White House propaganda

instagram.com/syrianpresidency
instagram.com/syrianpresidency

When Bashar al-Assad joined Instagram last week, US media waged an intifada lambasting the embattled Syrian president for his “propaganda” effort.

“Instagram becomes latest propaganda tool for Syria’s embattled president,” read the headline in the Washington Post.

“This Is What It Looks Like When A Brutal Dictator Starts Using Instagram,” said BuzzFeed.

“Syrian President Assad’s Desperate Instagram Feed,” wrote the Daily Beast.

“Syrian president recruits Instagram in ongoing propaganda war,” said The Verge.

“Bashar Assad’s Instagram Is Every Bit The Propaganda You’d Expect From The Syrian President’s Social Media Minions,” said the always elaborate Huffington Post.

instagram.com/petesouza
instagram.com/petesouza

Around that same time White House photographer Pete Souza, a former photojournalist with Chicago newspapers hired by the president in 2009, also joined Instagram.

Here’s how some of those headlines read:

“White House photographer debuts Instagram account,” said the Washington Post.

“White House Photographer Joins Instagram And It’s Amazing,” said BuzzFeed.

“Turning Politics to Art: WH Photog Launches Instagram Account,” said Time magazine, which was lucky to land an interview with Souza soon after.

But Time didn’t ask the former news photographer how he feels now that he’s surrendered all independence and is getting paid to disseminate images of the president that the US government wants us to see. Instead Souza was asked about Bo, the White House dog.

“The Instagrams of Bo are excellent – how is he as a subject?”

Followed by this hard-hitting question:

“Are you going to do any selfies?”

There’s a very simple explanation for why we’re not going to see Obama signing his secret weekly kill lists or operating drones over civilian areas in Pakistan, just as we’re not going to see images of Assad  shelling homes in Aleppo or the underground detention centers where opposition activists are held. Both men (and their respective staffs) control what is allowed to be published on these social media platforms.

I don’t disagree that Assad’s Instagram account is propaganda, it clearly is. But let’s not kid ourselves that Obama’s account is anything different. So why aren’t US media calling it that?

Al-Assad in Hamra

The chants of “with our souls, with our blood, we will redeem you oh Bashar,” have become as regular as the ringing of the bells at St. Francis church on the main strip in the Hamra area of Beirut. Every Sunday the upscale neighborhood where Lebanese and foreign tourists can be seen sipping coffee in one of the many sidewalk cafes is transformed into a rally in support of Bashar al-Assad and his embattled regime.

The mood was different today. The hundreds of protesters, both Syrian and Lebanese, were angry and more defiant than normal. Yesterday, the Arab League suspended Syria and called on the regime to stop the violent crackdown against ongoing anti-government protests that began in March. Many protesters in Syria have called for action and solidarity from foreign governments, while the government and its supporters claim the eight months of demonstrations are a “conspiracy” by Western powers.

The weekly protests, that I’ve written about before, happen while Syrian activists seeking refuge in Lebanon say they’re under attack and don’t feel safe. (For more read this report on AJE: Syrian activists’ dangerous haven in Lebanon)


Lebanon: al-Assad in Hamra – Images by Matthew Cassel

Beirut Solidarity with Syria

A pro-Bashar protester carries a Syrian flag outside the Syrian embassy in Beirut. (image: Matthew Cassel)

In Beirut, showing solidarity with Syria is easy as long as it’s with the regime and not the people protesting in the streets.

Today, a call went out by activists in Beirut for a 5:00PM demonstration in solidarity with protesters in Syria. I arrived right on time thinking there would be a small group of solidarity protesters gathered. As usual, there were plenty of plenty of uniformed Lebanese security forces, along with plainclothes officers, Lebanese and also Syrians from the embassy. I heard a demonstration coming from around the corner and thought maybe it was the solidarity demonstration that had been called for. But as the demonstration neared I heard, “God, Syria and Bashar [al-Assad] only!” A group of around 75 Syrians, mostly workers in Lebanon, came carrying pictures of their president and marched to the front of their embassy like they’ve been doing regularly over the past few weeks.

Wondering where the solidarity protesters were, I looked around and found a dozen or so activists who I recognized off to the side. Some told me that people in civilian clothes were calling them “agents” (meaning Israeli agents) when a few of them tried to gather outside the embassy minutes earlier. As I stood with them, three men carrying cameras and wearing civilian clothes walked up to us. Two took still pictures and a third shot video. The activists were clearly offended, some walked away covering their faces and others shouted at the men to stop taking their picture. After one of the men persisted, a female activist went up to him and demanded that he delete her picture.

The man walked away into the crowd and the woman chased after him, at one point even kicking him in his ass, literally, as he tried to get away. He eventually tried to make his way into the embassy when she grabbed him. She called for the police to intervene, but none of them did. Finally, she made a big enough scene that a high-ranking officer came over and took them both off to the side where she made the man delete the images he had taken of her.

At one point three activists (see below) were brave enough to pull out signs and were immediately shouted against by the pro-Bashar crowd. After ten minutes or so they left, and so had the others who had come out for the solidarity demonstration. Walking away one of the protesters told me, “that’s the last time we’ll try to demonstrate outside the Syrian embassy.”

Pro-Bashar Syrians chant against three people demonstrating in solidarity with protesters in Syria. (image: Matthew Cassel)

Two of the demonstrators in solidarity with demonstrators in Syria. Sign on left reads, 'No to violence, No to repression, No to extremism.' (image: Matthew Cassel)