A small number of exiled Syrians in Paris, Cairo and other cities launched a radio station called SouriaLi (My Syria / Surrealist) in October for the people of war-torn Syria. The programming is uncensored and available from a Cairo studio as a web-based series of podcasts on www.souriali.com. Two of the station’s founders spoke on Skype with Syria Witness a few days ago. Though they are no longer living in Syria, they continue to use pseudonyms for their own safety and that of members of their families still living in Syria.
The Syrian government restricts independent reporting within the country. We invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and economic loss in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for personal safety reasons, some contributors do not use their real names. Texts are edited for reasons of clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
Radio news for a Syrian audience on the Internet
Iyad Kallas is an Internet communication specialist now living in Paris. He explains how their new web-based radio station works and how it reaches its Syrian audience from a Cairo studio.
Listen to Iyad explain radio on the Internet (1:40)
First in Arabic, then in English and French
SouriaLi is aired in Arabic, but soon will be broadcast on satellite in English and French because the station’s mission is to expose Syrians to a Middle Eastern culture beyond the current violence and to a bigger world where there is hope.
Listen to Iyad discuss his audience, social media connections and future plans for the station (1:49)
The risk of distributing chocolate Easter eggs
Caroline Ayoub left retail work at Paris Gallery when the demonstrations turned her hometown into a war zone. She went to visit the families of men detained by the government, delivering food and rent to them. Security forces held her in prison for a month when she was caught delivering chocolate Easter eggs to Christian and Alawi children. After her release, she left Syria to work for SouriyaLi.
Listen to Caroline talk about her Easter egg arrest (3:23)
‘They want to be able to control the people’
“Basically, anything that spreads or creates public awareness is dangerous for the government,” said Iyad. “The Syrian regime depends on controlling people via fear, via one certain ideology. They want to be able to control people that want freedom of speech.” Iyad quit his company in Damascus three years ago. He abandoned his homeland for many reasons, he said. One was to avoid two years of military conscription.
Listen to Iyad explain his path to “surrealist radio” (1:27)
Cooking show for marginalized people
The radio staff of volunteers puts together a regular schedule of podcasts. One of the most popular is a cooking show that helps a diversity of women from marginalized corners of Syria to explain how to prepare a special ethnic dish and, by extension, teach other Syrians how some of the people live in unfamiliar parts of the Syrian culture.
Listen to SouriaLi radio strategies for Syrian development (1:55)
They use Jon Stewart humor, with respect and without fear
Their mission is to give the kind of radio to the people of Syria that they want, says Iyad. “There is a weekly news show and we try to do it – just to make it more comfortable for you – it’s pretty much similar to what Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are doing.”
So, there is a certain edge of sarcasm?
“Yes, but we try to be respectful. Like, for example, we respect the victims, everyone who lost someone here, we wouldn’t go that way. But still, with the public figures and what’s happening and the conflict, the different ideologies, the different points of view of things that are happening in Syria, we criticize it without any fear.”
Listen to radio journalism for “this very sad period in Syria.” (3:11)
Criticizing both sides from the middle
“We’re not interested in replacing a dictatorship with another dictatorship,” said Iyad. So they let their listeners and volunteer broadcasters criticize the Assad regime, the expatriate politicians who failed to unite the opposition, and anyone else who stands in the way of freedom for all Syrians.
They don’t air all the opinions they receive. If they decide to censor, they tell their listeners why and get ready to listen to their listeners.
Listen to what it means to try to be balanced and fair (2:38)
Middle East Voices welcomes your comments on this report (see below) – what do you think of the programming concept of SouriaLi?
To become a Syria Witness and tell your own inside-Syria story, contact David Arnold, coordinator of our Syria Witness project at syriawitness(at)gmail.com. For safety reasons, we strongly urge you to use a browser-based e-mail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) and be sure “https” appears in the URL. You can also invite Arnold to Skype at davidarnold70.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.