Assad's New Message to the World: War Aside, Visit Syria!

Regime announces raft of tourism projects in civil war-torn country.

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Haaretz
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Men carry belongings after halt in fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad's forces in Homs, May 9, 2014.
Men carry belongings after halt in fighting between rebels and President Bashar Assad's forces in Homs, May 9, 2014. Credit: Reuters
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Haaretz

It's business as usual in Syria, according to the Assad regime: Not only will there be a national election on Tuesday, but the country – whose civil war has killed over 150,000 citizens and turned more than 2 million of them into refugees – is a booming tourist attraction.

The New Republic reports that in May, Damascus rolled out a plan to develop a public beach, complete with fast-food restaurant and café for more than 200 patrons, in Latakia, where government forces fought off advancing Islamist rebels in March.

Other tourism programs included a hotel with Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room in Hama, located on the Homs-Hama road, which was bombed by the Free Syrian Army in April.

Before the civil war began three years ago, tourism was a vital, growing source of income for the country. In 2010, the year before the fighting began, the industry employed 11 percent of the country's labor force and accounted for 12 percent of GDP. By last year, though, the number of tourists was down by 95 percent, 370 tourist facilities had closed, and nearly everyone who'd worked in the sector was unemployed.

Yet it is the industry's recent prosperity that may be the real reason the Assad regime is promoting these projects: not because it actually intends to build them, but to remind Syrians of how good, supposedly, things were for them before the rebels raised their heads. The success of this PR campaign, of course, depends on Syrians having an extremely selective memory – but horrific times do tend to make people long for the good old days, such as they were.

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