As the death toll in Syria neared the 16,000 mark according to human rights organizations, and despite reports of torture and slaughter across the country every day, women and men still find ways to cheer and dance on the streets as they call for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
That Syrians have retained their sense of humor can be evidenced in small things like their banners.
One Syrian town that stands out for infusing wit into its protest banners is Kafarnabel.
The humor and wittiness of its residents has ranged from pure sarcasm to sharp political messages shrouded in jokes.
However, the idea of ‘laughing in the dark’ was visible in the virtual world ever since the uprising began 16 months ago.
“Songa” and “Admin 14” are the pseudonyms behind the two masterminds that are administrating one of the most popular satire pages on Facebook.
“The Chinese Revolution against the Chinese Tyrant” as they called it, counts more than 100,000 fans and is highly active on an hourly basis, following up on the latest events and does not miss a chance to mock the Syrian regime.
They refer to Syria as China, Damascus as Beijing and Assad is called “Jintao”.
The page collects local news from across the country and even discusses international and regional politics ─ all in a witty, and always, funny tone.
The two men managing the page ─ which was created last year in June ─ are both in their mid-twenties and are originally from Homs, the stronghold of the Syrian revolution. Helped by a young Kurdish girl, the three activists remain anonymous, yet responsible of one of the most famous online platform of their country’s uprising.
Songa, a university student, was forced to leave Syria after his face was pictured in a video during a protest in Homs. His brother, who stayed behind was “executed by a member of the shabiha (regime thug), he told Al Arabiya over Skype.
Besides updating the page with humorous content, Songa became known for his videos in which he imitates President Assad’s voice during his speeches.
“I received several death threats against me and my family as well as demands that I reveal my identity and surrender to the authorities,” said Songa.
The administrator explained that he chose to use China for several reasons, one of which is that the country is one of Assad’s allies.
But most importantly, “we wanted people to feel more at ease when criticizing ‘Jintao’ then actually naming Assad,” he said.
“The satire and fake names helped Syrians overcome the taboo of talking about the regime,” he added.
The Homsi student said they were sure that no government in the world would stand by them in their revolution to fight the regime of “stability”.
“We knew at the beginning that we would be alone. Assad is an asset to Israel, which is now happy to prolong the crisis as long as possible,” he told Al Arabiya.
“That is why one of the main purposes of our page was to resist and be patient. We wanted the revolution to endure for the longest period, which was made possible by laughter and satire. We have lasted and survived despite the monstrous sufferings until now when the world powers have finally realized that Assad can no longer stay in power. Our humor was like anesthesia.”
Songa talks politics with what he describes as “a realistic sense.”
Commenting on some of the sectarian comments left on the page by users, he admits that the situation today is tense between Syria’s different components.
“In order to fix a problem we have to first confess it exists. Some of my Alawite friends took a position against the regime on day one while a lot of them remained silent. They have to take action; it is not our responsibility to save them. It is theirs. We are busy saving our lives,” he said.
Ammar el-Homsi, administrator of another very popular satiric revolution page on Facebook, said in an interview with Al Arabiya, that humor and derision have helped the Syrian people to break the wall of fear.
“In May last year, as the Syrian army entered the rebellious city of Homs, it was the first time my friend and I saw heavy weaponry in the streets. We thought all of it was on the front with Israel to fight the occupation,” said the young man, who is a member of the Revolution Council in Homs, and one of the founders of the Media Charters of Ethics for the revolution.
“The idea to create our page came as we passed by one army tank that was parked next to a carwash place in the neighborhood of Khalidiya. It was so dirty; it was covered by five centimeters of dust at least. So my friend said: how about we enter this poor muddy tank into the carwash?”
The next day, Homsi created “The International Tank Wash of Homs” page.
He was forced to leave Syria in February, for security reasons, but he hopes to “return very soon, with God’s will.”
Homsi said administrators of different pages do sometimes coordinate to convene certain messages, but each person practices their own approach in tackling the subject.
People of Homs have always been famous for their humor and, as Homsi said, they wanted to mark their daily suffering with a touch of dark humor.
“By making fun of the government and its figures, we eradicated the fear that was haunting us and we broke the stature of the regime.”
The Syrian revolution hasn’t stifled creative minds but it has led to some questioning what will become of their intelligent humor if the Baath regime, the main fuel of their creativity, falls.
“It is only when the regime will fall, that we will really start using our talents. It is only then that the true battle for building state will start. The revolution for freedom and democracy will never stop,” said Homsi.
Songa had a clear target in mind. “We will direct our creativity and satire towards the new regime; whomever will run Syria after Assad will have to face an army of talented people. And today, nothing can silence them again.”