Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad is reportedly trying to boost tourism in his war-ravaged country through a propaganda-driven ad campaign, identified as “Syria: Always Beautiful.”
The ad campaign appears intended to show that Assad remains in control of the country as he indiscriminately bombs his own people, killing them by the thousands, sometimes with chemical weapons.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio learned that the advertising campaign, a blatant distortion of reality, is an important component of the Syrian dictator’s propaganda machine.
“This is entirely a propaganda exercise by Assad to show that, increasingly, he is in control,” Diana Darke, who has written three travel guides for Syria, told CBC Radio’s Day 6 program.
“It completely conveys the image that he is totally in control,” she added. “And it’s true that the state ministries are still functioning, and people are going into their offices every day and doing their best. And they are trying to promote Syrian tourism.”
As to why the sudden effort to portray Syria as the next hot tourism spot in the Middle East, Darke opined:
It’s been very noticeable in the last couple of months, there’s been a whole rash of new cultural initiatives. The regime is obviously very keen to show that it’s reviving all the cultural aspects which have perhaps been neglected over the past five years. Because there’s a sense that this war may be drawing to an end, and Assad wants to be in the strongest possible position to project himself as the guy who’s going to lead the country.
Tourists to Syria will encounter a civil war that has been raging for years, endangering civilians across the country. Syrian ads are targeted towards potential tourists from Iran, particularly pilgrims seeking to visit the religiously significant parts of the country.
“They’ve [Assad regime] always tried to project this image that Syria is open for business, everything is carrying on. And of course, weirdly, in certain parts of the country things are carrying on as normal,” notes Darke.
News of the tourism efforts comes soon after forces loyal to Assad were once again accused of crossing U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” by dropping chlorine bombs on a suburb of Aleppo city, wounding at least 80 people, most of them women and children.
Images of the aftermath showing children struggling to breathe as they were being treated in the few hospitals left made the front pages of both print and online outlets this year, many from what has been the epicenter of the nearly five-year-old war in the country.
It was a reminder that Assad never destroyed all his chemical weapons as he was supposed to in 2013, as recently reported by the United Nations-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
OPCW inspectors discovered the presence of 122 samples of chemical agents at multiple sites across Syria that were previously undeclared.
They also concluded that Assad used chlorine in at least two separate instances, once in April 2014 and again in March 2015.
It is doubtful any of the pictures from the most recent chemical attack will be used by the Ministry of Tourism to show that Assad is still in control of a beautiful Syria.
CBC Radio notes:
One of the YouTube videos shared by the Ministry of Tourism shows panoramic views of the beaches of Tartus, a coastal town that was rocked by two bombs earlier this week.
Darke says the Ministry of Tourism videos are meant to show the international world that Syria is a reasonable place, where people are on the beaches and where everything is still functioning. A struggle for those working in the tourism industry.