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Beyond propaganda: Is Syria still beautiful?

“Syria is always beautiful,” or so says the official slogan of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism’s newly-launched campaign

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

“Syria is always beautiful,” or so says the official slogan of the Syrian Ministry of Tourism’s newly-launched campaign.

Five years into a devastating war, the death toll is soaring, the economy is ruined and swathes of the country lie in ruins. However, the end is nowhere in sight and the recently-negotiated truce between the US and Russia will likely fail, as its predecessors have done.

The truce, which began at sunset on Monday, has already been disregarded by influential a rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, which is concentrated in the strategically important city of Aleppo.

Thus the conflict will be doomed to finding a military solution which must take into account the moderate opposition and all global players involved in the conflict – based on this, the international community risks slipping into a global conflict.

Undesirable

Such a development is undesirable for both Moscow and Washington. For US President Barack Obama, who is facing his last months in power, an agreement on Syria must be added to his short list of achievements. For Russia, the diplomatic resolution of the conflict is the only way to avoid the collapse of its strategy in Syria and to avoid discreditable retreat from Syria. For both countries, a diplomatic resolution of the conflict is the only way to avoid global destabilization which is not in interests of any player. The key to finding a diplomatic resolution is a strong, reliable truce over the whole country, excluding areas under the control of ISIS and other radical organizations such as the group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.

The only way to save Syria and the Syrian people is to look reality straight in the face without sugar coating the truth. Officials in Damascus, it seems, prefer to remain blind

Maria Dubovikova

However, the problem lies in the fact that both sides are powerless to enforce the truce as it has become evident that they don’t have enough influence on the belligerent sides. A forced truce can never be continuous and sustainable as long it does not correspond to the will of at least one player on the ground. Furthermore, there is no trust between Russia and the US. The trustworthy and constructive relations between Kerry and Lavrov unfortunately do not characterize relations between the two countries. The political and military establishment in both countries suffer from phobias toward each other, aggravating bilateral relations, complicating the negotiation process and hampering the successful implementation of previously-reached agreements.

In such conditions, Syria is not only a devastated country that has been torn apart by numerous external and internal players, flooded with the blood of innocent people, destroyed and shattered, but also a delayed-action bomb with a broken mechanism. You don’t know whether it will explode or not and if it does, no one knows when.

Inappropriate appeals

Such circumstances, multiplied by the severe humanitarian crisis, makes any kind of propaganda depicting peaceful life in Syria beyond good and evil. This call to travel to Syria was firstly disseminated in early 2016 by the Syrian state media broadcaster SANA.

On the sidelines of a journalist forum that took place in Moscow in early June 2016, one of the top officials of the agency replied to a witty comment made by Al Arabiya English Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas on the issue. The official said that the website had been hacked and that such appeals for tourism were inappropriate in such circumstances. However, the Ministry of Tourism began a campaign within months of the comment, promoting historical destinations in the country. They are sharing videos of the country as though the war is fictional. From Maaloula, which was liberated from ISIS in April 2014, to Tartus, where dozens were killed in an ISIS terrorist attack in the end of May, footage depicting beautiful scenes is making the rounds.

Although tourism fed into Syria’s GDP in the past, it is madness to expect that it will become the cash cow of this now war-torn country. It is immoral toward the Syrians suffering in Aleppo. It is immoral toward the Syrians in devastated Homs. It’s immoral toward all those who are dying in Latakia, Damascus, Idlib provinces and other cities and areas. It is immoral to all those who perished, who are dying and will die in the war and in a humanitarian disaster caused by the war. Until now the only people who are attracted to Syria are the extremists from all over the world and soldiers of fortune joining various belligerent groups. The only way to save Syria and the Syrian people is to look reality straight in the face without sugar coating the truth. Officials in Damascus, it seems, prefer to remain blind.

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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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