In Damascu’s Sabaa Bahrat neighbourhood, one billboard proclaims: “We won’t close our eyes until we have said yes to the ophthalmologist” – Assad is an eye specialist by training – “We vote for you, 2014”. Elsewhere, posters read “our Bashar, we will not accept a president other than you. We have chosen you, you have our loyalty”. The campaign is also flooding online media with messages of support for Assad – by the first morning, the Facebook account had garnered 65,000 likes and the Twitter account nearly 1,000 followers. Cars cruising the capital’s streets blast patriotic songs as their passengers fly the national flag and photos of Assad.
Already in May 2011, Syrian authorities launched an impressive campaign calling for support of the Syrian President much more “modern” than the electoral campaigns of 2000 and 2007, when it came to both the tone and the means. The (paternalistic) message remained essentially the same – the President was the only one capable of saving the country in flux -, but the language was closer to the Syrian youth’s dialect and the visual elements looked much more modern and even felt kind of Westernised (something ironic if we take into account that Syria was already accusing the West of unconsciously supporting the rebels).
The 2014 campaign is for the first time a professional campaign. It’s a campaign that has resorted to all useful means – not only banners and pamphlets, but also TV ads, social media, electoral merchandising, and even a new patriotic tune. It’s a campaign that, instead of “shelling” potential voters with a crystal-clear message, has opted for the technique of exciting their curiosity by releasing simple images and videos that do not try to convey an instruction but to arouse their patriotic sentiment.
Moreover, it’s an incredibly modest campaign that does not make use of inflammatory statements like the ones Assad used to harangue its constituency with. Instead, and with either a dispassionate – in light blue (like his tie-less shirt) or light grey – background (chromatography is the key to any good advertisement!) the campaign rather conveys a message of tranquillity – the calm only Assad is able to guarantee. No signs of the violence and soldiers – from one side or the other – that are nowadays ravaging the country whatsoever.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the wisest feature is its choice of name: Sawa (Together in Arabic) that stresses the role the Syrian people – especially those who have remained by the regime’s side – are playing throughout the conflict. The motto also obliterates, up to a certain extent, the figure of the presidential candidate, which in certain banners is only suggested through a mere handwritten signature. Neither the Syrian individual nor Assad himself are the one who vote, rebuild the country and fight against terrorism. It’s the people – a collective “we” – who does all this, who keeps the Syrian spirit alive. The people, as the campaign videos show, composed of men and women, of children and elder, of builders and teachers, of the elite and the peasants – stressing the proud legacy of the Baathist socialist imaginary. As a matter of fact, some of these videos make the same mistake as many campaign against the regime, exploiting the innocence of children (the ones who will really have to rebuild the country) who aim to represent the purity of the advertiser. Even the titles of the videos- “Together Stronger”, “Together, we will build it”, “Together, it returns more beautiful”, “Together against Terrorism” – are carefully pick, for they play on the gigantic tasks the likely winner will face after the vote. Tasks for which his regime won’t have enough money to – paradoxically, whichever foreign power foots the bill will most likely demand a political price. In truth, the videos depict what the Syrian people will do once the war has finished – once the war is won.