Hollywood Protest For a Free Syria Gets Support from a Cast of Characters
Sunday afternoon members of the Syrian Institute for Progress (SIP) gathered in front of Mann's Chinese Theater, one of Hollywood's most bustling tourist attractions, to raise their voices against the war crimes of Bashar al-Assad and the faux elections (#bloodelections) being held in the war torn country of Syria on Tuesday, June 3rd. SIP's efforts have been echoed across the globe by activists frustrated by US in action after the Assad regime crossed President Obama's "red line" by using chemical weapons yet no military action, or even no-fly zone has been instated. Here on the sunny streets of Hollywood character actors took a break from posing for photos with tourists to hold signs and show solidarity, or at least try to get some media attention for themselves.
According to SIP representative Suzzane Baaj, who has met with members of congress and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayepp Erdogen to discuss the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, the Syrian American community in Los Angeles, which is the largest outside Syria, wants the world to see what's really happening inside the country. "People need to be educated on the devastation and massacres. Children are being slaughtered." She said, while holding a giant poster of photos depicting the tragedy. "A lot of people think they know what's happening because they've seen Syria in the headlines. Sadly even some of the Arab Americans I talk to don't really want to hear it."
Bashar Assad gained power 14 years ago after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, and a quick change in the constitution that lowered the national age requirement to hold the office to make him an eligible candidate. Bashar Assad ran unopposed and - as these things often go in nations ran by corrupt authoritarian despots - secured 99% of the votes. The election held in 2007 went much the same with him receiving 97.5% of the votes. While this time around Assad has two relatively unknown opponents, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, it's pretty clear that they're not exactly challengers. Instead of offering a different vision for the future of Syria, Most of their public rhetoric has been in praise of Assad and his tactics. After all, no one from the oppositional forces or even suspected of affiliation with the Free Syrian Army, is legally allowed to run against Assad.
To make matters worse, there will be no voting booths in opposition held territories. This sets up a catch-22 for Syrians who appose Assad since it's considered a criminal act to not vote. What that means is if a Syrian from a region held by the opposition participates in their legal obligation to vote, they would not only have to vote for someone who has been brutally destroying their country, they also have to cross into hostile government held areas to cast their votes. Doing so a major risk that could lead to imprisonment, torture, or harm to their families. Many Syrians I spoke to while reporting along the Jordanian border of Syria boldly claimed that they would rather die than be captured by Assad's forces. What's most likely to occur is that many people will refrain from participating in the sham of an election, and countless others who do enter the ballot booth will leave their ballots blank. In the end, if Assad maintains his hold on the state, which is the most likely outcome, the country will continue to grow even more divided.