Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week our Mohammed Sergie monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.
Apart from the relentless rounds of global diplomacy, recent headlines on Syria have focused on the rise of extremist brigades calling for an Islamic state and fears about the fate of Syria’s minorities. They have overshadowed episodes of civilian suffering, like the estimated fiftieth air strike of a bakery in a Sunni neighborhood. That’s lead to complaints across Syrian social media that some crimes are being amplified while others are ignored.
Some of those online voices are calling attention to one visual element often overlooked in the press: videos leaked from the Syrian military. Just as rebels record some of their worst behavior, Syrian soldiers and pro-Assad militias have documented their brutality. By some act of defiance or deliberate messaging, those images make their way to the Syrian public. These leaked videos show how soldiers stomped on unarmed protesters and lit unguided ”barrel” bombs with their cigarettes before tossing them out of a helicopter. One video that went viral was allegedly shot in Al Hiffa, a Sunni town in the Alawite mountains that was shelled by the Syrian military in June after rebels took control of the town. A Syrian soldier confronts civilians in the street.
It’s a short scene (above). A man is kicked and punched. Three women, including a teenage girl, were a few meters away. The soldier turns his attention to them, slaps the girl and rips off her veil, while hurling obscenities at the women. He tells the man that he plans to violate his sister. Another soldier mocks the women and calls them jihadis.
In the realm of high profile defections, conflicting stories have emerged about Jihad Makdissi, the deputy foreign minister and spokesman, in the weeks since he left Damascus. Did he defect, is he on a three-month vacation, did Hizbollah nab him in Beirut or is he providing intelligence to the U.S. in Washington? As we wait for the man to speak for himself, here’s a purported private Twitter conversation Makdissi had with Rami Jarrah, a well-known activist who blogs under the pseudonym Alexander Page.
Makdissi gives Jarrah a glimpse of his mindset, sympathetic to the “heroic actions of the Syrian people.” Jarrah tells Makdissi how he was detained by the security apparatus in Syria and slapped with a travel ban years before the revolution. He urges the diplomat to defect or take a real stand with the people. More of the interaction is posted at @AlexanderPageSY.
Our last snapshot of the week examines the now familiar tensions between Islamist and more secular opposition groups in rebel controlled territories in Aleppo. Protesters gathered on Friday at their usual spot in Bustan Al Qasr, a working class neighborhood in Aleppo that has been shelled repeatedly since July. They start singing songs of revolutionary defiance. But fans of the more extremist Islamist fighting groups refused to join the secular chants and tried to force the crowd to repeat their own calls for an Islamic state. An argument ensued.
Despite the reports of live fire used on the crowds, no serious injuries were reported. But activists condemned the violence and equated the Islamists’ behavior with the Assad regime’s crackdown on peaceful protests.
Continuing on the Islamist theme, pro-Assad outlets and anti-Islamists have been circulating videos of alleged protests in Aleppo that repeat the chant: “The Free Syria Army are thieves, we want the official army.” The first video was broadcast on state TV, though the audio seems to be looped and doesn’t match the video. Then the same audio seemed to be dubbed onto a protest in Aleppo from April 2011 and re-released as anti-rebel demonstration in December 2012. All is fair in the virtual war for Syria.