Syria: 99 Problems but having enough pictures of Bashar Al Assad ain’t one.

While on the motorway from Damascus to Latakia I tried to see if I could go half an hour without seeing Bashar’s visage. I lasted 30 seconds.

I find them fascinating, not just the proliferation, but the variety. Bashar in a suit, staring into the middle distance, Bashar in military uniform and aviators, Basher with Daddy Al Assad, Bashar flanked by Daddy Al Assad and the late Basil Al Assad. There’s enough material for a whopping thesis on political photography. Interestingly, Egypt which has a similar political set up, does not have the same love of presidential portraiture.

Syria differs from Egypt in other ways too. The poverty is not so glaring, but then neither is the wealth and the foreign investment. Money speaks quietly, and usually in Arabic, as Syrians don’t care for English that much.

When I mention Syria to other Muslims, they often sigh romantically, picturing some mystical land of Islamic scholarship. The truth of course, is some what different.

We tut tut about Muslim majority countries and their failings to be as Islamic as we’d imagine ourselves to be if we were the religious majority, but I think if I lived full time in most of these countries, I’d want plenty of escapism via satellite television too.

I compare the U.K with Egypt and Syria (as these are where I have visited). It’s not that the U.K has greater luxuries, in fact it’s the boring everyday elements. Reliable utilities, Universal health care, public maintenance of amenities, being able to achieve most administrative tasks without having to spend a whole day queuing for some man to blow smoke in my face and be wilfully rude and unhelpful.

And yet, one also has to see the benefits Islam has brought to these societies. Most of the population has been spared the evils of alcohol and gambling, which maybe explains why even the poor areas, don’t look like something out of Dawn of the Dead, as they do in the U.K.

I still feel like Islam is such a gift to the world, but I’m at a loss at to the best way to make it shine.


12 Responses

  1. I visited Syria in 2000, and I was humbled by the impoverished living conditions, the little 1-room cinder block dwellings at the edge of the already simple-living villages. But, like you, I also noted their dignity. They were neat and clean, not trashy and dirty.
    We enjoyed tipping the waiters in the restaurants and the shoe-shine boys…they weren’t expecting tips, so their surprise was a pleasure to see. They would have done back-flips to go above and beyond their already cordial and generous style of service to make us happy. They were adorable!

  2. we are blessed with islam, yet we suffer ignorance!

  3. I heard Martyrs Square is even worse than when I was there last. I love Damascus.

  4. Islam is so much better then this.
    Islam has proven to be the best way.
    Syria needs to come back to Islam.

  5. I hope you write more about your impressions. How was it with DH’s family? Any issues with traveling cuz of the pregnancy? Hope you are feeling well.

  6. Are you in Latakia? My old pal from AL is there…if you are still there let me know and I’ll hook you up. Very sweet.

  7. Salaam Alaikum,

    Thanks for the comments everyone

    Lucky Fatima – Aside from having huge feet on the verge of popping and being ordered to get a letter from the airport doctor to fly home, i didn’t have any problems. Alhamdulilah, Mr Outlines’ family are lovely and I was absolutely spoiled rotten.

    Umm Farouq – I was further down the coast in Umm Tyroor. Thanks for the hook up though. I would like to visit Latakia, it looked rather glossy when we were driving through.

  8. Presidential portraiture in Egypt is very weird, the slummier the place the less you find pictures of His Royal H President Mubarak. Honestly though, I could still pick out Egyptologist Dr Zahi Hawass from a line-up but not Abu Gamal.

    Everytime I see Hawass on TV I yell “look honey! its the President of Egypt!”

  9. Salaam Alaikum,

    I think it may be because the only appearance contest Hosni could win would be a Hugo Chavez lookalike competition.

  10. Salaam,

    Very well written! My family was vacationing in Syria at the time of Bassil Al Assad’s death, and I remember asking my dad (very loudly and while pointing at a picture of him) if he was Syria’s Most Wanted. LOL!!
    The one thing I disagree on though, and I hate to have to say this, is that alcoholism is much more widespread than meets the eye. It’s been building for some time, but recently there has been an upsurge in forgoing Islam for the sake of being, what they refer to as, ‘free.’ (As in “Her mom is so free, she lets her have guy friends over!” Or “She’s so free she smokes in public.”) Disgusting misuse of the word freedom, in my opinion. And, furthermore, they only use the word in english only. LOL.
    So the gift Allah blessed the Arabs with is being shunned outright (to make sure my point goes across right, I’m referring to the last Prophet not Islam). They’re turning against their own past and heritage, and yet they wonder at why the world turns against them and fails to understand them. The entire issue is too complex to go into, but I think you understand what it is I’m saying 🙂
    These are sad, sad times we’re coming to. I hate to think what the Prophet would say seeing his Ummah today 😦


  11. Salaam Alaikum,

    Souvenirs and Scars – I think it doesn’t help that Basil is always portrayed wearing a big pair of aviators, very gangster!

    I figured that problems like substance abuse do exist in Syria, they are just more under the radar then in the U.K. I would be very interested in seeing some statistics, but I imagine they’d be pretty hard to get hold of.

  12. I actually come from Syria but live in the UK, I travel there frequently and I have actually been able to make the same comparission. People here in the UK, the poor ones in most cases resort to crime and violence with family relations breaking down. However, the poor people in syria try to enjoy life and use families as a way of support, things such as lying and cheating are looked down on whereas gangsters here are looked up to.
    I agree with you that Islam is a great religion with fantastic and extremley moral preachings but is very badly practised by many people and is portrayed to the outside world through an evil and vicious light.
    The thing stopping syria from improving is the corruption of the government and not the people. Bashar al-assad’s pictures are seen so many times because people will get promoted in their jobs if they respect the government, and in most cases not out of love. He has not been elected he inherited presidency after the death of his father although he was a medical doctor. When a president is not ellected and there is only one party up for election then the improvment of their contry’s welfare is not of primary importance as they know that they own their presidency spot untill their death when their child will take over.
    I love syria and the people there it is a friendly and loving country and will reccomend it to anyone thinking of a holiday. Only problem is the internal government corruption.

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