by Elie Chalala. It is amazing how the Syrian regime orders its priorities at a time when an armada of allied forces daily bombards its territory. Nothing appears to restrain Assad’s war against his people. He ignores with equal facility the "global war," ceded daily to ISIS, the blood of 200,000 martyrs, the displacement of millions, and the reflexive, cynical destruction of some of civilization’s most ancient cities. Apparently, none of these facts have any power to instill sense into the Assad clique, otherwise why would they choose to pursue Mrs. Asala Nasri, an anti-Assad artist, singer and UN peace ambassador to the Middle East?
One would think a regime boasting a genocidal resume would not waste time on “petty politics” such as pressuring its Lebanese cronies to arrest Asala Nasri. On Wednesday, September 24, the singer arrived at Lebanon’s International Airport ahead of a scheduled appearance on the popular television show “Star Academy,” only to have her passport seized by authorities, after which they immediately arrested her, subjecting the artist to investigation, and then consigning her to house arrest. Though the Lebanese authorities actually carried out this travesty they did so at the behest of the Syrian “government,” who, last year, requested Nasri’s detainment based on her alleged contacts with an unnamed “enemy.”
Since the “investigation” apparently yielded no evidence of these contacts, none found it surprising that the Lebanese quickly dropped all charges, suspending the singer’s house arrest, and returning her passport. However, the fact that the incident took place at all speaks volumes about the Syrian regime’s increasing desperation.
In the age of the Assads’ dictatorships, anything goes and Asala Nasri becomes a traitor for dealing with a phantom “enemy.” Mrs. Nasri traveled to Palestine last year, the first Syrian artist to do so since 1967, at the invitation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who, during that period, was stressing the importance of Arab artists demonstrating support by visiting and performing in the Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, the regime’s two brutal attacks on Palestinian camps are conveniently forgotten. One took place just a year ago at Al Yarmouk, whose residents sought fatwas to eat dogs, cats and donkeys while being starved by the government. The other attack, in 1976, resulted in the massacre of thousands of Palestinians at Tal al-Zaatar refugee Camp in Lebanon. Irony aside, who would you describe as the real traitor here?
But the pursuit of the singer also reveals a dangerous regime pattern. While Mrs. Nasri’s stardom and international standing worked to her advantage, this has not been the case for other Syrian artists. One might recall the murder of the Syrian singer Ibrahim Kashoush, whose own voice provided the soundtrack to the peaceful demonstrations against the Assad regime in the early days of the uprising, and whose body was subsequently discovered with its tongue cut out. Nowadays, it seems, the regime’s dominion over its own territory is so severely challenged that it must resort to bullying its small Lebanese neighbor in order to silence and intimidate artists.
By all accounts, what befell Asala Nasri in Beirut represents a failed attempt by some of Syria’s Lebanese “legal” henchmen (from within the government), who ignore the quandaries facing their own state in order to do the dirty work of their Damascus masters. What threat to Syria does an artist pose whose main weapon is a voice against Assad?
The unfortunate Lebanese nation currently experiences more turmoil and political gridlock than ever, largely due to Assad’s war as well as the presence of his allies in Hezbollah, who are fighting on his side against the Syrian people. The Lebanese parliament’s own elections were cancelled a year and a half ago, and may not be held this year either. Nor has the parliament been able to elect a president for more than 100 days. Meanwhile, that government continues to struggle miserably with the Syrian refugee situation, and cannot guarantee daily electricity to any, including its wealthiest citizens. Furthermore, ISIS and Nusra have abducted scores of Lebanese army and security forces, beheading two and executing a third. Yet, despite this chaos, factions of the Lebanese government still find the time to oblige Damascus by arresting one of its artists, in honor of the “Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation, and Coordination” with Syria, a treaty dating back to the Assads’ occupation, and dominance of Lebanon.
As for Asala, she posted the following to Facebook after the incident, writing, “I am fine and my dignity is fine and Lebanon is my beloved always.” One tends to believe her, as she has proven no stranger to attempts at intimidation (as recently as last year, she handled confrontation with pro-Assad Lebanese and Syrian artists and journalists, one of which was at a press conference in Morocco). At the very least, it would appear that she has the support of a sizable segment of the Lebanese public, who greeted her with several standing ovations, particularly after her renditions of “My country is being born anew” and “Lebanon I love you.
”Many observers believe that the Assad regime cares little about Lebanon, its sovereignty, and the integrity of its state. Thus, it will never shy away from exposing its “ally’s” fragile government, as well as its sectarian system (let us not forget that the Syrian regime is sectarian par excellence), to a scandal. This became clear in view of the trumped up charges that led to the arrest of Mrs. Nasri–charges that two ministers–one of Interior and another of Justice–categorically rejected, setting the artist free, and most importantly, allowing her to remain a thorn in Assad’s side.
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Artwork source Al Jadid.