There seems to be a disconnect between the grim headlines in the Syrian Regime’s Sana news agency about children killed in a rebel attack on a school, and a concurrent call on youths by a radio station of the same regime to come out and party.
The party, sponsored by the government’s Voice of the Youth station and the Damascus Laugh 18 Facebook page is planned as a massive disco bash in a main square of Damascus.
The five children who died during what Sana described as a terrorist attack on a school in Daraa Tuesday, were among the latest fatalities in a toll well above 400,000 in the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. Their deaths coincide with an alarming daily toll from Syrian Air Force and Russian bombings, including recently of hospitals in besieged eastern Aleppo.
Still, some people close to the Assad regime think the time has come to revel.
Damascus Laugh 18, the Facebook page, proclaims that the Friday event – known as Let’s Dance Syria – will be “the strongest festival in Syria, you’ll see many surprises, stay with us, tell us how you prepare. On Friday, you’ll see the strongest Syrian bands,” it promises.
“We’re going to change Umayyad Square into a disco,” the organizers add. As of Thursday afternoon 3,704 people were registered on Facebook as planning to go to the event. But many Facebook users, including supporters of the regime, think the partying is in bad taste.
“In any country in the world where there are victims and bloodshed in one city from war, attack or disaster, the other cities support her financially and morally,” wrote Helal Nasser. “Is this a kind of solidarity with the other ravaged cities in Syria?” If the bash takes place as planned, it will be the second major party encouraged by the regime within a week. On October 8 several thousand mostly young people turned out for the “I love Damascus” festival, also in Umayyad Square. Many in the crowd, sporting I love Damascus T-shirts and with painted faces, danced and cheered to upbeat music, as purple and orange dust swirled around them and colored balloons were released in the air. Judging from a film clip distributed by organizers, people seemed genuinely relaxed and happy.
An organizer interviewed in the clip said “We are looking forward to 2017. We are happy in the protection of the Syrian Arab army.”
Indeed, the not-too-subtle message of the regime-backed parties seems to be: We are defeating the terrorists (the rebels) and winning the war.
The parties come after a string of Syrian army victories on the battlefield, including the surrender of Daraya near Damascus after a protracted siege, and assessments in the regime media that the fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo is within reach.
Further boosting Syrian spirits is the realization that Damascus has unflinching Russian support, while the US – its attention diverted to the presidential campaign – remains indecisive and ineffective in its backing for the rebels. The Syrian regime thinks it will win the war.
Scenes of enjoyment and normal life are meant to accentuate this sense of growing victory. That explains why regime television shows shots of people eating out at restaurants in Damascus.
“A glorious day – we are alive,” said text accompanying a post on YouTube of the “I love Damascus” event.
“This is sweet, you feel your country,” said a festival goer.
But most Facebook comments were negative.
“Respect for the martyrs of the two sides means there should not be such a festival,” wrote Mais al-Sham.
In defense of the festival, Mataz Dabana wrote, “The money went to charity.”
But even regime supporters were sharply critical, though it was not clear if they were writing from inside or outside of Syria. “I personally cannot understand the reason for this activity, it’s miserable.
How do you do these things while there are those who defend the nation and you aren’t ashamed of yourselves?” Remon Mkhloof wrote. “How do you do it when you see who sleeps standing and who has his hand on the gun hammer and his eye on the enemy ambushing all of us? There are soldiers waiting to be with their families.”
Abdal-Hadi Jarad wrote of the plans for dancing, “What nonsense is this dancing, there should be a festival for reading. We don’t need dancing. We need awareness.
Shaking your belly is nonsense. All societies take from other societies positive and the negative things. Except for us. We only take the negative.”
Ismail Bilal posted a picture of a youth at the I Love Damascus festival, his chest coated in orange dust, standing next to a smiling young woman. Next to it he posted a picture of dusty-looking soldiers.
“The dust of honor,” he captioned the picture of soldiers. “The dust of prostitution,” he wrote under the youth’s picture.
Samir Tabaa termed the planned disco “an imitation of Europe. It’s an irresponsible act.”
But Ola Mohammed wrote, “We will enjoy it.”
Rawan Damashqu wrote, “Let’s dance baby,” but she put an icon of a frowning face next to the words.