Australian news site New Matilda is up! I look at protest coverage in Rami Makhlouf’s newspaper al-Watan.

Before March 2011, the name Rami Makhlouf received scant mention in the English-language press. Then, as Syrians began taking to the streets in large numbers in the southern city of Deraa, media around the world reported that many demonstrators had chanted that someone named Rami Makhlouf was robbing them. As al Jazeerareports, “demonstrators have shouted the name of Makhlouf as a symbol of graft in a country that has been facing severe water shortages and unemployment ranging from government estimates of 10 per cent to independent estimates of 25 per cent.”

Commentators taking a crash course in Syrian politics started to ask the question: “Who is Rami Makhlouf?”


Makhlouf doesn’t really represent Syrian government views, except when he does

May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha sent a letter to the NY Times on May 11 stating that Syrian businessman and first cousin of Bashar al-Asad Rami Makhlouf “holds no official position in the Syrian government and does not speak on behalf of the Syrian authorities.” This was in reaction to the NY Times‘s interview with Makhlouf, which portrays him (correctly) as an influential businessman with connections to Syria’s top rulers.

My guess is that Moustapha didn’t have a problem with Makhlouf’s comments about fighting demonstrators until “the end.” It is more likely that Moustapha was doing damage control for this quote:

If there is no stability here [Syria], there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.

After the Makhlouf article was published, nearly every Arabic-language news outlet focused on this line, including al-Jazeera Arabic. Al-Quds al-Arabi, the London-based daily, dedicated its editorial to analyzing Makhlouf’s statement about Israel. The editorial states that Syria’s support for the Resistance, which has always been questioned by some, is now going to be put under more scrutiny. Presciently, the editorial predicts that Makhlouf’s comment will lead to “unintended consequences” even if it was just a slip of the tongue.

On that note, before two months ago, it was nearly impossible to find a photo of Rami Makhlouf online, much less a detailed article about him in the English-language media. Now that he’s getting front-page NY Times coverage, it’s hard to miss his face.

Top Image of Rami Makhlouf from Aleppous Project

A Sadder Story of Syrian Celebrity

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

In a scenario only fit for a Syrian drama, Syrian drama stars are trading insults regarding who did or didn’t sign petitions expressing solidarity with Deraa (the town besieged by the Syrian Army).

There are a few petitions in question. The first, signed by actors Jamal Sulaiman and Basim Yakhour, called for an investigation into the events of Deraa and for mourning over martyrs.  Actor Zuhair Abdul Karim went on Syrian TV and called for these traitors to have their Syrian citizenship removed.

Then, actors circulated another petition that called for humanitarian aid for the children of Deraa. The cycle of denunciations for being traitors began. Shortly after the release of this petition, a few of the Syrian actors —  including Mona Wasif — who had supposedly signed the petition claimed they never signed anything. These actors then formed another petition recanting the previous petition, saying they had been influenced by instigators in the media. As if that weren’t enough petitions, Syrian producers drafted a petition stating that anyone who signed a petition about Deraa is a traitor to Syria.

The al-Akhbar article on the debacle ends on a somber note. They only position that is safe for Syrian artists, the author said, is that of silence.

In any situation, it seems the one solution for the Syrian actor these days is silence and to remain a spectator in these events, since any action will be met with a denunciation (literally: making a traitor of) campaign.

Al-Akhbar ends the piece with a bizarre account of a delegation of actors from the Syrian Artists Union visiting wounded soldiers in the Tishreen Military Hospital. Al-Akhbar reports that doctors started yelling at the actors, telling them to leave immediately. The doctors said that they were visiting the hospital only for the good of themselves.

Top Photo of Jamal Sulaiman from al-Sharq al-Awsat

A Sad Story of Syrian Celebrity

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Syrian actor and comedian Durayd Laham  (also referred to by the name of his famous character Ghawar) is one of the best-known and well-liked Syrian performers in the region. That is, until a video surfaced at the beginning of March showing Laham and Qaddhafi, along with other Syrian actors and musicians, getting cozy at a party at Laham’s home in Damascus after the 2008 Arab Summit. The video was released well before demonstrations hit Damascus, but during the height of international media coverage of Qaddhafi’s brutality in Libya.

Laham has since told the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar:

It’s not possible for anyone with a shred of humanity to accept what is happening in Libya.

Then, al-Akhbar paraphrases him as saying that he “condemns the oppression of demonstrators who have come out to express their opinions.”

Two months after his al-Akhbar interview, and two months into the largest popular demonstrations Syria has seen in decades, Ghawar doesn’t think it best to afford the Syrian people the type of freedom of expression he advocated for Libyans. In an interview with al-Arabiya, Laham said that the Syrian Army is preserving “civil peace.” During the interview, al-Arabiya states that Laham mostly slurred the protestors in Syrian dialect, so they couldn’t reprint his words exactly.

Laham did have sharp words for Palestinian-Israeli commentator Azmi Bishara, who has been critical of the Syrian regime:

Syria considered him a friend, and on this basis, we dealt with him. But he was wearing the devil’s cloak.

Bye, Ghawar. I’ll miss you.

(The above is a clip from the Syrian movie Salt and Sugar, a musical comedy set inside a prison. Thanks to Adam for the al-Arabiya tip!)

Syrian Army Makes Everything Better; Discovers “Central Operations” Room of Militants

May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fact: The Syrian Army has moved troops into Baniyas and Homs. But everything else in al-Watan’s lead story this morning is up to interpretation, including:

  • The Army entered the cities with “preciseness” and did not injure or kill anyone.
  • The Army received “much support” from the people on Baniyas in revealing identities of “militants.”
  • Over 1,083 people have turned themselves in since they felt so guilty about their militant actions.
  • And this gem (which is intended to be a compliment to the Army): “When the Army enters a city or neighborhood, they arrest every person in front of them even if he’s not fighting. Then, after confirming his identity and personal information, they decide to keep him or let him free.”

In keeping with the angle of foreign meddling in Syrian domestic affairs, al-Watan reports that a “central operations room” of the “militants” was discovered. Inside the room was a whole trove of militant gear!

  • Cellphones from the Tharaya company (an Emirati company)
  • “Cameras with satellite capabilities.” If you look closely at the photo above, it’s pretty obvious that these are non-digital cameras and perhaps the oldest looking video camera you’ve ever seen.

Once the Syrian government found out that these crafty militants were using phones and “satellite” cameras, there was only one real solution: shut down the internet and wireless networks.

If you watch one video of Syrian protests, let it be this one

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Protestors on May 6, 2011, the “Friday of Defiance,” in Jarjanaz, Syria chanting “We will remove you Bashar.”

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for May, 2011 at the news in arabic.