A significant variable of the on-going troubles in Syria, propaganda has been used by both President Assad’s regime and the rebel forces in order to gain support and achieve their goals. It would appear however that the former has been more successful in effectively using it. This is evident in the manner in which, despite failing to stop the uprising, the regime has managed to clench its reign for this long with the support of a well-executed propaganda strategy.
A statement sent to the news agency Reuters is one of many claims made by the regime that are widely believed to be deceptive and highly steeped in propaganda. The statement held the apparent news that 1,000 soldiers, under the orders of the Free Syrian Army Commander and former Syrian Air Force Colonel Riad Al-Asaad, were killed amidst a crushing defeat of the rebel forces.
By no means is this the first deceptive act carried out by the regime. The forgery of various documents, photographs and the production of news in a variety of languages are done in order to sway the public in their favor; be it international opinion or their own people. Further inspection of their tactics shows that propaganda targeting the West portrays their revolutionary enemies as terrorists with ties to Al-Qaeda and Muslim fundamentalists. Their Arab neighbors, on the other hand, are fed the view that the uprising against the regime is a conspiracy resulted by a partnership by United States and France.
The messages aimed at the Syrian people greatly differ and, it would appear, vary according to their religious views and stance on the conflict. The Syrian Christian population are reportedly told that they are being attacked by Islamists, while those in support of the uprising are given the claims that the revolutionaries are in alignment with Israel and are against Islam and Arabs. They further state that weapons that were in the possession of the rebel forces and seized by the military were supplied by Israel.
The regime does not limit its efforts there as fake messages were also sent to the revolutionary forces. A source within the Free Syrian Army told Asharq Al-Awsat that when they grasped control of the town of Haffah, found in the Latakia governorate, from the regime’s security forces, they were sent a message which they believed to be from their commander ordering a tactical retreat from the town. In reality, this was a counter message from the regime which successfully resulted in the retreat of the FSA from Haffah.
Consequently, perhaps then it is a small wonder that some of the politicians and the media of the West hold pro-regime views of being misled by the well-oiled propaganda machine of the Assad’s regime. Another fact that emerged is that the Russian foreign media service also circulates the propaganda material of the Syrian regime apart from its own creations. It may however be argued that it is strange that a number of bloggers and researchers amidst us Arabs who, despite the ease with which they check their truthfulness, repeat the propaganda.
I was under the impression that forged propaganda explained Sultan Al Qassemi’s surprising alleged bias and use of false video clips and news reports in support of the revolution. When it emerged that he made quite a substantial mistake, it glaringly highlighted the prosperous strategy of the Syrian regime and its ability to not only mislead the West but experienced and learned Arabs alike. His words did not deserve to be said even a year ago at the initial stages of the uprising; all facts about the Syrian conflict are clear for the people in the region no matter what their preferences or affiliations are.
The Syrian regimes horrific actions surpass the images and videos we are shown from the battle zones and wrecked towns. Despite reports being heard of Iranians and Russians assisting the regime, the previous lack of images made it hard to believe.
When any news of soldiers fighting for the regime comes to light, Assad’s propaganda presents it as a move in towards freeing the Syrian people and saving them from their struggle for survival. The presence of the Iranian armed forces came was confirmed in the form of apparent concrete evidence. Reportedly, the hijacking of a bus by the rebel forces a few days ago revealed members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Attempting to portray them as pilgrims, the regime failed to successfully explain the presence of the Iranian soldiers due to the lack of foreign tourists, let alone pilgrims, in Syria at the present time. Additionally, there was a distinct lack of women and children on the bus; those captured in the video were able-bodied men of combat age.
It is easy to make comparisons and criticize from a distance and reduce all developments in Syria to pure political issues. However, seventeen months of continuous uprising is enough is enough to assert that development in Syria is not limited to politics. Reducing the conflict and presenting it as a product of political hostilities to distant readers with the help of media propaganda will not change the reality that has been unfolding before the citizens. Syrians would not have risked their risked their lives for such a long period of time if it was merely a question of politics. They are fighting to defend their families and their neighborhoods. This is the real fact, not deception for political propaganda.
The regime’s extensive collection of weaponry and large army, reportedly half a million soldiers, in addition to an ,as of yet, uninterrupted surge of support from allies would have allowed it to assert to win the war easily If it were not for the fact that Assad’s forces are unsure of its plight and fighting unwillingly. However, Assad is now under siege in the capital; perhaps this new development signals the beginning of the end of his attempt for control.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 8, 2012