A lot of Syria experts don’t like Maram Susli, also known as “PartisanGirl.” The Damascus born blogger runs popular accounts on Youtube and Twitter from Australia.
She’s an outspoken advocate of Bashar Al Assad, and consistently questions western media accounts of the Syrian War, as well as the intentions of the United States generally. Her refusal to acknowledge that Bashar Al Assad deployed chemical weapons against his own people, or that he was responsible for brutal crackdowns in Damascus in the Spring of 2011, have led to claims that her work is a deliberate source of pro-Russia, pro-Iran propaganda online.
It’s convenient to dismiss Susli as some or all of the above. To do so ignores the battle for Syria that has been taking place across online networks since 2012. It ignores the fact that many inside the region will find her comments on western intent in Syria to be self-evident. More importantly, it allows analysts to sidestep the profound lack of any moral principle or guiding vision in regard to the Middle East's biggest proxy war.
The Beginnings of the Syrian Proxy War
Susli started writing about Syria in 2012. Around that time the once beautiful city of Aleppo saw intense fighting. That same year, President Obama would refer to the use of Chemical Weapons in Syria as a “Red Line.” More than any other actor involved in the Syrian War - and there are dozens - Susli blames the United States.
“It’s always been a proxy war, it would be naive to think otherwise, these plans for this scenario were in the works before 2003 - if you consider Israel’s agenda in the Middle East they wrote about it in 1982. The agenda to balkanise the middle east was also written about in the think-tanks of the United States, in 2006 they called it the project for a New Middle East - maps reflected Syria balkanised into a Druze region, an alawite region, sunni region, kurdish region.”
In the Middle East, these statements feed into mainstream memories of colonial rule in Syria, the effects of the 1967 Israeli War, and the results of intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
In the West, these arguments operate in a context of failing trust in key institutions - particularly the media, and the foreign policy establishment. By constantly questioning incomplete media narratives on the Syrian War on twitter and Youtube, as well as referring back to almost a hundred years of divide and rule in the region, Partisan Girl feeds this distrust, at the same time as directly benefiting from it. For example, her points on the selectively of western media outlets - what is covered, and what is not covered - are at times reliably sourced, or simply effectively made.
“I see that you are asking me to apply the same cynicism to Russian and Syrian politics as I do to US politics, but its not the same. In one case you have an aggressive power that wants to dominate, that wants to control. On the other case, you have a nation state that is fighting for its right to exist - its very existence.”
Russia & Iran: Syria's Best Friends
Susli believes that the existential threat to Syria comes not from Iran and Russia, but from the United States and the West. This opinion is not controversial in the region. What is slightly more unusual, is the cheerleading for Bashar Al Assad, and support for Iran and Russia inside Syria:
“Bashar on the other hand, and Iran, while they are looking after their own interests, their interests are also ones that benefit the Syrian people. Iran’s interest is to oppose Israel, and that helps the Syrian people and Syrian country because it helps the potential liberation of the Syrian people in the Golan Heights. Russia is helpful in the fight against terrorism. The question is whether Syria has the independence to choose any ally that benefits the Syrian people, and those allies are obviously going to be Iran and Russia."
Susli’s conviction that the best and only future for the Syrian people can exist with Bashar Al Assad at the helm, flanked by his Russian and Iranian allies, is dispiriting.
It reflects decades - perhaps a century - of failed western policy in the region. Many Syrians don’t simply distrust western powers. They fear them. There’s also an element of realpolitik here, a deep cynicism about the world we live in: it suggests that integrating Assad back into the international system will not, in the final estimation, be all that hard. Give it a couple of years, and we’ll see a dictator reformed, smiling at us on global television screens at Davos, or the WEF, in that finely cut beige suit. Is this really the best-case scenario?
The Online Battle For Syria
In 2017, a truly independent Syria - a Syria free from proxies, with a thriving social life, and a globally integrated economy, is impossible to imagine. It’s the not the Middle East countless administrations promised.
Partisan Girl may be wrong, but she is not illogical. Neither does she pretend to be objective. She regards herself as partisan, because she is a patriot. There is a sense that she is fighting for the future of her country, towards a scenario which she has identified as the best case scenario. The real question is not why Partisan Girl is wrong, it’s why her arguments have proven so attractive and accurate, to so many.
Her logic is born from the miserable logic of the region. It’s directly aided by an English-language media too afraid to call out their own side, when necessary. It’s designed and optimised to be deployed across social media, where nuance will not win a narrative.
The online battle for Syria is not about policy. It’s about power and choosing a side, when both sides have deeply flawed visions for the future of the country. Partisan Girl has chosen her side - she’s simply more honest about it.
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