Regime attempts to divert attention from the horrific civil war
As Syria continues to trudge through an almost six-year-old civil war, which has displaced some 11 million people and killed roughly half a million people, the Syrian Ministry of Communications and Technology hosted an information technology (IT) and communications expo called the Syria Tech Expo in the capital, Damascus.
As the capital has enjoyed relative stability since the beginning of 2016 with the signing of a cease-fire, the Syrian government has held a number of conferences and exhibitions there this year. The authorities are apparently trying to distract attention from the horrific civil war.
“Like Syria Tech or the recent journalists conference, the regime has been trying very hard to make things look like everything is okay to the external world,” Laila Kiki, the media lead at the Syria Campaign, which is a global Syrian advocacy group based in Washington D.C. and Beirut, told The Media Line.
Seeking to showcase the latest in the Syrian IT and communications sector, the three-day Syria Tech expo in late October featured 28 local companies as well as scientific and educational establishments. Mohammad Ghazi al-Jalali, the Minister of Communications and Technology said that the expo proves that despite the crisis, Syrians continue to be productive and innovative.
The war began in 2011 with anti-government protests and has dragged on as the Syrian regime, the loosely-organized rebel forces and the Islamic State continue to struggle for power in the war-torn country. Almost 5 million civilians have left the country, and 6.6 million have been internally displaced. But for those who remain, despite the worsening civil war, life must go on.
“The crisis has been going for almost six years now,” Faris Al-Khateeb, a Damascus-based journalist and the Syrian spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told The Media Line. “For people who are not directly affected, of course life has to go on and they maintain their jobs.”
“Inside the city of Damascus, at the moment, it is relatively calm,” Al-Khateeb added.
The IT and communications expo was the second of its kind this year – the first, known as Syria Tech 2016, was held in April and, partnering with SyriaTel, the leading mobile phone carrier in Syria, showcased manufacturing companies specializing in IT. Damascus is currently controlled by the Syrian government, meaning its citizens tend to enjoy goods and services that citizens of opposition areas do not.
According to Kiki, banks, bars and restaurants still operate in the capital; however, just 15 minutes outside of Damascus, Syrians struggle to get services like running water and electricity.
The same can be said for wireless internet and cellphone service – those who are in pro-government areas have access, whereas those who are in areas under opposition control do not.
“Internet and telecommunications function in Damascus, but they are definitely surveyed by the regime,” Kiki said. “All services are cut off in besieged areas.”
Analysts believe that hosting a conference like the IT and communications expo is a tactic by the regime not only to make things seem relatively stable to the international community, but also to ensure that Syrians living in government-controlled areas stay loyal.
“(The regime) is trying to make people busy so they don’t think beyond, in terms of politics or rebelling,” Kiki told The Media Line. “And, so they don’t have the time, will or energy to get involved in any activism.”
Assad’s regime, however, has failed its people as, according to Al-Khateeb, at least 13.5 million Syrians, out of a population of some 22 million, are in need of some type of humanitarian aid.
“Neither the government, nor its institutions have been able to provide proper services to the people living within regime-controlled territories,” Kiki told The Media Line. “The government makes no efforts on behalf of its citizens, so even when these showcase conferences take place no one knows about them.”
Katie Beiter is a student journalist with The Media Line