The influx of social media influencers into Syrian regime-held areas has increased in recent times with the easing of precautionary measures imposed by most countries under the COVID-19 pandemic.
A good number of these Arab Youtubers have been active, especially the Syrians who left the country as refugees fleeing the war launched by the Assad regime against revolting civilians since 2011.
However, they were quick to adopt al-Assad and his media’s narrative promoting a different portrait of what is happening on the ground, especially since 2019, when the intensity of the battles between the regime and the opposition weakened according to settlement agreements that resulted in the displacement of thousands of fighters and residents from Daraa, Quneitra, southern Damascus, and the northern countryside of Homs city
Also, social media content creators and tourists must sometimes obtain security clearance or approval from the General Intelligence Division to enter Syria and transmit the image the Syrian regime wants and seeks after its alleged victory against terrorism.
In many cases, travel companies undertake the task of obtaining the security approval of a tourist or an influential content maker in the community where tour guides or escorts are assigned to identify the places they are allowed to visit.
Security clearance does not mean visiting all Syrian places and cities, especially those pulverized, which show the fact that heavy weapons were used against cities and neighborhoods.
The security branches determine the ways that content creators must take, and direct them to the need to stay away from meeting poor people who are exhausted by the living conditions.
Zaman al-Wasl monitored the visit of a number of well-known Youubers to Assad-held areas, such as British travel blogger Simon Wilson, Reem Khalil, Abir Shalati, Ahmad Aburub, Kasem Hato, Chef Omar, Youssef Kabani and several others.
What is remarkable is that some of the content makers who have been to Syria since 2019 have sought refuge in European countries to escape the oppression and bombing of the Assad regime and have obtained residency and protection, and some have even obtained European passports.
Reem Khalil, for example, has frequently visited regime areas in Damascus and Latakia, and it is noticeable for the videos she posts that she adopts the wrong picture of the situation in Syria.
Khalil portrays Damascus as Allah’s heaven on earth with its markets, food, restaurants, and neighborhoods, ignoring the security suppression inflicted by the security branches upon citizens.
Khalil, who has about 1.3 million followers on Facebook, tried to promote the return of normal life to those areas that she visits in Syria from time to time, and she holds a Golden Visa in Dubai.
A refugee in Sweden visits Assad's Syria
As for the 26-year-old Syrian refugee, Abir Shalati, she sought refuge in Sweden to escape the brutality of the Assad regime in 2013 and obtained protection and residency, then Swedish citizenship in 2019.
After acquiring Swedish citizenship, Shalati worked for a Swedish television station and later revealed the reality of her position on the Syrian regime. She made several visits to Damascus and posted photos depicting normalcy before taking them off her Facebook account.
Shalati was not the only refugee who visited regime-controlled areas. The Assad regime benefited from dozens of Syrian, Arab and international influencers who portrayed the return of the situation to the way it was before 2011.
British travel blogger Simon Wilson
British Youtuber Simon Wilson showed a video that included scenes of his visit to Syria, which started from Lebanon and then the Syrian-Lebanese border before entering Damascus.
Wilson was accompanied by a tourist guide (possibly an intelligence agent). The video began by talking about the streets of Damascus, its history and civilization, depicting the stability of the security situation.
The travel blogger also showed that the picture in Damascus is contrary to what is written about it and to how the West visualizes the city.
Wilson did not only visit Damascus and its markets; his tourist guide insisted on him to attend a match between Al-Wahda and Tishreen football clubs. And fates ruled for him to witness the Tashbih of the referee in favor of the Tishreen football club that hails from the stronghold of the regime after validating an unjustified penalty kick.
Wilson stated what the Assad regime and its intelligence wanted from that tour, asserting that he felt safe and that there was no danger to his life. How could he be in danger while the intelligence services are protecting him!
Youssef Kabani and his partner
The Syrian Youtuber, Youssef Kabani, entered Damascus and distributed money to poor people suffering under the deteriorating living conditions within the framework of pranks and cynicism.
Kabani appeared next to two guards, wearing a cloak and a head covering that looked like those for clerics, which exposed him to criticism, especially as he filmed his clip in front of the intelligence services.
Kabani also promised his some 1.5 million followers on Facebook another visit to the governorates of Aleppo, Homs, and Daraa.
Chef Abu Libdeh
Omar Abu Libdeh, better known as Chef Omar, resides in Turkey. He remained silent for a long time before he revealed his support of the Assad regime, which expelled him and his family from Syria.
Chef Omar distributed school uniforms, bags, and stationery to 850 students in Syria, from the profits of videos for the months of August and September of last year.
The chef did not mention the names of the areas in which these materials were distributed, only to silence his commentators with the phrase: “Whoever writes the words “regime” or “liberated” will be banned from this page”.
Omar alleges that his page is not for news and that the work is purely humanitarian, adding: “The distribution took place in liberated areas and regime areas, as you said. I know that its name is Syria, but I wrote it to you in plain words so that you would understand”.
The Syrian chef, who was born in Damascus in 1991 and holder of a Golden Visa in Dubai, also attacked the Molham Volunteering Team's campaign “Until the Last Tent”, which was launched last January with the aim of transporting dozens of families from camps to houses in the north of Syria that would keep them warm during winter.
It did not stop at this point, however, because Chef Omar provoked millions of Syrians when he left a Google Meet interview last July on Al-Madina FM radio, careless about the feelings of the mothers of the martyrs and the families of detainees in regime prisons.
Omar Abu Libdeh defied millions of Syrians and insisted on his exit from the Assad-loyal media based on intelligence orders, revealing his desire to return to the arms of the homeland.
Chef Omar, Abir Shalati, Reem Khalil and Simon Wilson are not the only ones who have contributed to polishing the Assad regime’s image and showing that things are back to normal.
These lines are not enough to mention all those who visited Assad-held areas, especially those who fled from the oppression of al-Assad to EU countries and obtained their nationalities, then returned to visit areas from which they were displaced by force of arms and the regime’s sectarianism.