Syrian Dark Humor and the Elections
It is no surprise to see Bashar al-Assad nominate himself for the Syrian presidency in the upcoming elections. In the context of destruction, murder, displacement and torture, Syrian politics have become an endless gloomy performance staged for the outside world, and the elections are but the latest episode.
Elections as a performance stands out as the recurrent theme in the latest Syrian artistic and creative production. Both the process and its protagonists are portrayed as a macabre farce, starting with the three final candidates: Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, author of an article entitled “Assad, or no one”; Hassan al-Nuri, former minister and considered by many as the man behind the electoral campaign; and of course, Bashar al-Assad.
The campaign, which revolves around the slogan “Sawa” (Arabic for “together”), has filled the streets of the areas under regime control with photos, posters and banners promoting Bashar al-Assad. Photos of the other two candidates are rare, but regime loyalists have gone to the extent of vandalizing Hajjar and al-Nuri’s posters to express their outrage at the possibility of anyone other than Assad becoming president.
And if the regime is papering the streets with electoral posters, pro-freedom activists are filling online spaces and platforms with an explosion of messages, photos, videos and banners in response to the mockery that is the elections. “The elections of blood”, “Lower your voice” and “Together, we will bury him” are some of the slogans developed in response to Assad’s surreal one.
The slogan itself, “Sawa”, quickly backfired on online social platforms, as users juxtaposed it against a huge amount of content showing the extent of Assad’s repression on the Syrian people, and the destruction of the country. “Together we kill” and “together we destroy” were some of the comments directed at regime loyalists and at anyone engaging in the electoral farce.
Journalist George Kadr commented on his facebook page:
An official TV channel interviewed Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar yesterday, and asked him about his life, including his income and assets, so that the audience knows everything about the candidate. I am curious to know who is going to interview Bashar al-Assad and ask him about his income and assets…
According to Syrian-Palestinian cartoonist Yasser Abu Hamed, in an interview with SyriaUntold, many activists are making a mistake by focusing on the lack of legitimacy of the candidates, instead of on Bashar himself. “You can hear activists propose alternative opposition candidates, as if the problem lies in the nature of the rivals. This only helps legitimize Assad and his illegitimate system.”
Abu Hamed’s view of the elections, and the illegitimacy of Bashar al-Assad, is reflected in his prolific artistic work, which has been extensively covered by SyriaUntold. Drawings and cartoons of the ruler sticking his nose into a ballot box, surrounded by a sea of blood, holding a gun on top of a military boot, smiling next to a blood-stained banner that reads “Sawa”, have been published and widely shared online.
In this surreal context, the farce of presidential elections has pushed Syrian dark humor to another level. The real irony, however, lies in the fact that the right to free elections was one of the reasons that millions took to the streets in March 2011, and one of the reasons why so many lost their lives since. The regime has managed to turn the dream of the Syrian people into a bad joke, as it continues to mock their aspirations of freedom and justice.