A Syrian man reads the daily state-run newspaper Tishrin in a cafe decorated with portraits of President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus
The Syrian government has spent a lot of time either denying reports of popular rallies in the streets or accusing the demonstrators of being an armed insurgency and part of a foreign conspiracy. If all the popular rage was imaginary, then what protests was Syrian President Bashar Assad talking about when he said that rallies will not be tolerated after the 1963 Emergency Law is lifted?
Since the outbreak of unrest on 15 March, the official Syrian account of events has been very distorted, and even the distorted version is full of contradictory narratives. During the first weeks, Syria's state-owned TV and newspapers insisted that there were no protests of any sort. Then, in his speech before parliament, Assad said a foreign conspiracy aimed at igniting civil war in Syria by sending incendiary SMS messages to one sect and a different set of messages to another.
Meanwhile, the official Syrian propaganda was adamant on proving that security forces were not shooting at rallies. It was simply an armed confrontation between an "armed gang" and security personnel. Syrian TV showed arms and money, allegedly found on the conspirators in the southern town of Dara’a. Then there was an Egyptian-American who was arrested and later released. After that Syrian TV showed presumed culprits "confessing " that they were promised arms and money by Lebanese lawmaker Jamal Jarrah, member of former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri's bloc. The culprits said Jarrah had promised to smuggle from Lebanon arms, money and tanks.
Then stories started surfacing of the death of Syrian troops and officers. While Syrians on social media reported that the deaths were summary executions of soldiers who refused to shoot at demonstrators, the Syrian media insisted that military personnel were targeted by "terrorists" and "insurgents." On 17 April, the website of the Syrian interior ministry reported that Assad planned to release all those arrested against the backdrop of recent "events." Whether the events were a foreign conspiracy, a civil war, or an insurgency, the site did not say.
The Syrian propaganda machine has been trying to skew every bit of news. By putting the different contradictory accounts together, the line of events in Syria would look something like this: There are no protests in Syria, but a foreign conspiracy, with arms smuggled from Lebanon, that is targeting Syrian officers and soldiers, while President Assad rushes to implement reform, after which the non-existent protests will not be tolerated.
The confusion of the official Syrian media in reporting events is evident. Keeping international media out of Syria only adds insult to injury and makes the world suspect that there is something in Syria that the regime wants to hide.