Technology is defying censorship in Syria as rebels mock their tenacious dictator on YouTube and summon crowds into the streets using Twitter, Facebook and other local social media.
On YouTube, an Arabic-language cartoon shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad picking up the phone and dialing to his friend, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Syria’s most important supporter.
“The people are revolting against me, they don’t love me anymore,” a nervous al-Assad complains Ahmadinejad.
“Don’t worry, crying won’t help. I have a solution – get on a plane and come here,” replies the Iranian.
Taken to a cave in a black limousine in Iran, al-Assad meets glowering, mumbling Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who advises him to surround the cities with troops and artillery, suppress individual freedoms, forbid people to gather in the streets and, above all, stop the populace from speaking.
“Terrorism in revolution is critical and lying is it basis,” the cross-legged ayatollah instructs him.
Delighted, al-Assad gushes his agreement.
“Yes, absolutely,” he declares, “Lie and lie until you believe your own lies.”
Dissidents in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab Spring world are finding new and creative ways to poke fun at their leaders – and unlike their predecessors who were reliant on the printed media, they face far fewer risks because the content is sitting on a server far away from the despot’s reach, notes David E. Miller in the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“Most observers acknowledge social media have played a critical role in bringing people onto the streets, but YouTube offers them an opportunity to become more creative and expansive in the way a 140-character Tweet cannot,” notes Miller, who writes for the middle eastern news service the Media Line:
As the Arab Spring marks its ninth month, that has become an increasing important element in the fight against oppressive governments.
“Facebook and Twitter are strongly linked to the Arab Spring, but YouTube has been a less significant social media platform,” Andre Oboler, an Australian social media expert, told The Media Line. “YouTube content requires significantly more time and effort to produce, which means it is less immediate, less fast paced, and there are fewer people able to do it.”
The risk of recognition in a video clip may have also deterred many Arab oppositionists from using the site, he says.
“Even in democratic states YouTube videos are used by police to identify suspects. We’ve seen this recently with the London protests,” he says. “In authoritarian regimes, the punishment may be far higher and the grounds for arrest far less reasonable.”
The danger of engaging in humorous criticism was amply illustrated when veteran Syrian cartoonist and outspoken Al-Assad critic Ali Ferzat was badly beaten by unknown assailants on August 25, left bleeding on the side of a Damascus road. The anonymous assailants made sure to injure his hands, telling him it was “just a warning.”
Over 2,200 Syrians have reportedly been killed since unrest broke out in March, according to the United Nations.