Why is State media reporting “bustling markets” in Damascus, even as activists report shelling? Look to reconstruction and propaganda. And look to Iran.
Activists reported heavy regime shelling and clashes in Damascus neighborhoods on Wednesday — this video shows an attack in the Qaboun district, which has been under heavy fire for some time:
Syrian State media tell a completely different story, however. According to State news agency SANA, not only is all well in Damascus, but the capital is “vibrant” and its markets “bustling”.
It the latest of series of “all is well” photo-stories, SANA says that Damascenes are “hasting to buy their needs” ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. In the images, Syrian women seek fashion bargains in glittering stores, while others window-shop; families take leisurely strolls, stopping to buy street-food; children delight in the cornucopias of brightly-colored toys proffered by smiling street vendors.
All is bustling, then — except in Qaboun:
Or Al Qadam:
Or Damascus City:
Or in the Yarmouk Camp:
Nor does it look like people from the Damascus countryside will be taking part in family shopping days in the city center soon:
Wednesday’s “Shopping In Damascus” report is the latest portrayal of Syria as a normal, even prosperous country, whose government is in full control.
In recent weeks, SANA has reported on the Bab Srijeh ancient Bazaar in Damascus , attracting thousands; the 2013 Coast “Homeland Message” Summer Festival, featuring the “civilized face and cultural heritage of Syria through which we announce the alphabet of life”; and Arwad Island, which is “distinguished by a unique strategic location opposite Tartous port”.
And, speaking of Tartous, who could forget its Summer Festival with dozens of people admiring “traditional hand-embroidered floral wall hangings” and Persian carpets?
Or indeed the highlights featured in our “Syria Special: State Media Say Food Plentiful, Peasants Happy, Beaches Tranquil“.
Such State media reports seem ludicrous, misguided, and even callous in the face of daily death and destruction.
So why does SANA attempt to convince its readers that “All Is Well”?
A hint of an answer can be found in this report from July 24, in which Tourism Minister Hala al-Nasser says that the government must focus on “Syria’s national heritage and accentuate traditional handicrafts in upcoming tourism activities and festivals”.
And why this focus? Nasser speaks of reconstruction and propaganda:
Holding tourism festivals helps show the reality of the situation in Syria and expose the lies of malicious channels…. [Nasser] asserted that the tourism sector will be at the forefront of the sectors that will witness a resurgence in Syria.
Which other country has focused on “reconstruction and propaganda” — both at home and for its allies?
As EA has noted, while many analysts have focussed on Iran’s military aid to Syria, few have examined the other ways in which the Islamic Republic is assisting the Assad regime:
Iran watchers will likely experience a sense of deja-vu as they read SANA English — after all, this relentless all-is-well propaganda resembles nothing so much as its Iranian counterpart. And that is no coincidence — while a great deal of fat has been chewed in the Western media about the Revolutionary Guards’ possible military interventions in Syria, the Islamic Republic has openly admitted one area in which its elite forces are active — the media.
Last November, Fars News — close to the Revolutionary Guards and in many ways its mouthpiece — opened a bureau in Damascus to “cover events in Syria and present a realistic view of them”.
As well as reporting from Syria, Fars signed a cooperation agreement with SANA to share information, which, as Fars’ director Sayyed Nizameddin Mousavi put it “affirm[ed] that media cooperation between Syria and Iran will relay the truth to the world.”