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Satire flourishes in Syria as violence intensifies
AFP | Dec 24, 2011 | 23:24
A scene from a video of the puppet show ‘Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator’ as posted on YouTube (Photo courtesy of MasasitMati)
DUBAI — The violent repression of dissent in Syria has sparked an explosion of satire produced by anonymous artists who are flooding the Internet with film, music and art that mock the Damascus regime.
“The revolt has broken the barriers of silence and fear,” said Syrian playwright Walid Kowatly, who is based in Dubai.
He said the outpouring of satirical works is the result of “more than 40 years of repression, pressure”, by a regime that has consistently showed unwavering “contempt to [artists] and their talents.”
Pro-democracy activists have created a Facebook page named, “Free Syria’s First Film Festival”, where users can vote for their favourite film made about the uprising that began more than nine months ago and has left more than 5,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.
“The General’s Boot” by Syrian director Akram Agha, is an animation portraying a crackdown by security forces, where a children’s toy ball, gradually grows and gains force, wiping away soldiers as it rolls through the streets (http://www.youtube.com/w-atch?v=eDyP2WWYRJY).
Puppet shows also lampoon Syria’s security forces and President Bashar Assad, who stars as “Bishou” in a series named, “Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator”.
The show depicts “Bishou’s nightmares”, where the defiant strongman is kept awake by fears that he may lose power.
A video posted on YouTube invokes two iconic characters from the US children’s programme “Sesame Street”, where Bert and Ernie assume the characters of Assad and his much-maligned brother Maher.
In one scene, Bert, representing Assad, shows Ernie an empty sheet of paper and asks him: “What happened here?”
Ernie sees nothing and Bert tells him: “Shabiha [pro-regime militias] are killing the people of Daraa,” the cradle of the protest movement.
“Where are the people of Daraa?” asks Ernie.
They are in “mass graves”, Bert replies.
“This is satirical resistance,” said Ali Ferzat, awarded with the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for a series of cartoons criticising the Assad regime.
“When you mock the butcher and the killer, it means that you have overcome all fears,” said Ferzat, who moved to Kuwait after he was beaten last summer by regime loyalists.
Residents of the flashpoint central city Homs, where regime forces have killed scores of protesters, have also contributed their share of jokes amid the unrelenting bloodshed.
Responding to Assad’s claim that the uprising in Homs is being led by “armed gangs”, a series of videos have been posted on YouTube showing men brandishing courgettes and aubergines, while wearing ammunition belts of okra. 
“Homs International Tank Wash and Lubrication Centre” is a virtual garage that says it offers services to “the large numbers of tanks across Syria, especially in Homs” and calls on the regime not to withdraw them so as to keep the business running.
“The spontaneity of the revolt has created the spontaneity of art which is a different and important means of expressing revolt,” says Kowatly.
For Ferzat, art and popular uprisings are inseparable.
“When there’s a real revolt, everything else moves parallel to it,” including art and culture, says Ferzat. “It’s an integrated process.”
Every Friday, the weekend day that often sees the largest protests, activists on Facebook can vote for the name of the week.
“Administrators of the main revolt pages propose a list of names for the Friday based on the week’s events. The name is finally chosen by online voting,” says Azher Al Asfer, a founder of a group that supervises these pages.
Last Friday, the activists chose “Protocol of Death” as the slogan for demonstrations.
That was a jab at a document the Arab League signed with Damascus setting the terms for a hard-won observer mission that the bloc hopes will oversee an end to the bloodshed but which the opposition says will only pave the way for more violence by the regime.
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