Syria between two theaters

Actress Yara Sabri sums up the life of the Syrian people in a monodrama

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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“This is amazing. We now congratulate each other for being granted asylum status. We rejoice if one of us finds a shelter for himself and his family. We rejoice if a child is still alive after being found in the rubble. We sometimes just wish to find our children’s corpses so that we can bury them.”

This is how Syrian actress Yara Sabri summed up the current life of the Syrian people in a monodrama. She was playing the role of a Syrian woman fighting entrenched behind sandbags in a one-woman play called Under the Sky performed in the Dubai Community Theater & Arts Centre. Contrary to my expectations, the hall was packed with audience. I thought few people would want to watch a political play considering we have been watching political developments in Syria for five years now.

People of Syria are artistic and culturally inclined. Art remains part of their lives wherever they go and live. After the war, they took with them their society consisting of writers, actors, actresses, artists and painters wherever they went. Sabri’s play was very impressive. You can hear some of the audience interacting and even crying as the play reopened everyone’s wounds. The man who sat next to me has lost more than 16 members of his family in Syria. Most of those watching the play had lost near and dear ones. Tragedy has struck almost the entire Syrian population.

In the play Under the Sky – written by Fadia Dalla and directed by Maher Salibi – we do not see anything about ISIS and about sectarian battles. A woman sitting next to me said this is how Syria used to be for all the Syrian people before the regime ripped it apart and decided to destroy it and displace its people.

No war on terror

The regime has tried and actually succeeded at picturing its confrontation with the majority of the Syrian people as war against terror and a struggle exported to Syria as a religious project. However, the story of the Syrian revolution is like the Libyan and the Yemeni revolutions. It’s the story of the people who could no longer tolerate a life under the rule of violent security and military regimes.

The play reminds us how, before the Syrian revolution, people rejoiced if the bread they received was not rotten. It shows how the regime kept people preoccupied with earning a living, putting food on the table and how it afflicted them with torment. This is why the Syrian people revolted. They did not revolt out of religious or ideological grudges.

We can see the difference between popular sympathy and international carelessness, which has allowed Syria to become the worst tragedy we’ve known since World War II

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Do the people know the scale of the tragedy committed against millions of Syrian people? Dalla’s black comedy, with this funny yet painful script, gives us mixed emotions. In one of the scenes, Sabri grabs her phone and takes different pictures of herself while carrying a rifle. “Maybe someone will see this photo and like it (on Facebook),” she says. The scene is followed by moments of silence as she recalls others’ sufferings and says: “What about those drowning in the sea? How will they see how many likes they have on their photos?”

People in Arab countries and the rest of the world certainly sympathize a lot with the Syrian people. However, this sympathy is not being reflected on the ground due to the official opportunist stances by governments. Therefore we can see the difference between popular sympathy and international carelessness, which has allowed Syria to become the worst tragedy we’ve known since World War II.

As long as there is continuous rejection of the wrong status quo, the Syrian cause will not be buried despite the life of displacement and exile and the huge flow of refugees. This is why the war failed to impose what the regime wants.

Whenever we ask ourselves whether the Syrian people can resist and remain steadfast, we realize that with this spirit and persistence, they’re actually capable of overcoming their ordeal and that no matter how successful Assad is at displacing whoever is left of the Syrian people, he will not succeed at planting despair.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 21, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.