Defections Silencing the Syrian Propaganda Machine


In the 17-month Syrian uprising many people have come to question why the tyrannical Syrian regime has been able to survive this long. Could it be its army or the lack of international initiative? Or does Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad really have the support of his people and is only battling “outside terrorists and al-Qaeda members”?  While these factors are all playing a role in prolonging the fall of Assad, one in particular is little mentioned that is probably causing the most damage: the Syrian propaganda machine.

Since the beginning of the movement in March 2011, Syrian state TV has blatantly lied and manipulated facts in attempts at covering up the uprising, spewing out an assortment of colorful tales to different members of the Arab and international community.

To its people and the rest of the Muslim world, the regime portrays itself to be the savior of the Palestinians, fighting against an American-Israeli conspiracy. However, several reports and released Youtube videos indicate that people of Palestinian nationality rank number two as the most murdered by the Al-Assad regime after Syrians.  The Syrian Revolution Martyr Database puts the number of Palestinian deaths under torture, from gunshot wounds and from bombardment at 176. However, the West is told a different tale; according to the Syrian regime, the Al-Assad regime is fighting Al-Qaeda terrorists and Muslim extremists. Since the start of the revolution, about 23,100 people have been murdered. 

While to the observing eye it may seem obvious that the regime is working hard at covering up traces of the revolution, to people who for years have relied on Syrian state media for news and information, state media is a credible news source. 

In the past, few accounts have surfaced revealing the truth behind the tactics used in Syrian state media. However, the recent defection of the Syrian prime minister and the capturing of 48 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard not only helped uplift the morale of the revolutionaries but will prove to be an absolute blow to the Syrian regime’s credibility and undoubtedly expose the truth behind the Syrian propaganda.

“The Syrian regime has always used propaganda as a tool to mobilize public opinion against its people, even before the Arab Spring,” said Hebal Fesal, a board member of the Syrian Expatriates Organization, a non-profit organization established after the Arab Spring began to help shape the future of Syria. “There is no doubt that the last card the regime will use is more lies and more conspiracy theories against Syria.”

Two days ago on Aug. 6, spokesperson for Syria’s PM Riyad Hijab announced on his behalf on Al-Jazeera after defecting to Jordan, “I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime and that I am joining the ranks of this dignified revolution for freedom.  I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution.” Not surprisingly, Syrian state media were quick to announce that he had been fired. 

The former agriculture minister, Hijab was forcibly appointed as the PM two months ago after the regime reportedly told him to take the position or be killed. According to his spokesperson Muhammad el-Etri, the defection had been planned for two months, and he was able to escape along with 10 other families –all relatives- with the help of the Free Syrian Army. Hijab’s defection is of utmost importance because he is the highest official to leave the regime thus far and signifies that the Assad regime is crumbling from within.

“This has huge value,” said Iyad Azrak, chairman of the Syrian Expatriates Organization, a non-profit organization established after the Arab Spring began to help shape the future of Syria. “The FSA secured his seven brothers' and two sisters' families [to escape as well]. Arranging such a defection is an indication of the increasing strength of the FSA. [Hijab] is an important figure in the Ba'ath party and his departure is a signal for many that it is time [for Bashar] to leave.”

Hijab’s defection followed a string of high-profile escapes including Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares and Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas. Reports also indicate that Finance Minister Mohamed Jalilati was arrested Monday after attempting to escape.

Sawsan Jabri, a board member of the SEO said “they view the Defection of the PM as a huge blow in the face of the tyrannical Assad regime, since this is by far the highest senior official to defect and that it will open the door to more defections among higher ranked personnel in the near future,” leading to increased isolation and added pressure on Assad.

Iran, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime will be holding a meeting Thurs. Aug. 9, for countries who have a “realistic position” on Syria. Iran has since the beginning been against “foreign intervention”. Revolutionaries have known for a long time that Iran is not only helping to finance the Syrian crackdown but is also sending members of its military to aid in the killings and torture which could now be supported after a video released this weekend showed a member of the FSA explaining that 48 Iranians suspected of being military personnel were captured. Iran alleges that they are pilgrims and not members of the military; however, upon investigation the FSA found some men carrying ID cards identifying them as Revolutionary Guard officers and are permitted to carry guns.

"The propaganda rubbish coming out of the regime that this is all a foreign conspiracy is out of the window," said Abdulwahab Sayed Omar, an opposition activist in London in a USA Today article. "For the average Syrian who is confused or who potentially buys any of that propaganda, this is a massive wake-up call."

Yaman Shalabi is a Syrian-American journalist and writes from Maryland.