In Kafranbel, Syria, “We Are Still Optimistic”

On Hezbollah, the National Coalition, and the struggle for freedom

The little town of Kafranbel (map) is located in the heart of rebel-held territory in northern Syria. Due to Kafranbel’s strategic location, it was destined to become one of the most important locations in the conflict. However, Kafranbel isn’t famous across the world because of its strategic location, any great battle that was fought there, or any massacre that has occurred. It is famous because of its artwork.

Each Friday since Marck of 2011, the Syrian people take to the streets to protest. In Kafranbel, however, the protests are in a league of their own. For each week, the people of Kafranbel unveil banners and posters, in English, that comment on the past week’s news stories. Often satirical and witty, always laced with a melancholy-yet-defiant hope, a large part of the story of the Syrian crisis can be told through their posters. 

Many often ask what the people of Syria think, but each week, the people of Kafranbel tell us. See banners from other weeks in our Voices of Kafranbel section.

The Syrian people have many enemies. For nearly three years they have lived in fear: fear of bombs, guns, ethnic violence, the cold, the hunger, the future.

For those in opposition-held territory, they are caught between a weak and decentralized government on one hand, and the violent retribution of a government that will stop at nothing to crush the rebellion. Lately, they’ve been getting plenty of help. Russia has provided a lifeline of money, parts, and weapons to the regime, resources Assad has used to keep his helicopters and fighter planes in the air, and bombing opposition territory. Iran has provided logistical help, oil, and loans that Tehran will likely never collect on. Furthermore, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers are now essentially running Assad’s war, and with the help of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and Shia militias, the IRGC has been instrumental in helping Assad turn the tide in several key regions of Syria.

Just this week, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to stay in Syria for as long as it takes to ensure Assad’s victory:

“As long as the reasons [to fight in Syria] remain, our presence there will remain,” Nasrallah said on Thursday in a speech in front of tens of thousands of Lebanese Shia marking the religious ceremony of Ashoura in southern Beirut.

“Our fighters are present on Syrian soil… to confront all the dangers it faces from the international, regional and takfiri attack on this country and region,” Nasrallah said, referring to the self-declared jihadist rebels fighting in Syria.

External Threats and Internal Disappointment

This week I contacted one of the creators of the banners of Kafranbel, Raed Fares. He and his friend Ahmad Jalal make the posters based on themes from the news. This week, the largest banner in English was focused on Hezbollah.

Poster by Raed Fares

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal


But there were other themes, like this poster of the Syrian opposition depicted as a gladiator:

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal


Raed said that in this poster, “I was trying to say: freedom is not easy to be taken, we have to fight to get it, we have to bleed. It’s very hard to get it.”

And with the amount of international support that Assad is now receiving, it is clear that the struggle is far from over:

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal

Translation: The Revolution is not wine (booze, liqueur) that makes you relax and dream. The Revolution is a surgery whose pain we must endure until will reach healing. (thanks you to Zilal1 for the translation)

The banners of Kafranbel also recalled the external, geopolitical battle for Syria. One of the themes is that the recognized Syrian opposition leaders are not doing enough for the Syrian people. While they participate in talks that seem to go nowhere, the people of Syria suffer. This was reflected in several posters this week, including this one, which suggests that while the leaders are living in nice hotels in Europe, the people continue to struggle:


There was one more poster, one which has a meaning that is not as obvious:

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal.

Poster by Raed Fares and Ahmad Jalal.


I asked Raed Fares what this symbolized. “She (the crocodile, wearing the symbol of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces) is Suhair Atassi. She cried when the government was born, and the song is ‘Mawtini’ which means ‘my nation.'” Suheir Atassi has been described as the “Lady of the Revolution,” or most recently the “first lady of post-Assad Syria,” a prominent female leader of the opposition member whose voice was instrumental in the early days of the uprising. Now, she has been named one of the vice presidents of the National Coalition, and she is the head of the Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), which is supposed to be in charge of providing aid to the Syrian people. Fares increasingly feels abandoned by the National Coalition, and Atassi:

“She is not after the Syrian people’s interests at all, she is after herself , but she’s trying to show that she loves the Syrian nation and the Syrian people. She is not doing anything to prove the opposite. She is the head of the ACU organization, which has to be for supporting the Syrian people, but nothing happened and she didn’t help anyone inside Syria.

“I don’t think that the National Coalition is betraying the Syrian people. But they are doing nothing.”
Recent posters in Kafranbel have spoken about the starvation crisis, the continued violence, and the international community’s inability to do anything constructive to help the Syrian people. Perhaps the Syrian opposition’s leadership is trying to help, but it is rapidly losing respect on the ground in Syria, even among moderates such as the pro-democracy activists of Kafranbel.
Still, if the themes of the recent protests seem bleak, the people of Kafranbel are imbued with an infectious optimism. Just ask Raed Fares:
“You know, it’s been a long time since the revolution started, but I think we are still optimistic.”
To see other posters and protests from Syria, see our previous articles about the Voices of Kafranbel.

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