Monday, June 11, 2007

Bashar and Hafez around town

It's difficult to explain the cult of personality surrounding Syria's most recent leaders. The same phenomenon does not exist in the United States. We do not plaster our vehicles with holographed silhouettes of George W. Bush (even if we are fans of him), nor do we put up billboards urging him to hang in there when international events turn sour. The closest we get to expressing national pride in visual form is by displaying the American flag on stickers or shirts, and even that is technically against the flag code.

But Syrians love to honor their leaders as individuals. Representations of Hafez, Bashar, and even Basil al-Assad, in many different forms, can be found all over the country. Here are a few examples found in Damascus.

Can you find Hafez in this photograph? Hint: he's larger than life and on top of a tall building. And he probably lights up at night.

This one says it all. I suspect the heart lights up at night, too, though whether the lights are white or red (or if they flash in alternating patterns) is anyone's guess.

Here is a more stately tribute to Bashar - no aviator sunglasses here.

Old posters of Hafez have nearly peeled themselves off of this wall. He died seven years ago - have the posters been up since then? (I just checked and it was seven years ago exactly yesterday.)

Another classy tribute, this time adhered to the window of a service. It is not unusual to see entire rear windows of vehicles dedicated to Bashar al-Assad and his family. And by 'family,' I literally mean his wife and children. Often, they are depicted as being on holiday in either the Swiss Alps or in a sunny, beachy location. Oddly, both pictures feature the same pose.

I have a few more examples to post later. Unfortunately, we were unable to photograph any of the afore-mentioned holograph-Bashar-in-aviator-sunglasses. Fortunately, we have one on our car back in Tucson, though it's not as large as many I've seen.

To be continued...


Yazan said...

Well, Big Brother is always watching over our shoulders so we wouldn't slip...

Golaniya said...

Question: where do we see these posters and pictures?

1- mostly on governmental institutions buildings; schools, universities, governmental hospitals, ministries..etc.

2- on pro- Assad (which are few) people's belongings; cars, shops..etc.

3- posters are made by the government made, not by the people.

before the parliament elections and the presidential referendum, rare pictures of the royal family are found, so I guess these pictures are only part of the propaganda policy this regime is organizing along with the concerts and festivals in the past few weeks.

I think when Hafez Assad was alive, people did put pictures out of intimidation, I remember once, when I was in college, some people were hovering around campus selling the president pictures, most students were scared to say: "no thanks".

Once I was sold a magazine in the micro bus, it was a magazine on Hazfez, I bought it and then I sat on it, to make sure I leave once I step down the micro. I got down, and the micro turned its way to follow me and returned the magazine to me.

So really, holding pictures is not out of honoring them, but rather is a must, not a choice.

DigitalOasis said...

I believe you said it correctly when you used the word "cult". It really is a cult! Not a subscriber here. Americans, generally speaking, are intelligent and are able to differentiate between patriotism to country versus blind obedience to a figure head. Arabs tend to mix both, whereas the figure head and the country are one! To disrespect one is to almost disrespect the other and commit treason.

Arabs are not generally politically mature, they're a fantasy people looking for a hero to rescue them from their ills because they: a) don't have the means or will to rescue themselves, or b) have been slapped down so many times they're like abused little children scared in the corner to even move.

The whole picture-worship culture is not new, it was practiced by the Nazis as part of their propaganda machine, imitated by Stalin and Lenin in the USSR, not to be outdone by General Mao, all of whom seemed to have an influence on "socialist" republics in the Middle East (I use the term socialist loosly here, God knows what the hell we's a multi-tier economic system!).

Anonymous said...

"Oddly, both pictures feature the same pose." :)

I will not get into the serious politics that go with your post here, but I loved it.

By the way, I think I am intelligent enough to decide for myself, and I am also free to make up my own decisions (since I live in Montreal)... I hope some of you who insist that anyone who happens to like Hafez or bashar is either afraid to speak his/her true feelings, or he/she is an idiot who worships the Sultan, I hope you can respect those who genuinely DO like Hafez/Bashar or both... to some degree (not worship them)

For example, here in Montreal, I used to keep in my Piano's bench Time magazine with Hafez on the cover. Why did I like him so much? because Kissinger and Nixon both said that they think he is the most influential leader in the Middle East and that he negotiated for long, long hours at a time until he got the best deal for his country.

For example, read what Eyal Zisser says about Hafez. He is Israel's number one Syria expert.

So, while most of hte big posters are really ugly and pathetic, if I was living in Damascus I think I would have been very happy to have my favorite picture of Hafez Assad on my car somewhere.


Anonymous said...

you need to spend more time in Syria before you start making assumptions.

once you spend a couple of years here, really gain sincere trust and friendship of people, they will probably open up to you and give you a glimpse of what is really going on.

right now, you're still very naive.

- a fellow foreigner who's been living in Syria for a long time.

Bridget said...

Golaniya and Alex, you both bring interesting perspective to this issue. Thank you.

Anonymous, I wish we could all spend more time in Damascus.

Anonymous said...

FYI the picture you posted of Bashir Al Assad above the entrance to Hamedeyah now says "Syria believes in you"