“Syrian presidents” on social media: schizophrenia or mere comedy
Enab Baladi – Diya Assi
“Against your rotten minds – Coming to purify Syria – 97% of the people must be burned and exterminated, and 3% have the right to live – Support me for the presidency of the Arab Islamic Republic – I am the poor slave… We are not cowboys, I will live up to your expectations – The majority of Syrians and Saria al-Sawas (a local singer) are alike”.
A number of phrases by controversial personalities announced their intention to run for the presidential elections in Syria during the past five years, which sparked widespread ridicule of the phenomenon of comic candidates on social media.
The last presidential elections in Syria in 2021, which ended with the victory of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, by a landslide majority, took place in an undemocratic atmosphere that led to widespread doubts about its validity, as was previously expected, and in a way that transformed the presidency into a position of cynicism, something that was not possible before the erupt of the revolution in 2011, even from aspect of mockery or satire.
In this report, Enab Baladi discussed this phenomenon and the psychological state of the candidates, along with researchers and psychiatrists.
The Turkey-based Syrian businessman Abdullah al-Homsi took a path full of suspenseful drama in his run for the “presidency.” which was evident in his adventures with the Turkish and Syrian security forces and his “confrontation” with arrest attempts.
The latest adventure was his arrest by the Turkish police on 10 September for inciting Syrians in Turkey to a collective strike in protest against the racism campaign they are facing.
No official party issued a statement regarding the arrest of al-Homsi, who expressed his pride in entering prison in order to defend the rights of Syrians, according to him.
Al-Homsi announced his intention to run for the elections in 2017, promoting his vision of “Syria 2021” under the title, “From Damascus to Istanbul, the story of an immigrant who will return to Syria as its president, builder, and future by God willing,” such promises caused a flood of sarcastic comments on social networking at the time.
In 2019, al-Homsi established the “First Syrian Party,” approved by the Turkish government.
AL-Homsi claimed his party is for all Syrians and called on them to join the party whether they are inside Syria or abroad.
Al-Homsi, originally of al-Mlaiha town east of Damascus, insisted on entering the field of politics despite previous statements about devoting his time to taking care of his family and children. He said that he would be president in 2021, not “through elections, but through a military solution.”
In his “Memoir”- as he calls it- that he writes on his Facebook page, al-Homsi said that he planned to carry out a military coup in Damascus in mid-2021, with the entry of military groups consisting of nearly 4000 soldiers, in addition to the assassination of Bashar al-Assad on the same day.
“But because of the betrayals he was subjected to by those close to him, the plan had been thwarted by al-Assad due to many undisclosed reasons that al-Homsi would leave it to history,” he said.
Al-Homsi was the most “thoughtful” among those who presented themselves as candidates for the presidency of Syria.
Over the past years, he presented a set of videos produced by his Gaziantep-based architecture company containing architectural projects that he said would be implemented in Syria.
On the other side of the struggle for the throne, the Syrian refugee in Sweden, Mohammad Saber al-Shartah, proclaimed himself as president, dispensing with the support of the Syrians and drawing his confidence in the international community’s approval of him, according to his claim.
Al-Shartah, 67, of Hass town in Idlib governorate, announced his candidacy for the presidency in June 2020 and said, “Know that I am the next president of Syria, against you all, against your rotten minds, and against your mustaches (local Syrian dialect term used when a man wants to get something by force).
Al-Shartah invaded social media with videos that contained insults in the local dialect, which helped him spread widely among young people, who turned his reactions into “memes,” which were popular to express mockery of a situation.
After a torrent of criticism against al-Shartah due to his impolite tone in his speeches, some comments came to offend his mother, forcing her to go out on YouTube to disavow him, confirming that he suffers from psychological problems, saying, “This boy is not normal.”
She added, “this (man) can not be a president, but rather a shepherd,” demanding not to insult his family on social media.
The IDP mother explained that she is from a “dignified” family, she was widowed at the age of 35, and she lives in a tent with two sick daughters, and there is no man to help them.
The mother indicated that she can no longer bear with her son’s mind, as “he collects dollars in Europe, while his mother is searching for a (Syrian) pound to afford living,” and pointed out that he was brainwashed when he was in Turkey.
What about motives?
Psychiatrist Ismail al-Zalaq told Enab Baladi that people who think they are rescuers or saviors must suffer from psychological disorders.
Al-Zalaq explained that people who are delusional about greatness and see themselves as presidents or prophets face a problem in understanding real life, but it is difficult to diagnose the disease from a distance in the case of al-Shartah and others.
Sometimes, delusions are part of another mental illness; for example, when a person experiences severe depression, that generates a delusion, and a person’s elevated mood can also lead to a delusion.
According to the doctor, delusions can come within schizophrenia or as a separate disease that is not caused by a psychological condition before it, and it is called here “delusional disorder.”
More influential than al-Assad
Many social media users compared Bashar al-Assad and al-Shartah in terms of influence by observing the number of viewership during the former’s speech before the People’s Assembly, which was broadcast by the “Alikhbaria Syria” channel on its official Facebook page.
While the number of viewers of al-Assad’s direct speech reached 6,400, the number of viewers of al-Shartah’s live broadcast on his official Facebook page, at the same time, exceeded three times the views of al-Assad, with a total of 24,100 viewers.
Followers were divided between those who attributed the increase in the number of views of al-Shartah to his being a comic figure and those who defended him as a political figure.
