“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
Ali Farzat, the Arab world’s greatest cartoonist – in fact one of the very best and bravest creative voices in the Arab world – was bundled into a van by Syrian regime filth last night. Some hours later he was found bleeding at the side of the airport road. First reports suggest that his hands have been broken.
I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureacracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘reistance regime’ will note this well.
I discovered Ali Ferzat when I lived in Damascus in the late 1990s. His work was published in state newspapers. He seemed to be one of the rare few – poet Muhammad al-Maghut and actor Yasser al-Azmeh were others – who were permitted to transgress the state’s taboos. When Bashaar inherited power in 2000, Ali was granted permission to start up his own satirical newspaper, ad-Domari (‘the Lamplighter’). A couple of years later the initiative fizzled out under the pressure of mounting censorship and intimidation. The episode was symptomatic of the deceptions of Bashaar’s early years.
A few months ago the body of Ibrahim al-Qashoush, a native of Hama who wrote a popular anti-regime song, was found in the Orontes river. Ibrahim’s vocal chords had been ripped from his throat. Now the shabeeha regime has broken Ali’s hands. But it won’t break the creativity or the will of the Syrian people.