Khaled Soubeih, AFP
Last updated: 21 August, 2012

As Syria burns, black humour thrives

Faced with a bloody conflict that has gripped their country for the past 17 months, many Syrians have opted for humour as a weapon to mock both Bashar al-Assad’s regime and their own daily struggles.

“Dear defectors, the Syrian revolution is taking place in Syria, not in Turkey,” read banners at several protests, mocking defectors who have chosen to keep their distance from the battlefield after fleeing north across the border.

And the defection to Paris of the regime’s former golden boy, Manaf Tlass, prompted protesters in Kfar Nabal village in northwest Idlib province — who have become well-known for their witty slogans — to raise a banner reading:

“The Charles de Gaulle Brigade led by Brigadier General Manaf Tlass has seized control of the Champs Elysees!”

The state of the opposition, destruction caused by the ongoing battle between Assad’s forces and rebels, unemployment, falling incomes, a lack of daily necessities, local peculiarities, defections… all are now fair game for increasingly dark Syrian jokes.

Residents of Homs, often mocked by the rest of the country for their so-called naivety and lack of intellect, won plaudits nationwide for their resolve against regime forces when their town was hammered by the Syrian army, to the point that their city was nicknamed the “Capital of the Revolution.”

But, so the joke goes, their supposed naivety was a problem for authorities because whenever they imposed a curfew, residents would flock onto the streets to check it out.

Or: In Homs city, a resident plays with a rocket. When his friend warns him to be careful because it might go off, he reassures him there’s nothing to worry about because the army will simply fire some more.

Other jokes play on Homs’s reputation as a particularly conservative city:

A couple from Homs decide to visit Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, before it became the site of brutal battles between rebels and the regime.

They walk through Aleppo’s streets and after two hours without hearing any explosions or seeing any demonstrations, the husband tells the wife: “You can take off your veil now, there mustn’t be any men here.”

More than anything else, defections have become a firm favourite of rebel humour.

One joke goes that Assad has demanded that his Sunni vice-president Faruq al-Shara, the subject of defection rumours, sleep with him in the same room so he cannot escape, forcing the president’s wife Asma to move to the couch.

Another depicts Assad standing in front of a sign listing all of the security services and ministries he has decided to take charge of, with the president saying: “At least I don’t have to worry now about any ministers defecting.”

And one cartoon depicts a new minister being sworn in by Assad, with the official saying: “I pledge not to defect.”

The recent defection to Jordan of Riad Hijab, prime minister at the time, sparked jokes that Jordanian authorities now have the following signs at border crossings: Jordanians, Arabs, Foreigners, Diplomats, and Deserting Syrian Officials.

Increasing deprivation has also been a source of humour.

One joke has it that Syrians were convinced they would win a gold medal at the recent 2012 Olympics in London if one of the events had been climbing a staircase with a gas cylinder.

Another goes that a man returns home with a live chicken for dinner. But, his wife tells him, the family no longer has a knife to slaughter the bird, nor do they have gas to cook it with.

Upon hearing the news, the chicken begins clucking: “Long live Bashar! Long live Bashar!”