Watching Geneva II From Damascus

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Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opens the so-called Geneva II peace talks next to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on January 22, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Fabrice Coffrini).

By: Ahmad Hassan

Published Thursday, January 23, 2014

On TV screens in Damascus, Syrians are watching a particular version of the Geneva II conference.

Maleh Supersedes Moallem With Bandaged Forehead

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s speech breached the wall of monotony that dogged the beginning of the Geneva II conference. Moallem’s 37-minute speech, which he insisted on finishing, was a hot topic on social networking sites among both supporters and detractors. Moallem’s decision to directly address his US counterpart John Kerry made the Syrian foreign minister the center of the debates raging on Syrian Facebook pages.

Moallem’s preeminence, however, was superseded by the image of Syrian National Coalition member Haitham al-Maleh, who appeared with bandages on his forehead due to an accident in the Swiss lakeside city of Montreux. This turned him into “the first victim of Geneva II … and of Moallem.”

A Conference That Delights Public Transportation Drivers

Geneva II impacted the city’s traffic, though many people staying at home to watch the conference’s proceedings eased the congestion. “For the first time since screening the TV series ‘Cassandra,’ the Syrian ‘tournament’ kept us at home – more than the World Cup,” commented some.

Splitting the Screen

The Syrian media broadcast live all the details of the conference, including head of the National Coalition delegation Ahmed Jarba’s speech, which included many insults and accusations against the Syrian government. In the past, such content would not be allowed to appear on Syrian media outlets. This decision, however, gave Syrian satellite stations room for some media maneuvering.

During the speeches of Jarba, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the screen would split in two – one broadcasting the speech live and the other running reels of terrorist attacks inside Syria. During Faisal’s speech, the ticker identified him as “the foreign minister of his family.”

A News Ticker of a Different Kind

The Syrian media’s news ticker helped frame conference events in a particular way. During Faisal’s speech, the breaking news ticker stated: “The prince of takfiri terrorism in Syria, Saud al-Faisal, lists a series of lies and delusions in his speech that he is used to parroting and which exist only in his dreams and flights of fancy.”

Reducing Energy Rationing to Follow the Conference

The Syrian Electric Ministry refrained from energy rationing in many cities during the conference. An official source at the Damascus Electric Company told Al-Akhbar, “We received instructions to reduce the hours of energy rationing to the minimum level to allow people to watch the conference. We were able to at least stop the rationing from 9 am until 12:30 pm, which allowed people to watch the main speeches.”

No Major Surprises

Any surprises the Syrians were expecting did not happen, especially in relation to small but sensitive details, like how the Syrian delegation would stand before the three-starred flag of the opposition or the possibility of a handshake between the opposition and the Syrian government. The conference managers succeeded, to a certain extent, in avoiding such problems.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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