Neighbors / Stars of the Revolution

In Syria, a murdered singer/sloganeer and cartoonist are carrying the flag for the anti-regime demonstrations in Hama. But where are all the other artists?

The bullet-riddled body floating in the al-Assi river near the city of Hama in Syria shook the residents of the entire country. This was not merely yet another victim of the murderous acts of Syrian President Bashar Assad's soldiers or the thugs who work for the state: It was the body of Ibrahim Kashush.

Just as in any protest, such as in Egypt or Yemen, so also in Syria there was a young person at the head who had lent his poetic talents to the cause. He was the one holding a megaphone, with his head sometimes clearly visible and other times covered so that he could hide from the cameras of the security forces, and he was the one who shouted out the songs and slogans that aroused the crowd and which shortly after became the rallying cries of the revolt.

Ibrahim kashush Syria protest hero

Kashush was the leader of the mass protests in Hama, and his supporters recorded him and spread his hoarse-voiced sloganeering across Syria, making him one of the symbols of the revolt.

"The murderers understood the threat conveyed by Kashush's deeds," Husam Itani wrote in an article in his memory published on the Al-Arabiya website. It was quoted on dozens of other Syrian Web sites. "Hundreds of thousands of people memorized and chanted his slogans as they laughed, clapped their hands and rejoiced as if the slogans had come from their own throats. His voice became the voice that united the demonstrators in Hama, in Syria and in all the Arab countries who rejected the repressive regimes, the torture, the arrests and the disappearances of people. Against the regimes that sell illusions."

When news spread of Kashush's murder, the singer's supporters quickly started a Facebook page under the title, "We are all Ibrahim Kashush," where they published pictures of his corpse and wrote poems in his memory while new slogans against the regime decorated the page.

Now the Syrians too have a popular hero who "made fun of the symbols of the regime, revealed its shamefulness and laughed at it loudly and with the words that came from the heart of every regular Syrian citizen," as one of the surfers wrote in his eulogy.

Making a mockery of the regime and smashing its symbols is something that will never be forgiven. The well-known Syrian caricaturist, Ali Ferzat, was well aware of this. On his home page, he devoted a moving illustration to the death of Kashush. In it, Kashush is depicted as a naive boy holding a flute while the blood that flows from his throat forms the shape of a musical note in the sand.

Like Kashush, Ferzat was born in Hama; he has published more than 15,000 caricatures in most of the important newspapers of the Middle East and Europe and has won numerous prizes.

When Bashar Assad rose to power in 2000, in a rare gesture to the public discourse, he allowed Ferzat to open a satirical newspaper called Al Dumeri, after the name of a popular folk hero who lit street lamps.

It was the first independent newspaper since the Baath revolution of 1963 and when its first edition was published, with 50,000 copies, it was snatched up within a few hours. But after a few short years it was closed because of the heavy censorship imposed by the regime.

Now Ferzat draws wicked caricatures against the regime and he has has placed himself unambiguously on the side of the protesters. In the past, he refrained from drawing Bashar Assad and preferred to depict him by intimation, but now he has made it clear that Assad is not exempt from appearing in his caricatures and for the first time, he has drawn him in the role of the person responsible for repression in Syria.

In one caricature, Ferzat depicts a representative of the regime, with a big belly and carrying a revolver, grabbing the neck of a skinny citizen next to a pile of placards that he intended to distribute to the public, which call for democracy.

"When I say through a dialogue, I mean through a dialogue," the fat man shouts at the skinny citizen as he throws him off his broken chair.

"Through a dialogue" is the new subject that is being mocked in Syria and it refers to the regime's initiative to hold a national dialogue with the protest movements in order to reach agreement over reforms.

Nobody believes in the dialogue, which just serves as a cover for the regime to demonstrate good while murdering opponents.

Blacklisting actors

However, Ferzat's caricatures, Kashush's slogans, the songs, the sketches and the literary blogs that are being published on the Internet have still not brought the culture heroes of the uprising in Syria onto the streets. They are still in hiding. At a time when no one knows yet which direction the demonstrations will take, what the position will be of the United States and Europe and what Assad's fate is likely to be, they feel it is best to wait and keep quiet.

"Where are you, Duraid Laham, Abbas el-Nouri, and Rashid Assaf - have you said a word? You are all chasing after series on TV and roles in movies," somebody posted on the Internet, chiding the Syrian actors. "We are all supporters of Kinda Alloush," the poster added, referring to a celebrity actress who dared to express her support for the protesters.

Alloush also signed the so-called Aleppo petition that called on the authorities to provide food and medicines to children in the town of Daraa after the Syrian army besieged it and would not allow supplies to be brought there.

Alloush was the object of severe criticism from the regime and its media outlets but this has not prevented her from continuing to participate in filming a TV series that will be broadcast during Ramadan, a series which for the time being does not deal with the demonstrations and the civil revolt.

Her supporters on Facebook are currently preparing a black list of artists who are keeping mum and have not joined the protests. This phenomenon was also seen in Egypt, where the demonstrators prepared lists of artists to be boycotted because they had not expressed sympathy for the protesters or because they sided with the regime.

A similar kind of accounting by the demonstrators is starting to take place now in Syria where intellectuals and artists are bearing the brunt of the wrath against the immovable regime.