by Kobi Guillory, published on Fightback News, May 28, 2021
Damascus, Syria – On Wednesday, May 26, election day in Syria, crowds flocked to polling places to cast their votes. A delegation of observers from the U.S., South Africa, France and Palestine visited polling locations east of Damascus in the war-torn Ghouta region to witness the voting and celebrations taking place. Occupied by U.S. and Saudi-backed contras for over six years, civilians there were unable to vote in the last presidential election, and many more have only recently returned to finally rebuild their homes. Within Ghouta, the delegation observed voting in the town of Arbin and the city of Douma.
The morning of election day, an antique store owner in Damascus told Fight Back! “I am going to vote as soon as I close the store. It’s my right and there are polling places everywhere.” He pointed to the place he planned to vote, a few blocks away from the souq (market) in which his store is located.
Election officials reported that Douma, a city with 70,000 residents, had 20 polling sites. The election boasted a total of 12,000 voting stations around the country and in Syrian embassies that are still open.
In spite of the abundance of voting stations, officials had trouble with the sheer number of voters. The polls were originally set to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the large crowds forced officials to keep the polls open until midnight. An observer in Douma from the office of opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah said more than 1500 people had voted at that site by 2 p.m. This location was also where incumbent president Bashar al Assad had cast his vote that morning.
Hundreds of Syrians, including many young people, rallied outside every polling site. Crowds waved Syrian flags and raised pictures of Assad while chanting “Allah! Souriya! Bashar ou bas!” (God! Syria! Bashar! Nothing else!) among other chants in favor of the incumbent. A man celebrating outside a Douma voting station said in English, “We want Dr. Bashar because there are no more terrorists!”
The man continued in Arabic, “It was miserable during the occupation. There was no food, water or electricity. People were killed for smoking. Women were killed for not covering up.” His town was occupied by Saudi-backed terrorist organization Jaish al Islam from 2012 until 2018, when it was liberated by the Syrian Arab Army.
Young people showed off the ink on their fingers, the mark used to indicate that they had already voted, preventing people from voting more than once. An 18-year-old casting his vote for the first time said of himself and his friends, “We want to be doctors and engineers so we can help rebuild Syria.”
Yara Saleh, a Syrian reporter who was kidnapped by terrorists for six days in 2012, stressed the importance of this election for the youth. “The young people grew up during the war,” she said, adding that the youth deserve safety and stability that they were denied for so long. “Every Syrian family has a story like mine,” Saleh added.
The following night, tens of thousands of people gathered in and around Umayyad Square in central Damascus to await and celebrate the results. 19-year-old Aya Jamal Abbas danced with her friends in the crowd, a Syrian flag painted on her face.
“I’m very happy that we’re all together. We voted for Bashar and we’re waiting for the results,” Abbas said. “This is our victory. We won this war.”
Her sentiment was echoed by people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. Abeer Ali Naif, a Palestinian woman who Fight Back! spoke to outside her home in the war-torn Yarmouk refugee camp, invited the delegation to celebrate the results in her home with her family the morning after the election. “Bashar is a great man,” Naif added.
Many people in Umayyad Square described their feelings of joy. “Damascus deserves joy for all the people who are no longer with us today,” said Aasma Rahme, 27, a lawyer.
“There is joy in Syria,” said Ahmed al Ali, 42. “Everyone around is happy. It’s infectious. Congratulate the Syrian people for this joy.”
Deafening cheers erupted throughout the square when the results were announced. Fireworks lit up the sky and celebratory gunshots went off all over Damascus.
Mpho Masemola, member of the delegation and secretary general of the South African Ex Political Prisoners Association, likened the celebrations to those that happened during the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela.
President Assad was re-elected with an overwhelming 95.1% of the vote. Reportedly, 14.2 million people voted out of 18.1 million eligible citizens in Syria and internationally.
The 78.6% voter turnout might have been higher if all Syrians were able to vote where they live. Some areas of Syria are still under occupation by U.S. and Turkish troops and various mercenaries they support. Many Syrians living internationally could not vote due to the Syrian embassies in their countries of residence being closed.
One such Syrian is Johnny Achi, who has lived in the United States for over 30 years. Achi voted in Douma, where he said, “As long as the Syrian embassy in the U.S. is closed, I will travel here to exercise my right and duty as a Syrian citizen.”
Tamer al Jadoua, 33, told Fight Back! in Umayyad Square that he traveled from Kuwait to cast his vote. Al Jadoua and al Ali were celebrating together and responded to questions about the claims in U.S. and allied media that the election was fake and celebrators were forced.
“We are the ones who voted for Bashar because we like him,” al-Ali said. “No one forced all these people to be here. Many came from very far away.”
“When you see all the people come here voluntarily, you see the people of Syria say, ‘Bashar is our choice,’” Husam Ayazra said in English. “We don’t need anyone to impose anything on us. We want just Bashar. No one else.”
A group of men initially refused to be interviewed by this U.S. based Fight Back! reporter. “You will go back and tell lies about us,” one man said. After some discussion, the man said, “All these people are not being forced to be here. They’re here because they support Bashar with their blood and soul.”
The man used phrasing from the ubiquitous chant: “Bi ruh, bi dam, nafiq ya Bashar!” (With blood, with the soul, we are with you Bashar!) The man continued, “These are not just words to us. You have to say them with your soul.”
Accusations of a faked election are another in a long list of slander against Syria in the U.S., UK, Israeli, Qatari and other imperialist-aligned media. Earlier in the day, Naif cited those same governments as being responsible for the destruction of her home in Yarmouk, as well as the ongoing occupation of the land from which her family was forcefully removed in 1948.
When asked what message she has for America, Naif replied, “Leave us alone.”
In response to the same question, Ayazra implored Americans and other people of the world to watch out for misinformation in the media. “I want every journalist to be honest,” Ayazra said. “Ask yourself if you want another country to destroy your country. Why do they do that to us? There is democracy in Syria. They want to destroy it with lies.”
One of the men, who did not want to be named, told Fight Back!, “Tell the truth about what you saw here. And make Joe Biden lift the sanctions.”
The man was referring to the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Syria through the Caesar Civilian Protection Act of 2019. The Caesar Act put a chokehold on the Syrian economy, causing a currency collapse that inflated the price of basic goods and restricting access to medicine and the construction materials needed to rebuild Syria after the war, among other vital resources.
The man added that it is the responsibility of the American people to fight against their government when it attacks other countries.
The election marks a victory of the Syrian people against imperialism, but imperialism is still detrimental to their lives and the lives of people around the world. The system of imperialism will stay alive until the people living under imperialism rise up and kill it.
*Featured Image: Syrians celebrating in Damascus after the re-election of President Bashar Assad.