Illustration by Kayla Colaizzi
Like the rest of the internet, the Syrian memeverse is messy, argumentative and prone to stupidity and hyperbole. But it’s a place where Syrians can openly riff on sensitive political topics. Abo Samer, an admin for one of the more militant Syrian-meme Facebook groups, says his intention is to publish “intellectual, social, urban and cultural content in the spirit of an old Syrian proverb: ‘The first ones didn’t leave anything unsaid.’”
Memes are so popular among Syrians that the “Syrian Memes” Facebook page has over 160,000 likes – about three times as many as the (politically neutral) community page for Syria the country. The memes featured on that page (most of them are in Arabic) bash everything from Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime to the dietary domination of falafel in the country. In one, the traditional puffy-faced Y U NO guy asks McDonald’s, “Y U NO OPEN IN SYRIA?” In another, a shady cab driver in the Middle East ripping off a tourist is depicted as having a Reddit-issue trollface. Other memes are more provocative – crudely drawn “rage” comics that feature photos of massacred children and cartoons of gun-toting members of the secret police.
Abo says he started his page because he wanted to spread old Syrian proverbs his grandmother used to recite to him; however, his focus changed once political conflict broke out in the country. Now the Damascus native says he “publicises his page as anti-state,” making original, politically charged memes in the wake of the “massive crimes on the people of Homs and other parts of Syria.”
Abo isn’t the only guy taking meme-jabs at the regime. One of the most popular memes floating around on Syrian blogs features Assad measuring a short distance with his hands and the text: “We make reforms/ this much at a time.”
Not every meme-maker is antigovernment, though: One image floating around shows Assad waving to a crowd of admirers and is captioned, “TRUTH: Bashar al-Assad is loved by the Syrian people. Once you realise that you will shit bricks.”
For an overview of the issues that have fueled the conflict in Syria, we recommend reading "Road to Ruin", our condensed timeline of Syrian history, and "The VICE Guide to Syria", a crash course on the country's geopolitical, cultural and religious complexities.