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Two wars are being waged in Syria. There is the physical fighting going on between the rebels and government troops but there is also a media war going on in which the results of the physical battles are being hidden or changed to misrepresent facts. One young activist, Yahya Abdulrahman, a physics student at Aleppo University claimed, “The regime is fighting the people in two ways. One is with the army. The other is with the media. There are parts of the Free Syrian Army that are fighting the regime. But there are other parts fighting the regime’s hackers.””
Smart phones have been key in the Syrian uprising – just like in the Arab Spring revolutions – because, according to the Christian Science Monitor, it is a way for the people to undermine the state media (which is controlled by Assad) and get supporters within Syria and in the rest of the world. So far the Syrian government has banned access to YouTube and Facebook, but several of the youth have found ways around these government firewalls.
Having smart phones and access to computers and internet allow the rebels to communicate with friends and family as well as talk to soldiers who want to defect to the rebel army.
Many Syrian rebels have risked their lives while fighting the media war. According to the Guardian hundreds of video activists have joined the revolution through videography; most are male, young, and technologically capable individuals. Abdulrahman, one of these activists, admits that filming is just as dangerous as fighting with a gun: “If the army sees anyone with a camera they try and kill him first.”
However, the video aspect of the revolution is just as important as the actual physical fighting. Assad controls Syria’s television stations which claim that the Free Syrian Army (the rebels) is a group of “terrorists” and “al-Qaida” while also broadcasting pro-regime propaganda. Abu Mhio, a rebel media activist claims, “When we will be free, [Syrian TV] will be dead.”
If Assad controls all of the media in the country he can prevent the successes of the rebels from being reported which lowers their support and prevents more people from getting involved. In order to ensure that the world and the Syrian people actually know what is going on in Syria they must record it for themselves, even if it is emotionally tolling and life-threatening.
Abdulrahman was arrested once for video-recording a protest on his campus. After being beaten and made to sign a piece of paper claiming he was an informant, he was released and continued filming for the rebels. He has also filmed the dead in the streets to show the toll of the fighting. “I filmed one of the children killed last week. We hadn’t eaten all day because of Ramadan. But afterwards I couldn’t touch any food.”
In previous years rebels have not had such technological access to aid them in their cause. Hafez al-Assad, the current ruler’s father, ruled Syria from 1970 and was responsible for destroying the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, killing at least 10,000 people. One rebel fighter explained to the Christian Science Monitor, “His father destroyed Hama in a few days, but there was no TV there and no internet to show the world. But today we have the internet, we photograph and film and have Al Jazeera, so people know. They can see what is happening.”
Few journalists have been allowed within Syria in the recent months of fighting, but those that have, have received threats. One Guardian journalist received a death threat via a tweet from a member of the regime stating, “I pray every night that you die.”
Those journalists that are allowed in the country are also not provided a lot of access. Another journalist, Alex Thomson, tweeted “Syrian government is losing the PR war” when they refused to let him interview or record the Syrian military.
Ultimately, winning the media war will be just as important as winning the physical war for both sides. The rebels have succeeded in many ways but they must take Aleppo in order to really start making changes. According to Burhan Ghalioun, a member of the Syrian National Council currently in Paris, if the rebels take Aleppo “there will be nothing more that will stand in the way of the Free Syrain Army. Hama, Homs, to the outskirts of Damascus have in large part been liberated.”
Image Courtesy of Omar Chatriwala