Peace Guitarist Becomes Assad Regime YouTube Troll Star

Balladeer sings soft Arabic ballad at German peace rally, is actually a Syrian propaganda pop song

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Aug 31, 2016 at 11:01 AM ET

An innocuous-seeming guitarist at a peace vigil in Germany has become an Assad-regime YouTube anti-hero, subtly trolling well-wishers with a softly-strummed Assad regime propaganda ballad.

A video clip of a German man singing and playing an Arabic song about Syria on guitar at a Frankfurt outdoor peace vigil has notched up 20,000 views since it was uploaded to YouTube on August 27. The video was removed four days later due to a copyright claim, but continues to rack up views on several Facebook pages.

The performer, a man named Ernst (Ernesto) Schwarz, presents it as an anti-war song, but he’s actually playing an unofficial pop anthem for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The video has been heavily promoted on social media by groups and individuals who support the regime.

The song Schwarz performs, in his awkward, German-accented Arabic, is called “Good Morning Syria” (“Sabah al Kheir Ya Surya” / صباح الخير سوريا ). It is an original composition by (علي الديك) Ali al-Deek, 45, a Syrian pop singer who released it in 2011, during the early days of the uprising against the Assad regime.

Al-Deek is an Alawite, from the same sect as President Bashar al-Assad; significantly, the video accompanying his song was produced with the help of staffers at the Syrian Ministry of Interior. Since then, “Good Morning Syria” has become a staple on Syrian state television, with lyrics that are widely understood to be supportive of the Assad regime. It is not, in other words, just a catchy pop tune, and definitely not a song of peace.

Here is a translated excerpt of the song’s lyrics:

I heard the sun whispering, “good morning Syria”
O land of goodness, who can extinguish your sun?
O Syria land of pride, you shall not kneel to anyone but God
You [Syria] can’t be slighted and no one can shake you

In the original video accompanying the song, al-Deek wears an Army uniform while posing with marching soldiers who salute the Assad regime’s two-star Ba’athist flag. In another scene, a woman dressed in the long veil and shapeless dress of a pious Sunni Muslim smiles and laughs as she enjoys a friendly coffee with a Christian woman, who is identified by the cross she wears around her neck. The camera pans over church steeples and mosque minarets. These are none-too-subtle visual clues that indicate this video is akin to Assad regime official propaganda, which touts itself as the protector of a multi-confessional, open-minded Syria where people of all religions and backgrounds are treated equally.

The lyrics also convey the message that Syria is a paradise of tolerance and patriotism thanks only to Assad’s rule— and that any Syrian who contests this narrative is a traitor, or a promoter of conspiracy theories.

O you the people of Syria, enjoy the love of our homeland
The Quran embracing the Bible for we have no sectarianism
Syria, you the home that opened its door to the entire world
Except for the traitors and occupier for they’re forbidden from entering it

In fact the Assad regime is notoriously brutal toward its opponents, or anyone suspected of being an opponent. According to Amnesty International, nearly 18,000 political detainees have been tortured to death over the last five years. The regime’s Army has killed far more Syrians than ISIS, using tactics like poison gas and barrel bombings. It also lays siege to residential areas that are held by regime opponents, preventing food and basic supplies from reaching unarmed civilians in their homes. Most recently, the regime has been accused of bombing civilian areas with napalm.

Schwarz’s video has been heavily promoted on social media accounts curated by supporters of the Assad regime, including the Facebook page of Alalam, an Arabic-language satellite TV channel that is owned by the government of Iran (Iran is a powerful backer of the Assad regime). For them, the video is a useful propaganda tool to present as purported evidence that Germans are happy to have the Syrian refugees now living among them.

Notably, they fail to mention how Syrians living in Germany came to be in exile.

No-one — neither the Assad supporters nor Ernst Schwarz — explains the provenance and significance of the song.

In the video, Ernst Schwarz seems happy to leave his German audience in the dark as to the political meaning of the song or its composer’s affiliation with the Assad regime. Schwarz himself is apparently a Marxist who frequently performs political songs at European gatherings of like-minded people. European Marxists have officially come out in opposition of the Assad regime, after once supporting it for its Ba’athist (Arab socialist revolutionary) ideology, so it would appear that Schwarz has some oddly syncretic political views. It is worth noting that the pro-Assad Frankfurt Solidarity Committee for Syria also uploaded the video to its Facebook page.

The weekly peace rally in Frankfurt is just one of many that take place across Germany, Switzerland and Austria under the auspices of a rather dubious organization. Officially the Vigil for Peace movement is non-partisan, but academic surveys say it is supported by some shadowy figures on both the far right and the far left, including conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites.

For an observer who knows little or nothing about the complexities of the Syrian conflict, the ambiguous lyrics of “Good Morning Syria” are ostensibly those of a harmless, cheerful and catchy song about love of one’s country. But for a Syrian refugee, it’s a bitter lyric. The refugees are exiles, but Ali al-Deek travels freely on his Syrian passport, which makes the song an even more caustic troll. At a 2013 concert in Ohio, al-Deek mocked Barack Obama and praised the Assad regime, claiming it had “already triumphed” over the United States.