Al-Shartah claims that he was arrested for two years when he was an officer with the rank of first lieutenant and was then the director of the office of the Minister of Interior and the former head of the Syrian intelligence service in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan.
The reason for the arrest, according to al-Shartah, was because he beat an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel for political matters, and there is no evidence to prove this information.
When asked in one of the interviews about the statements that he is insane, al-Shartah said, “The insane is the one who destroys homelands and displaces millions, and the one who hits with explosive barrels,” referring to Bashar al-Assad.
In one of the live broadcasts, al-Shartah said that he used political black comedy to assimilate all Syrians, which is what happened, he said.
Al-Shartah clarified that his goal is not the position of the presidency, but he stressed that he said he will be the next president against men’s mustaches or will (a local Syrian dialect term used when a man wants to get something by force) because he wanted to “draw attention, and awaken the wisemen to ask him how dare you to challenge us against our will.”
Al-Shartah regretted that the (social media) tools that he used and the messages he tried to deliver were in vain.
He added that when he expressed his serious stance, the “demagogue people,” according to his description, continued to curse him, explaining that he did not oppose this in return for “making change” in their heads in order to build the future of Syria.
According to the German psychiatrist Sandeep Root, diagnosing schizophrenia is difficult, as it is often discovered five years after the occurrence of the disorder due to the fact that symptoms in the initial stages are not distinctive such as anxiety, tension, sleep disturbances, unjustified sadness, in addition to the patient feeling that he is seen as an outcast and ridiculed by others, and is always misunderstood.
According to the World Health Organization, psychological and social factors play a role in the onset of the disorder and the course it takes, and excessive substance abuse is associated with an increased risk of developing this disorder.
“Al-Hajjaj” and “Bin Abi Sufyan”
The candidate, Abdullah al-Homsi, introduces himself on his official Facebook page as “Abdullah bin Khaled bin Yazid bin Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan.”
He also describes himself as “the bearer of the banner of the oppressed,” and he is the author of the saying, “The majority of Syrians and Saria al-Sawas (a famous popular singer) are alike.”
Al-Shartah called himself “the second al-Hajjaj” (the most notable governor who served the Umayyad Caliphate) and said that he was coming to harvest heads, addressing all the corrupt people in the liberated areas and the regime-controlled areas alike.
He vowed an era of rule with iron and fire, justifying this by the fact that the country has become a hotbed of terrorism and that he is coming to purify a democratic Syria, not an Arabic one, according to his description.
When a follower of al-Shartah was asked about his political program, he said, “When I castrate the terrorists, criminals, and the corrupt, and purify Syria, I will then talk about my program,” without forgetting to curse the questioner.
Al-Shartah did not stop at the borders of Syria. Rather, he threatened to castrate Russian President Vladimir Putin after threatening to use nuclear weapons in his war on Ukraine.
He said, “Listen (Putin), before you think about pressing the button, there will be no Russia, and if you do not find someone to respond to you in Germany or America, President al-Shartah will respond to you.”
Al-Shartah considered that the land of Ukraine will be a cemetery for Putin and his army and that it will “turn into ashes” if he thinks of launching nuclear missiles.
He pointed out that Putin can practice his “caper” on the poor and oppressed people in Syria with, whom he described as the head of the gang, Bashar al-Assad, but when it comes to talking about Europe, there will be “castration,” as he put it.
Outcomes of the political landscape
Sociology researcher Sultan Jalabi told Enab Baladi that the emptiness of the political scene, which took shape over the course of 11 years, had to produce such characters that he considered “comical.”
Jalabi assured that it is a normal state in comparison to years before the Syrian revolution erupted in 2011, as there was no such phenomenon at the time, pointing to the possibility of similar samples, but they have appeared now.
Jalabi pointed out that the social structure that disintegrated after the revolution, whether at the institutional level or at the level of human groups and even within the same family, did not leave the Syrians with a link in which to gather.
These personalities took advantage of the vacuum that exists to “mobilize individuals,” largely for the purpose of fame, according to the sociologist, who believes that gathering around them is for the purpose of entertainment only.
There is no person who presents himself for the presidency without a popular base, political organization, and supporters behind him, and a disjointed society will only promote the formation of political forces by small margins, Jalabi concluded.
The dark side
There are many people who ran for the presidency, as well as al-Shartah and al-Homsi.
Among them is Nasser Jassim Mohammad, a Syrian refugee based in Germany, who has the saying “I am the poor slave” (slave of God), in addition to Walid Mahrousa, who aspires to establish an Islamic republic.
Also, the Germany-based Syrian refugee Wasim Zakour, who introduces himself as “a journalist” and is always quarreling with al-Shartah, accusing him of imitating his terminology and stigmatizing the Syrians.
Zakour was criticized for his controversial saying, “I pray to God that I will not become president,” because “97% of the people must be burned and exterminated, and 3% have the right to live.”
Delusions gather these candidates who believe in their own greatness.
According to psychiatrists, this is called a “confirmation bias.” when a person tends to interpret and remember information in a way that is consistent with their beliefs and assumptions while not paying as much attention to information that contradicts them.
Delusions are associated with an imbalance of the substance “dopamine” in the brain, which is associated with addictive states or depression and is also responsible for promoting feelings of happiness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says people with schizophrenia are exposed to human rights violations, whether within mental health institutions or in community settings.
Stigma against people with this condition is severe and widespread, excluding them socially and affecting their relationships with others, including family and friends.
Stigma also contributes to discrimination against them and can limit their access to public health care, education, housing, and employment opportunities, according to the WHO.
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