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05DAMASCUS6395 2005-12-08 15:51:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 006395 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/08/2015

REF: DAM 5887

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche for reason 1.4 b/d

1. (C) Summary: The Syrian flag and banners supporting
Syria's President now crowd streets and squares leading to
prominent Damascus neighborhoods, including the Old City and
suburbs that are home to diplomats. The Arabic and often
English-language banners make frequent reference to President
Bashar al Asad, the Syrian citizen and the nation, national
dignity, and divine protection for Syria. Common images
include the President's portrait, the flag, clasped hands and
children. The banners have two aims: to convince Syrians of
the link between the fate of the nation and that of the Asad
regime, and to convince the world that Syrians are rallying
behind their country. End Summary.

2. (U) The Syrian flag and banners supporting Syria's
president have sprung up in the past six weeks on major
streets and squares leading to prominent Damascus
neighborhoods, including the Old City and suburbs that are
home to diplomats. Banners offer up Arabic and often English
words of support for President Asad, the citizen, and the
nation. "Free leader, free people, free homeland," read one
such banner in Arabic in downtown Damascus. There are also
frequent references to God, as in another banner overlooking
a square close to Asad's office, which read: "We are all for
you Syria our homeland, and we are with you Bashar our
leader. God protect us." Another common theme is that of
dignity, as in a banner hanging on Hamra Street, a major
commercial thoroughfare, that read: "Syria will remain
honorable, dignified. We are with you, leader of the
homeland." Common images on the banners include the portrait
of the President, the flag, clasped hands and children.
(Note: The Ba'ath Party flag has almost completely
disappeared giving way to the Syrian flag, a strong
indication that the SARG wants to use nationalism to
encourage people to identify with the regime.)

3. (U) The banners and flags first began to appear shortly
after the October release of UN investigator Detlev Mehlis'
preliminary report on the assassination of former Lebanese PM
Rafik Hariri. In conjunction with late October protests
against UN Resolution 1636 urging Syrian cooperation with the
Mehlis investigation, the Syrian Public Relations
Association, closely associated with the Ministry of
Information, unfurled a several-story banner depicting the
Syrian flag with the Arabic words "for the sake of Syria" in
Rawda Square across from the Embassy.

4. (U) Following the November 10 speech by President Asad
(reftel), prominent businessmen tied to the regime and unions
with close ties to the Ba'ath Party joined the campaign,
putting up banners with nationalistic slogans with their name
or organization at the bottom. For example, over bustling
Baghdad Street in downtown Damascus, the Syndicate of Artists
has strung up a banner that reads in Arabic and English:
"President Bashar al-Asad and the Syrian people don't kneel
to anyone except to God." Businessman and crony Majd
Suleiman, who is the son of former chief of internal security
Lt. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman, began in November to wrap his
weekly Damascus shopper newspaper in a full-page depiction of
the Syrian flag with the words, "God Protect You, Oh (region
of the) Sham" (the Syrian term for the region of Damascus).
On the other side of the flag is a specially composed
nationalistic song. (For preferred customers, Suleiman has
distributed arm bands and a CD with the song). Other
individual and organizational banner sponsors include:
businessman and Parliamentarian Hashem Akkad (who lives next
door to the Asad family); wealthy businessman and
Parliamentarian Mohammad Hamsho, who in the past has been a
business partner with Maher Asad; businessman Samer Douba,
son of former Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Ali Douba; the
(Ba'athist) Student Union; and the (Ba'athist) General
Federation of Women.

5. (C) Comment: It is noteworthy that when President Asad
came to office, he reportedly tried to discourage the posting
of his likeness, a practice that flourished during his
father's rule. Now under international pressure, there are
no indications the President is trying to discourage the
practice. It is clear that those close to the regime are
jostling to indicate their loyalty.

6. (C) Comment continued: Two other messages are clearly
evident in the flags and banners. The regime and its proxies
want to convince the world that Syrians are rallying behind
their country. Perhaps more important, they want to link for
the domestic audience the fate of the nation with that of the
President, and the fate of the citizen with that of the