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“In one of his latest cartoons, Ali Farzat shows President Assad sweatily clutching a suitcase while he tries to hitch a lift with the Libyan leader, Col Gaddafi, who is furiously driving a getaway car.
The Syrian cartoonist has produced a stream of images like this in the past few months that have directly attacked the Syrian leader.
In one, President Assad is shown patiently white-washing the shadow of a huge security thug on a wall, while the real man stands untouched. The caption reads: “Lifting the emergency law”.
Another shows Mr Assad flexing in uniform in front of a mirror that reflects back a dominant, muscular image, overshadowing his puny figure.
For 40 years, Ali Farzat has been skewering the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world.
In his meticulous drawings, mostly without captions, he has shown the overbearing brutality of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy of leaders, and myriad other injustices of daily life that have resonated across the Middle East.
When President Assad first took power, Ali Farzat was allowed to start an officially-sanctioned satirical magazine as part of what was intended to be a new era of openness. But it was soon closed down.
What has changed in his work as the Syrian uprising has grown is his readiness to target real people – President Assad above all – rather than archetypes of unfettered power.
His beating-up by security forces shows that he has hit home and that the authorities’ tolerance for dissent is touching zero.”
Ali Farzat was born and raised in the city of Hama, in central Syria on 22 June 1951.His first professional drawings appeared, when he was 14, on the front pages of al-Ayyam newspaper, shortly before it was banned by the ruling Baath Party. In 1969 he began drawing caricatures for the state-run daily, al-Thawra. He enrolled at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University in 1970, and left before graduating in 1973. In the mid-1970s he moved to another government controlled daily, Tishreen, where his cartoons appeared everyday. International recognition followed in 1980 when he won the first prize at the Intergraphic International Festival in Berlin, Germany, and his drawings began to appear in the French newspaper Le Monde. His exhibition in 1989 at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, France, brought on him a death threat from Saddam Hussein, and a ban from Iraq, Jordan and Libya. The drawing that brought about the most controversy was called The General and the Decorations which showed a general handing out military decorations instead of food to a hungry Arab citizen.
In December 2000, Farzat started publishing al-Domari (“The Lamplighter”), which was the first independent periodical in Syria since the Baath Party came to power in 1963. The newspaper was based on political satire and styled in a similar way to the French weekly Le Canard enchaîné. The first issue of the paper came out in February 2001 and the entire 50,000 copies were sold in less than four hours. In 2002 he won the prestigious Dutch Prince Claus Award for “achievement in culture and development”. By 2003, however, frequent government censorship and lack of funds forced Farzat to close down al-Domari.
2011 Syrian uprising
As the ongoing Syrian uprising—which began in March 2011—against the rule of Bashar al-Assad grew, Farzat had been more direct in his anti-regime cartoons, specifically targeting government figures, particularly al-Assad. Following the fall of Tripoli in late August to anti-regime rebels seeking to topple Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, Farzat published a cartoon depicting a sweaty Bashar al-Assad clutching a briefcase running to catch a ride with Gaddafi who is anxiously driving a getaway car. Other cartoons Farzat published previously include one where al-Assad is whitewashing the shadow of large Syrian security force officer while the actual officer remains untouched with the caption reading “Lifting the emergency law” and another showing al-Assad dressed in a military uniform flexing his arm in front of a mirror. The mirror’s reflection shows Assad being a dominant muscular figure contrasting with his actual slim stature.
On August 25, 2011, Farzat was reportedly pulled from his vehicle in Umayyad Square in central Damascus by masked gunmen believed to be part of the security forces and a pro-regime militia. He was then badly beaten and dumped on the side of the airport road where passersby found him and took him to a hospital.According to one of his relatives, the security forces notably targeted his hands with both being broken and then told Farzat it was “just a warning.” His brother As’aad, however, claims Farzat was kidnapped from his home around 5am by five gunmen and then taken to the airport road after being beaten “savagely.” The gunmen then warned him “not to satirize Syria’s leaders.” The Local Coordination Committee (LCC), an activist group representing the rebellion in Syria, stated that his briefcase and the drawings in them were confiscated by the assailants.
In response to news of Farzat’s ordeal, Syrian opposition members have expressed outrage and several online activists changed their Facebook profile picture with that of a hospitalized Farzat in solidarity with the cartoonist. The United States condemned the attack calling it “targeted, brutal.” According to the BBC’s Arab affair’s analyst, Farzat’s beating is a sign that the Syrian authorities “tolerance for dissent is touching zero.”
This is one of Farzat’s most “provocative” cartoons according to observers. It shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad clutching a suitcase while he tries to hitch a lift with beleaguered Libya’s Qadhafi who is madly driving a getaway car.
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