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Middle east

Assad regime falls victim to ‘weapon of mass derision’

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2011-07-13

Making fun of Bahsar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters might seem a little insensitive, but an online Syrian series which does just that is proving increasingly popular among dissidents themselves. Meet their "weapon of mass derision".

 
After a nervous start, Syrians are now in full swing when it comes to mocking their own regime. The latest Bashar-bashing charade comes in the form of online series Freedom WoBas, or “Freedom is all”. Posted on YouTube twice a week, the series has attracted over 150,000 viewers since it launched a month ago, earning it title of WMD, or “weapon of mass derision”.
 
'What is going on in this country? What’s that noise?'
 
Parodying satirical Syrian TV show Ma fi Amal (“No hope”), each episode of Freedom WoBas centres on two characters sat at a table in the middle of a gloomy, weapon-strewn scene. Never moving far, they spend most of their time mulling over the absurdity of the regime.
 
In one of the episodes, the two characters are watching the news on TV. Just as the newsreaders are insisting that all is calm across the country, shots ring out, startling one of the pair. “What is going on in this country? What is that noise?” He asks. The other, who listens to the news religiously, tells him that everything is fine. The newsreader said so.
 
Explosions start up. A newsreader on another channel continues “Nothing untoward; everybody is going about their business as usual…” (See video below).
 
 
The episode is a favourite of Salwa Ismail, a professor of political science at the school of Oriental and African studies, University of London. “It’s significant that they’re ridiculing the state coverage of events,” she told FRANCE 24 in an interview. “By denying reality, [state media] are insulting the intelligence of their viewers. Irony and humour are the only response in the face of such absurdity.”
 
In another episode, the two men are sipping tea and talking about Syrian MPs, who have been interrupting Bashar al-Assad’s speeches in parliament to recite glorifying poems and break into spontaneous rounds of applause.
 
When one of the pair is reading newspaper headlines out loud about catastrophes in Japan and Mexico, the other applauds. “What’s up with you?” he asks. “I’m talking about death and destruction, and you’re clapping?” The other replies that he’s practising for when he stands for parliament next term. (See video below).
 
 
“We believe that art should be a message that reflects society,” the Freedom WoBas team told FRANCE 24 by email. As Syrian artists don’t seem to have assumed that role, we thought we’d do it ourselves,” they said.  
 
The group doesn’t tell anybody how or – more importantly – where, the show is produced. They describe themselves as “a group of young people who combine their technical know-how and artistic flare” to produce the show.
 
According to Salwa Ismail, the “context and professional means needed for such a quality production” would make it near impossible to film in Syria.
 
“Breaking down the wall of fear”
 
The brazen comedy comes as a welcome relief to repressed Syrians, who have shown their gratitude on social networks and video sharing web sites.
 
“For 40 years, Syrian people haven’t been able to speak their minds, so as soon as that chance comes, they’re going to take it,” Syrian anthropologist Randa Kassis told FRANCE 24. Kassis is confident that the series is proof of the “rebirth” of freedom of expression in the country.
 
Whether the series will have any impact on the ground remains yet to be seen. “The show is mainly directed at Syrian people, but that’s not to say it reaches them, because of web censorship” Freedom WoBas explained. “That said, we receive hundreds of messages of support every day from young Syrians.”
 
Salwa Ismail says that along with other humorous content on the Syrian web, “the show galvanises and encourages protesters, because it helps break down the wall of fear in the country. Nobody would have dared mock someone like al-Assad before.”
 
Despite the jokes, Freedom WoBas members are serious about their cause. “Our work is just a tiny sacrifice compared with those who risk their lives in the street,” they said, turning their attention to protesters. “Carry on the fight, we support you!” And lest we forget…. “Freedom for all!”

 

Date created : 2011-07-08

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