What planet is Syria on?

Understandably, Syrian government is in need of hard cash, given poor state of economy after five years of civil strife.

2016/09/11 Issue: 72 Page: 3

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

The Syrian government has produced a video advertisement in a feeble attempt to attract tourists — and their hard currencies — hoping to convince them to spend some of their time and much of their money in Syria.

If the situation was not so tragic, this story could pass for comical but, alas, this is no laughing matter. It makes one wonder what those responsible were hoping to achieve. Did they really believe they could attract tourists to a country plagued by the presence of terrorists along with all the associated activities that this encompasses?

Either way, clearly those responsible are far removed from reality and are living on another planet.

True, vacationing in Syria guarantees the visitor daily sunshine and warm weather. At the same time there is a good chance of possible light showers of artillery shells, mortars, the occasional sprinkling of internationally banned chemical agents, possible kidnappings and demands for ransom along with the usual inconveniences of war.

The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad had the audacity to produce a promotional video spot advertising the country’s miles of sandy beaches along the warm waters of the Mediterranean. The short clip — 1 minute, 43 seconds long — is titled Syria Always Beautiful and was produced by the Syrian Tourism Board.

Understandably, the Syrian government is in need of hard cash, given the poor state of the economy after five years of civil strife that has left the country in dire economic straits. The near destruction of a number of major cities, such as Hama and Homs, and, of course, the country’s principal commercial centre, Aleppo, where battles continue to rage.

Many of the country’s tradi­tional tourist sites have been taken over by terrorists. Treasures of the past, historic vestiges of humanity, were purposely destroyed by gunmen of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Of course the ad makes no mention of the tragic civil war that has turned what was once a beautiful country into an insane inferno.

The video depicts sunbathers and swimmers enjoying the warm waters of the Mediterranean while others ride jet skis, very likely not far from where Russian forces have established a foothold.

Nary a word of the 400,000- 500,000 — many of them civilians — killed in the war. Not a mention of the 4 million-5 million Syrians who have emigrated to Europe, Turkey or neighbouring Arab countries. Not a word about the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been rendered home­less by the war or of those who have been scarred physically or emotionally by the violence.

The attempt to attract tourists to Syria when the country is practically overrun by terrorists makes one wonder what the government was banking on. What are the odds of a foreign tourist visiting Syria these days, taking into account the realities on the ground?

Consider this: The presence of Syrian armed forces on the war footing, the dispatch of Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon, revolutionary guards from Iran, the occasional car bombs explod­ing in various parts of the country, the presence of Russian troops assisting the Syrian government fighting opposition forces.

The Syrian opposition, which includes conflicting sides from a wide variety of factions, precari­ous alliances that pop up like a nasty outbreak of acne, foreign fighters who include various Islamist groups and fighters who have flocked to Syria from Europe, the Caucasus and other parts of the world to support the revolt.

With that in mind, what are the chances of finding anyone brave enough or rather ignorant enough to spend vacation time in Syria today, no matter how beautiful it may have been at one time?

In essence, the ad illustrates perhaps the schism that exists between the government in Syria and those governed. This differ­ence of views and opinions is what lies at the root of the agreements that eventually led to the condi­tion that took the country into the civil conflict it is living through.

This video advertisement is a microcosm of Syria, showing all that is amiss in the country.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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