PR groups like the D.C. based Capital Communications were in talks with the Syrian government few months before the uprising. The group chair, Akram Elias, offers Shaaban an “action plan that covers in depth the subject matter” discussed in a previous meeting. The email does not specify the topic of the conversation, but Capital Communications skills serve areas like “crisis communications and reputation management” and offer services as“how to pitch a story to the US media” for those who want to shape “effective messages”. Among its clients, the group counts many foreign governments as that of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and also Russia. Other groups that focus more on bridging the government and the private sector have tried to set their operations in Syria. N.Y. based Global Leadership Team attempted –unsuccessfully, it seems from the email correspondence – to reach out to the presidential palace in order to host world summits on innovation and capitalism in Syria and to award first lady Asma al-Assad among “the most innovative people” in the world.
People like Shaaban and the presidential palace`s inner circle of seemingly reform-minded folks –English-speaking, Western-educated elites that know how to impression the West by employing words as “empowerment” and “entrepreneurship” which make up the universal vocabulary of neoliberalism– have been able to seduce organizations that lie at the extreme sides of the ideological spectrum, like the World Economic Forum and Viva Palestina!.
Former British Labour Party MP George Galloway, who co-founded the latter to bring humanitarian aides and relief to Gaza`s civilian population after the 2008 Israeli attack, is a well known leftist activist. His involvement in the Palestinian cause has matched with Assad`s rhetoric of Syria being “the last Arab country” committed to the “historic endeavor” of liberating Palestine. Dubbing Assad`s Syria as the “last castle of Arab dignity” is as enormous as when he cheered Saddam Hussen with “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability” .Later, Galloway declared to have been misunderstood, as those words were addressed to the Iraqi people, not to the dictator; he might have been caught in the same kind of misunderstanding concerning Syria.
The charm that Assad`s Syria has exercised on both world`s capitalists and leftist activists relies on an enmeshed network of privileges, personal favors, mutual benefits and exchanges, mixed with what is left of old fashioned anti imperialist ideology. Here, the seemingly-opposites coincide. This clever mix of neoliberalism and anti-imperialism rhetoric is cultivated by the presidential palace and pushed forward in the public space of media by its unofficial spokespersons. Deemed respectable and enlightened by Western media, companies, governments “these people speak the same language we do” –as a Western diplomat once told me–. The editor in chief of the Syrian Forward magazine, Sami Moubayed, is one of them. His articles on the Syrian uprising give a sense of his skills in eschewing regime rhetoric while remaining committed to the palace`s seemingly reformist project. This might be the reason why Moubayed is able to appeal an edgy US publication as the Huffington Post; as much as he is able to get invited to dinner by Turkish ambassador in Syria and be hinted as the person who should write “to express the Syrian position” on Turkish press.
Last spring, Moubayed had proposed the palace to “solve what is happening on the streets in an artistic way” and push forward a “third view” between the official regime position and the people`s. This project — the TV series “Fawq al-saqf” (Above the ceiling)— failed dramatically, as it never reached audience success and was stopped after its 15th episode in Ramadan 2011 . The same seems to happen now to these West-appealing elites sitting at the palace, whose reform-minded project is proving to be just a media project, not even a well marketed one anymore.