Walid Muallem: A mistake or a masterstroke?

Let us set aside, even if just for a moment, the feelings of discontent, rage and disdain, and all the other emotions that have run high as a result of the Syrian regime's bloody practices and stances

By Diana Mukkaled

Let us set aside, even if just for a moment, the feelings of discontent, rage and disdain, and all the other emotions that have run high as a result of the Syrian regime’s bloody practices and stances, and contemplate the recent press conference held by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. This press conference, now becoming something of a weekly event for the Syrian regime, did not see the announcement of a new political stance or any new political content, but rather saw the screening of some footage which the Syrian media described as “surprising”, and which intended to confuse everybody. What is meant by “everybody” here, as expressed by Muallem, and later the Syrian media, is the Arab, and perhaps even the international, media outlets and satellite news channels.

The “surprising” footage allegedly depicted scenes of killing and torture committed by armed terrorist militants against elements of the Syrian army and security apparatus. Yet shortly after the footage was broadcast, the scandal was exposed. One film showed a mutilated corpse, which turned out to be that of an Egyptian youth who was killed in the Lebanese village of Ketarmaya in 2010. At the time, the entire world watched how this figure was killed and his body mutilated. The other footage turned out to be footage of youths taken in the Lebanese city of Tripoli during the battles that took place there in 2008. In fact, it was incredibly easy and effortless for this footage to be refuted and uncovered, something that makes the entire exercises even more strange and puzzling.

Why did Walid Muallem, the media savvy Syrian Foreign Minister, believe it would be easy to broadcast footage that had previously been uploaded on the world’s largest video archive – “YouTube” – and claim that all of this had taken place in Syria at the hands of militants and terrorists? Even after the reality of Muallem’s video clip was exposed, Syrian official media outlets continued to celebrate what they called a “masterstroke”, by re-broadcasting the footage and ignoring the fact that everyone is completely aware that the Syrian regime is – for the thousandth time – telling lies.

Only two possibilities can explain the video clip shown by Walid Muallem at his recent press conference. Firstly, someone from within the ruling authority and the regime could have sought to lay a trap for the Syrian Foreign Minister, aiming to humiliate him in a public manner. If this is correct, this would lead us to believe that there is a trend within the Syrian regime that is at odds with another trend and Muallem got caught in the crossfire, whilst the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad views this [division] as the nature of his regime.

The second possibility is that the political apparatus of the Syrian Baathist regime is now so exhausted that its bureaucrats can no longer distinguish between a fictional scene and reality, or between a genuine photo and a counterfeit. Both possibilities suggest that we are facing a new phase in the lifespan of the Syrian regime; whether we are talking about division or a collapse from within.

There is also a third possibility, namely that the Syrian regime’s behaviour – with regards to the media – is illogical. This is to say that a regime that has brought out the families of murdered children – after the whole world had seen their mutilated corpses – and coerced them into giving false testimony certainly does not care about the differences between Ketarmaya and Homs, or between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jisr ash-Shugur.

There can be no doubt that the Syrian regime’s actions contain a considerable amount of violence, bloodshed and chaos, in addition to being completely indifferent towards the intellect of its audience.

(The writer is a columnist at Asharq Al Awsat, where this article was first published on Dec 2, 2011.)