The New York Times reports today on the triumphant return of Lebanese diva Fayrouz to an opera performance in Syria. Reporter Robert F. Worth writes that "the Syrian government has promoted her performance as part of a yearlong
cultural festival that aims to burnish the country’s battered image
abroad." Using the arts to help the government’s image is not new in Syria. In her book Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official, miriam cooke writes about how Hafiz Asad (father of Syria’s current leader) sometimes facilitated the expression of anti-government sentiment
by appropriating the work of artists and writers, turning works of
protest into official agitprop. But this time the government’s efforts may not work. Worth reports that "Fayrouz’s opening night performance coincided with the arrest of Riyad
Seif, a famous Syrian democracy advocate who is suffering from prostate
cancer" and he quotes a Syrian dissident, Hassan Abbas: “As someone who is close to Syrian intellectuals, I can’t participate
in this festival, because my friends are in prison."