The rumor that Russia approves of an initiative that will see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down in favor of his deputy Farouk al-Sharaa has stirred the indignation of the Syrian people and triggered a flood of jokes.
Although Syrians see the possibility of Assad willing to step down as remarkable progress, news that he’ll hand power to Sharaa has been received with disdain; that the embattled president wants to maintain status quo while effecting change only on the surface.
The 74-year-old vice-president is known to be a veteran politician, yet he has no powers whatsoever. Although he is Sunni and originally hails from Deraa, the birthplace of the Syrian revolution, he is not highly regarded by the revolutionaries who see him as a just another representative of the Syrian regime.
Sharaa started his career in the Syrian airlines Syria Air where he assumed several positions from 1963 till 1976, amongst them head of the Dubai office and head of the regional office in London.
He was Syrian ambassador to Italy from 1976 till 1980 then became the minister of state for foreign affairs until 1984 when he was appointed foreign minister.
Sharaa, who has a BA in English literature and studied international law in London, is known to have been the most loyal to the late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad. After Hafez’s death, his son Bashar started getting rid of the old guard soon after his accession to power.
However, Sharaa’s case was slightly different. While he was not totally excluded, he was given an honorary role that technically bestowed no power upon him: that of vice president.
This withdrawal from the political scene had a negative impact on Sharaa’s popularity amongst Syrians, many of whom forgot about him altogether.
Fall from grace
Since the start of pro-democracy protests in Syria last year, Sharaa made very few public appearances, none of which left any impression on the Syrian people.
One of the rare times Sharaa appeared on TV was to refute rumors that there was any internal discord in the ruling regime. He also announced a series of decisions taken by the president, decisions that people referred to as “empty.”
The second time Sharaa appeared was equally unimpressive as he announced that the president had assigned him the mission of establishing dialogue with the opposition.
In addition to the people’s objection to the idea of dialogue with the regime, Sharaa appeared to have abandoned the Syrian people and he was once again confirmed as the regime’s puppet.
The sarcasm with which reports of Sharaa becoming the Syrian president have been met not only shows how people disapprove of the idea, but also offers insight into their speculation in case this scenario materializes.
Jokes that followed the news of Sharaa coming to power reveal that his death by the Syrian regime is the most likely scenario.
Syrian authorities, they say, will announce that Sharaa committed suicide just as it happened with late Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Zuabi in 1999 as well as late Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, both believed to have been assassinated by the regime.
Syrians also predict how Sharaa’s name will replace Bashar’s as soon as he comes to power and even started designing posters to that effect. In them, Sharaa’s picture and the words “We all love you, Sharaa” “God, Syria, Sharaa,” and “We sacrifice our lives for you, Sharaa” can be seen. Those slogans, cartoonists said, would last for the coming 40 years.
Others suggested that as soon as Sharaa takes over, the main slogan in the upcoming protests should be “People demand the suicide of Sharaa” instead of the popular Arab Spring most famous slogan “People demand the toppling of the regime.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)