Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 September 2011
Issue No. 1064
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Artists under attack

The Syrian regime has not hesitated to use violence against artists and intellectuals supporting the uprising in the country, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Ali Farzat, a prominent Syrian caricaturist, was not the first Syrian artist or intellectual to be attacked by the country's security forces, and he will very probably not be the last.

On 25 August, masked men kidnapped Farzat from the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus, a few metres from the army headquarters. He was then brutally beaten, his left hand broken, and tossed out of a car outside the city having suffered serious injuries.

According to Syrian activists, Farzat was targeted by the Syrian security forces because of the caricatures that he has been producing since anti-regime protests began in the country six months ago. These mock the authorities for their handling of the crisis and target Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad personally.

Verbal or physical attacks on Syrian artists and intellectuals who support the protests in the country have become commonplace over recent weeks and months, with members of the country's opposition saying that the regime is using violence against them in an attempt to crush intellectual or artistic support for the protests.

Such tactics will not succeed, opposition figures say, since the Syrian people are seeking their freedom, and the conflict between the intellectuals and the regime will continue.

In May, more than a thousand film industry personalities around the world responded to a call from Syrian cinema industry workers, who had accused the Syrian regime of killing unarmed Syrians and "assassinating their lives and dreams".

They demanded that Syrian security agencies stop their attacks on private citizens and that the country's political prisoners be released.

Syrian film directors who signed the May petition were subjected to a defamation campaign in the official Syrian media that accused them of treason, even as pro-regime intellectuals condemned those who had signed the petition as traitors.

On 9 May, five days after the Syrian military began its siege of the southern city of Deraa, shutting down power, water, transportation and communications there, a group of Syrian artists, intellectuals and media personalities issued a second petition protesting against the policies of the regime entitled "A Call for the Sake of our Children".

More than 400 artists and intellectuals signed the petition, including famous Syrian actors, writers and film and stage directors, demanding that the Syrian government end its blockade of Deraa and deliver milk and food to the city's children.

Within days of the petition, 22 Syrian production companies had announced that they were boycotting those who had signed the petition, describing it as a "political document dressed up as a humanitarian issue that aims to sabotage the Syrian people, government and country."

Sources in the industry said that the authorities had pressured company managers close to the regime to announce the boycott as a warning to others and to prevent the publication of further petitions.

On 2 June, the leading Syrian actor Salloum Haddad was beaten by a group of armed men who attacked him as he sat in a Damascus café.

Haddad has been accused by the regime of treason, with the security agencies pointing to his criticisms of the heavy-handed actions undertaken by the regime in suppressing the protests, his defense of the protesters, and his calling for praise of Al-Assad to be toned down.

On 13 July, the country's security agencies arrested many other Syrian artists and intellectuals, beating several of them, after a 250-strong sit-in in the Al-Maydan district of Damascus in solidarity with the demonstrators was broken up by regime forces.

Despite the violence used to end the protest, one week later those who had been arrested, now released, attended the funeral of a young man killed by the security forces during a protest in Duma on the outskirts of Damascus.

They were received as heroes, and they called with others at the funeral for the overthrow of the regime, a slogan that had not been heard at the original sit-in.

In a further move, admired by protesters and the country's opposition, Syrian singer Assala Nasri released a song at the end of August expressing her solidarity with the Syrian uprising.

Saying that the song was "a gift for the revolutionaries in the country," Nasri's song calls on Al-Assad to step down from power, causing some demonstrators to give her the title of "the singer of the Syrian revolution".

Pro-regime elements then launched an attack on the Syrian chanteuse, accusing her of a lack of patriotism and even of treason.

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