As anthems go,this one is fittingly blunt. Come on Bashar,leave, it declares to President Bashar al-Assad. And in the weeks since it was heard in protests in the Syrian city of Hama,the song has become a symbol of the power of the protesters message,the confusion in their ranks and the violence of the government in stopping their dissent.
Although no one in Hama seems to agree on who wrote the song,there is near consensus on one point: A young cement layer who sang it in protests was dragged from the Orontes River this month with his throat cut and,according to residents,his vocal cords ripped out. Since his death,boys as young as six have offered their rendition in his place. Rippling through the virtual communities that the Internet and revolt have inspired,the song has spread to other cities in Syria,where protesters chant it as their own.
Weve all memorised it, said Ahmed,a 40-year-old trader in Hama who regularly attends protests. What else can you do if you keep repeating it at demonstrations day after day?
Tunisia can claim the slogan of the Arab revolts: The people want to topple the regime. Egyptians made famous street poetry that reflected their incomparable wit. Come on Bashar,Leave, is Syrias contribution to the pop culture of sedition,the raw street humour that mingles with the furor of revolt and the ferocity of crackdown.
When the government derided them as infiltrators,protesters appropriated the term with pride. After Assad warned of germs in the body politic,echoing Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafis dismissal of Libyas rebels as rats,protesters came up with a new slogan: Syrian germs salute Libyan rats. Protesters in Hama fashioned a toy tank from trash containers in the streets. On the birth date of Assads father,Hafez,who ruled for 30 years,youths in Homs set their chants to the tune of Happy Birthday.
Come on Bashar,Leave is more festive than funny,with an infectious refrain,chanted with the intoxication of doing something forbidden for so long: Hey Bashar,hey liar. Damn you and your speech,freedom is right at the door. So come on,Bashar,leave.
Its started to spread all over the country, said a former Republican Guard officer who has joined the protests in Homs,an hour or so from Hama. It keeps getting more popular.
The man pulled from the river was named Ibrahim Qashoush,and he was from the neighbourhood of Hadir. He was relatively unknown before July 4,when his body was found,then buried in the citys Safa cemetery,near the highway.
In a rebellion whose leaders remain largely nameless and faceless,Qashoush has become somewhat celebrated in death. The nightingale of the revolution, one activist called him.
But the revolt remains largely atomised,with protesters in cities connected first and foremost by the Internet,and rumours have proliferated about Qashoush himself. Even in Hama,where protest leaders in one neighborhood often do not know their colleagues in another,some residents have suggested that Qashoush was not the real singer,that two men had the same name,that he was really a government informer killed by residents,that he is still alive.
One resident insisted the man killed was a second-rate wedding singer.
Every day in the street,just while youre sitting somewhere,you can hear five or six rumours,and they turn out to be wrong, said an engineer who gave his name as Adnan.
A 23-year-old activist who gave his name as Obada insisted that the song was actually written by a 23-year-old part-time electrician and student named Abdel-Rahman,also known as Rahmani. Sitting in a basement room,Rahmani celebrated what he called days of creativity.
What I say,everyone feels in their hearts,but cant find words to express, he said,dragging on a cigarette. We were brought up afraid to even talk about politics.
He suffered a loss in 1982,when the army stormed Hama to quell an Islamist revolt,killing at least 10,000. He said his grandfather Naasan Miqawi was shot in front of his mother. His uncle Mostafa remains missing 30 years later. He admits he is a better writer than singer,but the very act of occasionally performing his song for the crowds seemed an act of revenge,rendered small.
Asked if he was afraid,Rahmani answered,Of what?
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