Syrian regime steps up propaganda war amid bloody crackdown on protests
Brute force has been the main weapon of the Syrian regime as it has sought to crush growing protests, killing at least 1,500 people and torturing hundreds more. But Syrians have also been besieged by relentless propaganda.
In a week that has seen at least 40 die and escalating violence in Homs, the country’s third largest city, state radio and private stations owned by regime cronies have been blaring out songs exalting Bashar al-Assad as “Abu Hafez”, suggesting his son Hafez could succeed him, or anointing him president for “all eternity”.
Baseball caps, T-shirts and flags adorned with the president’s face are sold around Damascus. Billboards show him surrounded by pink hearts – in stark contrast to the sterner, more militarised pictures of his father, Hafez, the former president.
Television programmes show residents shopping and driving, portraying calm and order while regime supporters chant that they would shed blood for their leader.
Within weeks of the outbreak of unrest in March, posters went up around Syria warning of fitna, an Arabic word for division that has sectarian connotations.
But as Assad’s use of force has failed to crush the protests, now in their fifth month, propaganda has become a key element of regime efforts to rally support.
“The propaganda is relentless,” said one businessman. “The regime has hijacked the idea of national identity and is pushing divisions.” Official rhetoric is sectarian and blames foreign and Islamist armed miscreants for the violence. In contrast, the protesters have been keen to portray Syrians as united and peaceful.