The traffic directorate in the Syrian capital Damascus has hurried to deny news that has circulated about a painful image showing traffic police beating and insulting an elderly Syrian man in Damascus, which has stirred anger on social media. This denial points to a new strategy pursued by the Syrian regime of trying to burnish its image and relieve frustration in the areas it controls, following the deterioration of services and the dire economic situation.
A few years ago, official departments and regime agencies would not have issued any comments about what was occurring on social media. This was probably not due to Syrian state agencies being occupied with more important matters, but instead because of a media strategy based on creating the illusion of an ideal state whose image was trying to be distorted by prejudiced people.
The strategy is based on denying all news and reports circulated on social media that expose the exploitation and contempt shown by the regime at all levels, after the pace of the war in the country has slowed over the last two years. Pro-regime sites such as Syria Today have worked to contradict these “rumors” and the “biased” information that harms the image of the “Syrian state,” which they describe as a “civilized” state. This does not mean they will deny dangerous military or political information, but rather the images of everyday life circulated on social media, which show the extent of the misery in regime-controlled areas, whether in terms of manifestations of poverty, long lines to obtain basic goods, or similar sights.
This misery appears clearly in the recent image of traffic police speaking with the driver of a taxi alongside a man of advanced years in a squatting position putting, his head in his hands. A girl is also shown in the wing mirror of her car, as she records the scene, which pro-regime pages described as inappropriate treatment of a Syrian citizen.
In the usual copy-and-paste manner, the pro-regime sites said: “This is not how citizens should be treated by traffic police. The driver, who is of advanced years, is hit in the face, in full view of people.” The Interior Ministry called for an investigation into the scene. The man had fallen to the ground following the blow, in the presence of two police officers. The incident took place in the Azbakiyeh area.
The incident sparked a reaction from social media, with people expressing their discontent about the traffic police’s inappropriate treatment of citizens and their lack of even the smallest amounts of respect for the passersby who gathered to watch the scene unfold. The police statement denied this, however, saying that what happened was only a, “problem between a taxi driver and the driver of a truck, who was holding up the traffic.”
The statement added that: “What appears to be the driver on his knees in front of the police, resulted from low blood pressure because of the exchange occurring between him and the other driver.” This sparked widespread scorn among regime loyalists themselves, who pointed out in comments, that the policeman hadn’t hit him, but the other policeman who is present is believed to be from the anti-riot police.
Later, the old man appeared in a video in which he said he was not struck by any traffic police in Damascus. Some commenters believed the man was forced to record the video, which was broadcast on intelligence agency pages on social media. Other commenters said that the police officer who was wearing military clothes had been the one who struck the man—not the traffic police who appear in the video.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.