With more than 150,000 Syrians killed and millions more seeking refuge in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, a national election will be held tomorrow to give Syrian President Bashar Assad another seven-year term in charge.
The vote is meaningless, purely a symbolic gesture aimed at giving Assad the appearance of legitimacy. The United States and Syrian opposition forces have called the presidential election a farce while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Syrian government not to hold the election.
In 2007, Assad got more than 97% of the vote. This time he is running against two other candidates, a lawyer and a businessman, who by all accounts are on the ballot just to make the election seem real. Voting will only take place in areas controlled by the regime, forget regions in the north and east that are held by rebel forces.
So a fair and free election it is not, and the U.N. believes the elections will only worsen the bloody civil war that has been raging on for three years. Assad’s assured victory is meant to send a message that he is still in charge, in control and able to continue his brutal offensive.
Bizarrely, in the middle of all this, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has become an unexpected lightning rod. Human-rights activists are calling on the social networking site to refuse Assad’s political campaign access to its services.
The “Syria Campaign” has launched an online petition, calling on Facebook to shut down Assad’s “Sawa” campaign. Sawa means “together” in Arabic and in the past three weeks advertisements for the Sawa campaign have briefly appeared alongside some people’s Facebook pages, even those who stand against the Assad regime.
Critics say Facebook should not be seen to support a regime that has committed serious war crimes against its own people. In response, Facebook says the ads had been placed from outside Syria and have already been taken down, as they violated the company’s advertising policy.
But a spokesperson says Facebook is not considering dropping the actual Sawa site, adding that the social media giant permits freedom of expression.
In Syria, freedom of expression can get you killed.
As the mortar shells and barrel bombs rain down on opposition forces it’s clear the rebel groups themselves are divided. Suspicion among opposition factions runs high, each competing with one another for outside donations of money and weapons and then hoarding their cache for the “day after” Assad falls and a new battle begins for supremacy.
The internal squabbling among the rebels has made Western countries including the United States hesitant to provide weapons that could end up in the hands of groups they weren’t intended for. Amid all the infighting the rebels have been losing ground in Damascus and Homs and are struggling to hold onto Aleppo.
Against this backdrop, campaign banners and posters for Assad can be seen across the capital Damascus, one reads: "Our Bashar, we will not accept a president other than you. We have chosen you, you have our loyalty."
Loyalty through fear leads to landslide victories, not to mention that Syria’s opposition can’t participate in tomorrow’s vote thanks to a recently passed law barring those leading the revolt against the regime from competing.
So, even without Facebook’s help, Assad’s rule and Syria’s turmoil goes on.