Posters of al-Assad predominate war-torn Syria, displaying dictatorship in the face of the detainees’ families 

A man sits next to a statue of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, surrounded by election posters of his son, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus - 23 May 2021 (AFP)

A man sits next to a statue of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, surrounded by election posters of his son, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus - 23 May 2021 (AFP)

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Enab Baladi-Saleh Malas

“Every time I see his posters [Bashar al-Assad] in the streets, I feel deeply sad and helpless because I know that he is the one responsible for arresting my son. Still, I can do nothing to hold him accountable.  Worse yet, I was among those who  forcibly elected him, to spare myself and my family a lot of security troubles.”

Abu Ayman, 47 years old, talked to Enab Baladi about his feelings of hatred and resentment when seeing the face of the Syrian regime head, Bashar al-Assad, plastered across the main streets of Damascus during his election campaign to run for a third presidential term. Meanwhile, his son is being held behind bars because he demonstrated against the regime in 2013. 

“It is not only about al-Assad posters. The sad thing, in fact, is when you do not know when and how all these will end, while I have no idea about my son’s fate, and who could possibly help me know whether my dear son is dead or alive, where he lives, and what he eats and how he sleeps.”

Abu Ayman, his real name was withheld by Enab Baladi for security purposes, is haunted by all these questions and fueled by his feeling of helplessness before the mystery of his lost son, 26 years old. On the other hand, the Syrian regime still refuses to release detainees because of their opposition to its policy. 

Like Abu Ayman, Muhammad, 75 years old resident of Daraa city, is sullen. The regime arrested his two sons in 2014. 

Muhammad told Enab Baladi, “The Syrian detainees are forgotten behind bars. The regime sees in them only a negotiating paper, holding onto it, with no intention to release the detainees anytime soon.”

Muhammad feels terribly sad, witnessing al-Assad being re-elected normally while turning a blind eye to his crimes against thousands of detainees. Al-Assad is still in power at a time when Muhammad has no idea about the fate of his two sons, who have been forcibly disappeared for more than seven years.

 He is also worried that al-Assad will rule Syria for another seven years in which detainees will be kept in prisons.

Al-Assad’s pictures are everywhere

Schools and universities were used as polling stations. Boxes with the names of candidates were distributed. Posters for the most prominent presidential candidates crowded the streets, public squares, markets, and walls in the Syrian regime-held areas, in addition to banners of  pledging Illa Al-Abad, forever, as part of a picture drawn by the regime in Syria for what it describes as a “democratic electoral wedding.”

After ten years of the popular uprising that quickly turned into an armed conflict, al-Assad intends to become the former and next president of Syria through the outcome of a presidential election, the results of which The Guardian called, “a foregone conclusion.”

For his electoral campaign, al-Assad promoted himself as the person who would reconstruct Syria, large areas of which were destroyed by his forces, which desperately fought so that the authority remains unchanged.

The Syrian People’s Assembly announced that the Syrian regime’s President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term-until 2028- in office with 95.1 percent of votes in an election described as illegitimate and a sham by the EU, the US, and his opposition.

Syrian social researcher Muhammad Salloum told Enab Baladi that al-Assad’s presidential campaign is an “unacceptable impudence” in the face of the families of detainees and missing persons in Syria. 

He added, “The detainees’ families feel helpless and hopeless when seeing images of the person who caused the arrest of their loved ones everywhere and realizing that the injustice and oppression inflicted on them will continue.”

This is how the Syrian regime silences his people’s voices and extinguishes any last flicker of hope for releasing detainees.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights documented the arrest of about 149,000 persons in Syria from the beginning of the protests in 2011 until last March. The Syrian regime forces arrested more than 131,000 people, including 8,029 women and 3,613 children. 

A campaign that spreads disappointment

Displaying the images of the head of the regime everywhere in the capital, in particular, is tantamount to disseminating the idea that people in the cities controlled by the Syrian regime have a desire for this authority, according to al-Salloum.

The proliferation of images of the symbol of power in Syria is “a continued display of a dictatorship rejected by the Syrians, and the government knows this. However, it continues to perpetuate the tragedy,” which affects the general feeling of disappointment and the bitterness of the failure to change” among Syrians. 

The Syrian regime still uses the capital, Damascus, to change the positions of some Arab and European countries regarding what is happening in Syria as part of its efforts to make propaganda for “popular acceptance” of Bashar al-Assad’s staying in power.

Salloum said that several people in regime-held areas reject the presidential elections, but they cannot say that publicly. However, people in areas where settlement agreements with the regime have been signed since July 2018, such as Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria, enjoy a considerable margin of freedom to express their rejection of the election. 

Activists and public figures in various areas of Daraa and Quenitra governorates released statements and painted graffiti rejecting the presidential elections and the opening of polling stations. They said that they would not tolerate those promoting the election and that the revolutionaries might target them. As a result, many polling stations were closed. 

By holding the presidential elections, the Syrian regime blew up its commitments to the UN resolutions that said that the elections should be held following a comprehensive political transition.  

On the other hand, the Western nations condemned the electoral process as illegitimate. This is because the presidential elections are held outside of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, stating that the elections should be put under UN supervision “to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability.” Besides, the Syrian regime still uses the same brutal political, military, and economic tools that the Syrian people are suffering from. All these together portend a prolonged conflict in Syria.

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