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Syrian Singer Rallies Assad Forces

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Elizabeth Arrott

As rebel fighters battle Syria's military on the outskirts of Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad's allies in the capital continue to show strength with massive rallies in his support.

Few are as unapologetic in their defense of the embattled leader as singer Rami Kazour, whose "God, Syria and Bashar" has become an anthem.

Checkpoints block roads entering Damascus, but city-center traffic slows only for the normal workday rush.  There is one obstacle ahead: outside the central bank, a stage is set up for a rally to be held the following day. 

Rami Kazour is making a music video, singing above pre-recorded instrumentals and chorus.  His hair is gelled up and swept back, his black suit sleekly cut, and although the only audience is a few technicians and a reporter who happened by, the actor/singer/dancer is putting on a show.

His song is a patriotic medley extolling Syria's history and strength; it's the refrain that stands out.

It's a bold combination that puts God, Syria and President Assad's first name, Bashar, on equal footing - heady words for any leader and a provocative rebuke to his opponents in this country riven by sectarian divides.

Kazour takes a break from shooting and comes to the stage edge for an impromptu interview.  A government minder is present but, in this case, seems to make little difference.  Asked about the presumption of ranking the president up there with the almighty, he is unfazed.

Kazour says the wording is deliberate, to provoke those he calls Syria's "trash" - the protesters.  He calls Assad the last symbol of righteousness among Arab leaders. 

During the past year of popular uprisings, the roster of Arab rulers has changed dramatically.  Kazour is reminded that his song recalls perhaps the most reviled of former leaders, and his slogan "God, Libya and Moammar."

Adjusting his flag-emblazoned scarf, Kazour says Syria is not like Egypt or Tunisia or Libya.  This is "a nation of lions," he declares, "exceptional in everything."

Human-rights groups agree that Syria indeed is exceptional, for its cruel treatment of anyone who openly opposes the Assad regime.  Accounts of torture and atrocities by pro-government forces have grown as the revolt has expanded.  The body of Kazour's counterpart across the barricades, anti-Assad singer Ibrahim Kashoush, is reported to have been found floating in the Assi River, his throat slashed open.  The entertainer says that is false propaganda.

He says Al-Jazeera has many such stories: Al-Jazeera and, in what would be an unlikely media alliance, the "Hebrew channel."  He advises against watching either if one wants the truth.

Truth seems to be in short supply in Syria. Arab League monitors have been roundly criticized for failing to see clearly what's happening on the ground.

The United Nations tried to count the numbers of civilians killed last year, but has given up the effort. 

In the vacuum, both the government and opposition have hardened their positions.  The opposition circulates horrific videos while the government shows off crowds of hundreds of thousands of people who say they support Assad.

One skeptic says much of that fervent government support is probably quite shallow.  He says many people are like Kazour, who he says is "an actor" who "will flee before the regime falls." 

But Kazour and many others have publicly tied their future to the government's.

Still, there is some genuine support for the Assad family, which has run Syria for 40 years.  Some have a vested interest - jobs, property, privileges - in the status quo; others fear all-out civil war.

This was a relatively calm day in the capital.  The conflict was only a few kilometers away, but it seemed more distant than that on this bright, sunny day.

Kazour's immediate concern is for some cloud cover; it will give the video a more flattering light.

 

Violence spread across Syria once again on Friday, at demonstrations demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad. At least 37 people were killed in Allepo, Hama, Homs, near Damascus and elsewhere. Among the victims, activists say, were six government security forces killed in a car bomb explosion. Demonstrations in support of Assad continue, however, in government-controlled areas. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott came across a particularly fervent display on a recent tour of Damascus, accompanied by pro-government escorts. She tells us about singer Ramzi Kazour and his song of praise for Assad - "God, Syria and Bashar."

Checkpoints block roads entering Damascus, but city-center traffic slows only for the normal workday rush. There is one obstacle ahead: outside the central bank, a stage is set up for a rally to be held the following day.

Rami Kazour is making a music video, singing above pre-recorded instrumentals and chorus. His hair is gelled up and swept back, his black suit sleekly cut, and although the only audience is a few technicians and a reporter who happened by, the actor/singer/dancer is putting on a show.

His song is a patriotic medley extolling Syria's history and strength; it's the refrain that stands out.

It's a bold combination that puts God, Syria and President Assad's first name, Bashar, on equal footing - heady words for any leader and a provocative rebuke to his opponents in this country riven by sectarian divides.

Kazour takes a break from shooting and comes to the stage edge for an impromptu interview. A government minder is present but, in this case, seems to make little difference. Asked about the presumption of ranking the president up there with the almighty, he is unfazed.

Kazour says the wording is deliberate, to provoke those he calls Syria's "trash" - the protesters. He calls Assad the last symbol of righteousness among Arab leaders.

During the past year of popular uprisings, the roster of Arab rulers has changed dramatically. Kazour is reminded that his song recalls perhaps the most reviled of former leaders, and his slogan "God, Libya and Moammar."

Adjusting his flag-emblazoned scarf, Kazour says Syria is not like Egypt or Tunisia or Libya. This is "a nation of lions," he declares, "exceptional in everything."

Human-rights groups agree that Syria indeed is exceptional, for its cruel treatment of anyone who openly opposes the Assad regime. Accounts of torture and atrocities by pro-government forces have grown as the revolt has expanded. The body of Kazour's counterpart across the barricades, anti-Assad singer Ibrahim Kashoush, is reported to have been found floating in the Assi River, his throat slashed open. The entertainer says that is false propaganda.

He says al-Jazeera has many such stories - Jazeera and, in what would be an unlikely media alliance, the "Hebrew channel." He advises against watching either if one wants the truth.

Truth seems to be in short supply in Syria. Arab League monitors have been roundly criticized for failing to see clearly what's happening on the ground.

The United Nations tried to count the numbers of civilians killed last year, but has given up the effort.

In the vacuum, both the government and opposition have hardened their positions. The opposition circulates horrific videos while the government shows off crowds of hundreds of thousands of people who say they support Assad.

One skeptic says much of that fervent government support is probably quite shallow. He says many people are like Kazour, who he says is "an actor" who "will flee before the regime falls."

But Kazour and many others have publicly tied their future to the government's.

Still, there is some genuine support for the Assad family, which has run Syria for 40 years. Some have a vested interest - jobs, property, privileges - in the status quo; others fear all-out civil war.

This was a relatively calm day in the capital. The conflict was only a few kilometers away, but it seemed more distant than that on this bright, sunny day.

Kazour's immediate concern is for some cloud cover; it will give the video a more flattering light.

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