Al-Assad invests in Ramadan drama through meetings with actors

Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Syrian drama stars - March 10, 2024 (Syrian Presidency)

Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Syrian drama stars - March 10, 2024 (Syrian Presidency)


The meeting between the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and a group of actors and directors of Syrian drama, including Bassam Kousa, Abbas al-Nouri, Kosai Khauli, Taim Hassan, and Bassem Yakhour, sparked reactions in the artistic community and on social media platforms.

The photos and videos published by the Syrian regime on its social media pages, as well as in the official media, imply that what happened went beyond a president meeting influential artists to discuss ways to spread culture. It was rather a meeting between supporters and a dictatorial president who seeks to break isolation by using soft power tools, one of which is the widely acclaimed Syrian drama.

The artists’ smiles did not cease during their meeting with al-Assad, on March 10, according to the pictures published by the official accounts of the Syrian Presidency on social media.

Al-Assad appeared during the meeting talking, as the artists later said, about “elevating Syrian drama artistically and productively” and overcoming difficulties, offering them “suitable solutions to protect and develop the industry.”

Bassem Yakhour stated through his Instagram account that al-Assad informed them of “suitable solutions to protect and develop the industry.”

The meeting was preceded by the actor Bassem Yakhour defending the regime, describing himself as a Shabeeh (a strong loyal to al-Assad) and was followed a few days earlier by another meeting between Bashar al-Assad and actors Ayman Zidan and Mustafa al-Khani.

The Syrian regime’s relationship with its artists is not new, and its attempts to show interest in Syrian drama, which has achieved remarkable success over past decades, can be traced back years, known as the “boycott crisis” in 2007, and in 2011, months after the onset of demonstrations demanding its downfall.

Pictures filled with blood

The meeting held by al-Assad came just one day before the beginning of the Ramadan season, in which Syrian drama appears through a number of social works and Damascene environment series, with a notable absence of historical works.

The writer Samer Radwan described the pictures of the meeting in a Facebook post on Monday as “filled with blood, contaminated by mass graves, and the whips of killing under torture.”

Actor Abdul Qader Malla posted a video saying that actor Bassam Kousa is reconciling with his mother’s killer, referring to Kousa’s earlier statements that he did not leave Syria because he cannot leave his mother, in his words.

Cinematic works and dramas are important tools used by states and governments to spread their culture and language, representing a soft power for conveying social and political messages to their communities and other societies and governments—a fact the Syrian regime exploited for decades.

The Syrian regime has used drama and series as a weapon to pressure society and direct it as desired, becoming more apparent in the years following the revolution when it supported the production of dozens of series conveying and reaffirming its narrative of “the war on terror, resistance to the conspiracy, and the liberation of territories controlled by militants and terrorist organizations.”

The regime’s production of political series is not solely linked to the outbreak of the revolution in 2011, but also existed before that, sending messages through them to countries with whom it had political disagreements, changing messages according to the nature of political relationships with these countries.

The dramatic writer, Hafez Qarqout, told Enab Baladi that since the era of Hafez al-Assad, the regime viewed Syrians as tools to cement its rule and send its own messages, including unions and later artists.

Qarqout pointed out in his talk that when Hafez al-Assad issued a decision to provide permanent salaries to the first generation of television founders, he intended to ensure their loyalty, not to honor them.

For decades, al-Assad and his tools in Syria promoted their interest in cultural centers and Syrian drama, including launching a channel dedicated to showing Syrian series called “Syria Drama” in 2007.

According to Qarqout, al-Assad’s recent meeting with artists comes in the same context, believing that if there was a real democratic atmosphere in Syria, creativity and stardom would have been of another nature, without the presence of a repressive and directed environment.

Furthermore, in dictatorial states, no one is allowed to steal the spotlight; everything is directed towards “the symbolic leader,” which is why Hafez al-Assad annihilated the theater, which vanished considerably according to his view.

Qarqout believes that the timing of al-Assad’s meeting with actors before Ramadan aims to say that the stars follow him, that he is the patron of drama, he produces it, and he creates its stars.

Lists of “honor and shame”

Syrian cities witnessed massive demonstrations in March 2011, demanding the downfall of the Syrian regime and the departure of Bashar al-Assad from power, which he inherited from his father in 2000.

Like the Syrians, the artists were divided into three groups at the time: supporters of the regime, opponents of it, and a third group that preferred silence.

In the midst of successive positions and the momentum of demonstrations and political movements, what became known as the “honor list” emerged on social media, including the names of artists who declared their opposition to the Syrian regime.

Among these artists were May Skaf, Mohamad al-Rashi, Mohamad Osso, Fares al-Helo, Abdul Hakim Qatifan, and others, countered by another list of pro-regime artists, called the “list of shame”.

Subsequently, outspoken opposition artists went public, talking about threats they received from the regime’s security apparatus, including Sawsan Arsheed and Maxim Khalil.

In the forefront of insults

Syrian artists, irrespective of their opinions on what happened in Syria over the years, received hundreds of insults and threats from supporters of the revolution or the Syrian regime, which several artists indeed announced during their media appearances.

Regardless of the seriousness of these threats and their reasons, the regime also seems to benefit from them.

According to Qarqout, the regime put the actors in the forefront of insults in the eyes of the public who will follow the Ramadan art works, thereby diminishing their stature, which is what the regime also sought to achieve.

Since the 1990s, Syrian series have carried political messages, both internally and externally, to Syrian society or regional states, particularly those works directly categorized as political dramas, such as “Hamam al-Qishani” and “Brothers of the Soil,” and comedic works such as “Spotlight/Bokaat Daw.”

The messages in these works ranged from clarity, as in “Brothers of the Soil” in its first part (1996), which talked about the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman presence in the early 20th century during a period of strained relations between the Syrian regime and the Turkish government, to subtler messages as in “Spotlight,” which coincided with the regime’s talk of openness and raising the ceiling of freedoms in the country, preceded by the series “Hamam al-Qishani,” which discussed internal political conditions before the Baath Party came to power in 1963.

The situation did not stop with series produced by the Syrian regime or Syrian production companies close to it (the Syrian International company, for example, which was owned by Mohammad Hamsho, one of the businessmen close to Al-Assad), but also included hosting the filming of Arab works and providing facilities for them.


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