The population of Kafranbel, Syria, which has made a name for itself by spreading weekly images of homemade banners condemning President Bashar al-Assad and asking for international aid to take down his government, has made waves online this week using transgender celebrity Caitlyn, formerly Bruce, Jenner as a symbol of the kind of freedom they want for their town.
Posted by activist Raed Fares, a banner made by the townsfolk promises the city would change its name from Kafranbel to Cafranbel, if only it would mean that they were “free like you”:
— Raed Fares (@RaedFares4) June 6, 2015
As the Daily Mail notes, the residents of Kafranbel have previously used celebrities to bring attention to their cause, most notably praising Angelina Jolie for speaking out against the slaughter of civilians during the Syrian Civil War. In many of their photos, they are shown flying what the Daily Mail describes as “the revolutionary flag of Syria,” meant to distinguish them from the Syrian being government by al-Assad. Kafranbel’s protests have been ongoing since 2012 and are often dramatic, as in one instance where their banner called on “Iranian nukes” to kill them, in the hopes that it would turn global public sentiment against Assad definitively:
In addition to banners, Kafranbel residents often post images online of political cartoons, such as this recent one of Assad feeding a baby Islamic State with the blood of the Syrian people:
The group is also especially acerbic towards President Barack Obama, who they perceive as having abandoned Syria to Assad’s wrath despite early opposition to his regime, which did little to stop the war:
— Raed Fares (@RaedFares4) May 16, 2015
— Raed Fares (@RaedFares4) April 8, 2015
The group does not appear to be anti-America in general, however, as they recently quoted the US State Department in a Facebook post condemning Assad, noting not only that both Assad and ISIS are hurting Syria, but that Assad has not appeared to attack the Islamic State with the same energy as he has other elements of the Syrian opposition. “US Department of defense recently published an article supports my point of view,” writes the author, urging the world to “stop terrorism godfather Assad, he is burning the whole region.”
Online opponents of the Kafranbel group note that they, too, are Muslims, and images of the Al Nusra Front flag have allegedly appeared in their rallies.
Al Arabiya profiled Raed Fares, the social media leader of the Kafranbel group, in 2014. Fares began his career as a realtor, forced into revolution by the Syrian Civil War and admittedly inspired by the Tunisian revolution that started the Arab Spring. In the early days, he explains, he would email the photos to a friend outside of Syria with better internet access to post on Facebook. He also notes that Kafranbel was once fully occupied by Assad forces, but at the time was under the Free Syrian Army.
At the time, Fares noted that ISIS was sending Kafranbel threats, described as “indirect messages that they did not approve of my work.” His work has led him to visit the United States on more than one occasion.