Waltz with Bashar
In Turkey, anything resembling an office seemed to have a portrait of Ataturk, “the founder of Modern Turkey”. His image looked down from the sides of buildings, and the occasional statue.
Here in Syria, Bashar Assad is omnipresent. It’s like a cult. Billboards tout his image & statues present him in cities. The most surprising representation is the sheer number of rear-windscreens of cars & vans that are adorned with his face. This is the choice of the people to promote him. Most often laid over the Syrian flag, I suppose it is a form of patriotism.
Despite the restrictions that the country still faces — the lack of freedom of the press being a major problem — Syrian citizens feel much more free, and happy, since he succeeded to power in 2000. Talking with them, it is clear that they revere him. He has given them satellite television, mobile phones, and the internet. This last point, however, is not all that free. Accessing certain sites results in an access denied message (although internet cafés will happily set-up the right proxy to get around the restrictions), and bloggers have to be very careful about what they write - it is not unknown to be imprisoned for the wrong choice of opinion.