Syria, like Libya, is losing the information war. It became evident from the very beginning of the "Arab spring in Syrian way." The official response of the Syrian authorities and the media at times is even more harmful for the regime than the mere silence.
The author of this material, who was in Syria, had a chance to witness total inefficiency and even harm of the Syrian official propaganda.
On November 20, Arabic-speaking Western and Israeli media have announced that the main residence of the ruling party Ba'ath became the object of attack by the fighters who allegedly shot it with a grenade launcher. They presented it as the first major militant attack of the opposition in the Syrian capital.
It is significant that in the interpretation of this event both sides overdid it. According to the official "line", no attack on the headquarters of the Ba'ath took place. According to the "Syrian resistance," there was a "successful foray against the citadel of the regime."
It is significant enough that the receiving party, after getting messages about the events around the central office of the Ba'ath kindled a desire to debunk the "myth" of its opponents and take me, the international observer, to the scene, so I could make sure that "all is quiet in Damascus."
The irony was that the representatives of the Syrian side told me of the "new information attack" in the early morning on November 20. However, the aforesaid visit took place only late at night, as allegedly the authorities did not approve of the work of the media.
Bringing our group to the main office of the Ba'ath Party, the Syrian side tried hard to convince us that "there was nothing there." The proof, in their opinion, was the fact there were no obvious signs of damage on the building. However, the delegation was not allowed inside of the building and even behind the fence, while all other doors were open, including the presidential residence.
I decided to cross check information from other sources. Among those involved were local bloggers, including pro-government, as well as some employees of the Russian embassy in Damascus, who had been on the scene shortly after the reports of the attack. Although these people did not know each other, their information agreed that the attack on the main office of Ba'ath headquarters still occurred, albeit not on such a scale as presented by the opponents of the regime.
According to their version, the attackers drove by at high speed on a motor vehicle to the building from a distance and made two shots from a grenade, then quickly withdrew. At least one of fragmentation grenades hit the window and exploded inside the office, without causing serious injuries. However, it took some time to fix them, and, apparently, this caused the delay with a visit to Ba'ath.
Perhaps it would not be worth dwelling on this incident if it were not indicative of the response of the authorities who still did their best to show that nothing serious is happening in the country and that the situation is under their complete control. Syrian officials in this case clearly had a goal as to in no way shake the image of Damascus as the citadel and stronghold of al-Assad.
In their view, any attempt at the symbol of power, even symbolic firing from a distance at the headquarters of the Ba'ath Party is a testament to the weakness of the regime. However, the actions of terrorists who carried out the attack were designed to show that "we can!"
However, by their willingness to silence these facts the officials make it seem that the radical opposition is gaining ground every day. Meanwhile, it would have been more advantageous for example, to present the opposition as punks who smash the glass in the teachers' office with a slingshot, not capable of more serious action.
In contrast, explicit attempts to hush it up only generate suspicion about actions of the Syrian authorities. Indeed, the case of attack at the main office of Ba'ath is just one of many illustrations of the ineffectiveness of the Syrian authorities in terms of information warfare. Take, for example, Homs, whose events are presented by the official Damascus in a very strange way.
In any case, until recently, the authorities sought to generally ignore the fact that not only attacks of the militants occur, but that the situation is increasingly slipping into bloody sectarian violence unleashed by the Islamists. "The main thing is to observe tolerance and keep the interfaith peace in the country!" This is the leitmotif of the Syrian authorities that looks like a behavior of an ostrich hiding his head in the sand.
The representatives of the Syrian authorities are beginning to recognize the inability to effectively counter the enemy in the information war. During my meeting with the Governor of Aleppo Ibrahim Hallyuf he complained that over 50 international channels are working against Syria, and that it is extremely difficult for the Syrians to oppose it.
However, the reality is not that hopeless. After all, there are losses where the government could have played proactively and demonized the opponent. First, they need to work more actively with journalists in their territory and to relieve them of excessive care of special services, which sometimes exceed all limits. Second, they have to more actively use magazines and social networks like Facebook.
Syrians already have successful experience of their use in the failed attempts to the opposition and its foreign backers to destabilize the situation in Damascus and Aleppo. Now, however, they should strengthen this practice for the Arabic and English-speaking audience outside of Syria.
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