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Syrian actress backs protesters, causes sensation

November 12, 2011 |  3:00 am

Picture 8REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Criticizing President Bashar Assad and denouncing the government are risky moves in Syria. Artists are not immune. Some who dared to speak out  have reportedly been targeted.

An amateur Syrian poet in the troubled city of Hama, Ibrahim Qashoush, penned anti-regime lyrics that became popular among protesters, who chanted one of his compositions: “Come on, Bashar, time to leave.”

In July, opposition activists say, his body was found, his throat slit, in a river in his hometown. The widely reported account of his death could not be independently confirmed.

In August, masked gunmen in the Syrian capital, Damascus, reportedly attacked renowned cartoonist Ali Farzat after the appearance of a series of his caricatures mocking Assad. The assailants broke his hand and left him bleeding on a road in the capital, according to published accounts.

Such reports, however, have not deterred Fadwa Sulayman, a Syrian actress who has taken a very public stance against the regime and become a heroine in opposition circles. Assad supporters are said to be furious.

She has emerged as a rebellious woman championing  a movement mostly featuring men. Earlier this week, Sulayman appeared alongside protesters in the besieged city of Homs during a live interview with Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab television news channel.

She denounced what she called government efforts to sow sectarian hatred. The regime says Sunni Muslim extremists are behind the violence. Protesters blame security service thugs.

"Regardless of how the regime plays the [sectarian] card … we are proving this is not true," she told Al Jazeera. "The awareness of the Syrian street and the Syrian person is much deeper." As the interview continued, the host reminded Sulayman that she was live on air.

“Are you not afraid for your life?" the interviewer asked.

"There is no one who does not fear for their life," Sulayman said. "But we reached a stage, a moment you cannot fear for your life, when everybody's life is in danger.… Any human watching what we are seeing in the country cannot remain silent."

The following day, Al Jazeera broadcast video purportedly showing Sulayman, wearing a traditional Arab headdress, mounting a makeshift podium during a Homs protest, raising her arm in the air defiantly and leading anti-sectarian chants. "One! One!" she shouts into the microphone, as the crowd replies: "The Syrian people are one! One! One!"

Sulayman's stance is also noteworthy because she is said to be a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Assad is the most prominent member of the sect, which plays a central role in the Syrian security services. The protest movement is rooted in Syria’s majority Sunni community.

Another video, shown below, has surfaced in which Sulayman apparently announces that she is going on a hunger strike until the siege on Homs is lifted.

"I declare that I will continue to participate in the protests and keep the hunger strike … to break the siege on the besieged areas of Homs, and to prove to all our partners in the homeland the lies of this government," Sulayman declares in the clip.

Facebook pages have been set up in support of Sulayman, who has appeared in TV series and films. She has reportedly also come under attack by regime supporters for her stance.



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-- Alexandra Sandels

Photo: An image taken from video purportedly showing Syrian actress Fadwa Sulayman at a protest in Homs this week. Credit: Al Jazeera /YouTube

Video: Amateur video purportedly showing Sulayman announcing a hunger strike. Credit: YouTube