Fihmak Kfayeh (If You Know What I Mean) Pt. II

02 June 2016

Maya Abyad

Syrian journalist and trainer, PhD candidate in media.

The first section of this article is available here.

Post-2011 Terms:

With the beginning of the revolution, few milestone events carved out new terms that swiftly earned their new second meanings and became widely used in a remarkably short time thanks to social sedia and its hefty trending powers.

The interesting breakthrough in these terms is that they are terms whose second meaning is not meant to be hidden anymore. Everyone knows what they mean and they are not used to mean anything else now. They mark a break away from the double-meaning tradition.

Rabbi Yasser: “May the Lord assist” is a brief prayer which was often used ahead of an initiative before 2011, like “Here we go” in Hollywood films.

In the very first weeks of the revolution, April 2011, Ghassan Silwayah, nicknamed Abu Nazir, was arrested by regime forces and an interview of his “confessions” was aired on national TV, where he admitted all sorts of crimes and terrorist attacks. It was one of the regime’s earliest attempt to mar the reputation of peaceful demonstrators by accusing them of violence and terrorism, but it was such a poorly made attempt that Abu Nazir became a funny popular icon among regime supporters, and a Facebook page (later removed) dedicated to him went viral quickly.

His “confessions” were so simplistic and his language laughably colloquial. As he explained how simply he had planned all his “terrorist” attacks, he used the term "rabbi yasser" repeatedly. Thus, the term became common to describe a very poorly done or planned work.

Mundass:”Infiltrator” was coined after Asad’s first post-revolution speech, where he referred to the thousands of demonstrators as mere “infiltrators” attempting to misguide the Syrian nation. The term was sarcastically adopted by the opposition to define itself : a popular blog, a singing group, a caricature character and several short films were created with the same name.

Minhibbakji: “A We-love-you-er” refers back to the slogan ("We love you") of Bashar al-Asad’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the weeks preceding the elections, songs, banners posters and all sorts of adds hammered the nation day and night, trying to convince citizens that he was being re-elected for presidency because people "loved" him so much.

After the revolution started, it became the name for the more peaceful regime supporters - that is, those who are not part of its repressive apparatus - to differentiate them from the Shabiha.

Bouq: "Trumpet" has some resemblance to the musical instrument as does the English term. It refers to propaganda trumpeters who publicly defend the regime regardless of what it has done, without rhyme or reason.

This term became so common that it started being used also among regime supporters, occasionally, against those who defend the opposition aprioristically, but even more within the opposition itself, whenever someone defends an opposition figure or a faction despite them being culpable.

Yilʿan Rouhu: "Damn his soul" has developed into the contemporary replacement of the old Gouraud curse. It started in demonstration chants and soon became common use for everything political or not amongst opposition. It is a more foul term than the older one, which could be because foul language has become more common, or because more severe atrocities committed by fellow countrymen provoked stronger reactions.

Inshiqaq ash-Shareʿ: "Ash-Shareʿ's defection" refers to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs (1984-2006) Farouq ash-Shareʿ. He enjoyed a relatively good reputation if compared to those officials who were heavily involved in crime and corruption.

When the revolution started ash-Shareʿ was adviser to the President. Being originally from the southern city of Darʿa - where widespread demonstrations first broke out - Sunni, and supposedly less corrupt, heavy speculations emerged regarding his possible defection from the Asad regime. This was never proven to have happened, but it was rumored so many times that it became a reference to rumors themselves. For instance, a popular Facebook news group had a caricature drawing of ash-Shareʿ trying to defect as a banner for the rumors' section of the page.

In reality, little is known about the former adviser’s whereabouts today, but the most widespread rumor about him is that he has been under house arrest for years now.

Allah Yfarrej: "May God relieve" is a simple prayer said in moments of hardship. The recurrent use of it at the end of news discussions since 2011 gradually became an indication by the speaker that they wish to remain apolitical and merely want "problems" to end and are sharing news for the sake of being informed only. In that respect it naturally falls back into the pre-2011 tradition of cautious double-meaning, since its aim is to express the person's detachment from the uprising.

Kinna ʿAisheen: "We were living", is an abbreviated version of the pre-2011 term "We were living just fine (Kinna ʿAisheen o Ma Ahlana)". The second half was dropped by the shy regime supporters most famed for using it, to avoid a controversial political debate and its possible consequences under the rule of the regime they support. What this term attempts to say is that life was fine under Asad's rule, before the revolution, and things were not so bad.

The counter argument would normally either be that things might have not been very bad for them personally but were terrible for others, or that it was actually terrible all over, neither of which arguments is a comfortable one for moderate supporters who are mostly siding with the regime out of fear or for their personal interests.

Again, this term fits into double meanings, saying “We were alive” and meaning people should not have revolted.

Lissa ma Shalah l Pyjama: "He didn't take off his pyjama yet" is NOT what you are thinking! It refers to the allegory used by regime supporters to claim that Asad has not yet hit back with his full military force and is still being lenient with the opposition by wearing his pyjamas instead of his military uniform.

As years passed by, this theory was repeatedly proven wrong: Asad has used all the available weapons, he went from selling out the country's natural resources and sovereignty in return for foreign military intervention, to handing over his chemical arsenal to receive international support and remain in power.

So today the term is used cynically by the opposition, in a way similar to "We maintain our right to respond", to portray a person that has no intention nor ability to do anything while macho-talking his way through it.

Khilset o Fishlet: "It's over & failed" refers to the revolution. The first khilset regime campaign dates back to May 2011, when its media tried to discourage public participation in peaceful demonstrations by claiming the revolution was already over. Several other khilset attempts were made over the course of the first two years to no avail.

As the situation kept escalating, the regime propaganda machine quit using the term, but continued its attempts to prove the revolution a failure with a different terminology. For example, arguing from the very beginning that it was a terrorist Islamic and imperialist conspiracy against the State sovereignty, is another form of the khilset narrative. Today the term is cynically used to express the very opposite, that things will continue as they are for a long time still...

Tayyarah: "Flying" refers to demonstrations. A flying demonstration is a flash mob where the crowds gather and disperse in as little as 60 seconds to avoid being caught by ubiquitous Shabiha. This type of demonstration was probably first seen in the regime stronghold of Latakia to minimize the threats faced by protesters.

As armed rebels emerged, initially to protect demonstrations, the need for flash demos gradually faded. However, the regime clung to Damascus more than any other city, because of its political importance, so that "liberated" areas remained narrow and security presence unavoidable in most neighborhoods there. Thus, the capital held the longest record with regards to flash mobs, as they went on for over two years.

Farkesh: "Trip it" refers to the flash mob itself. It means that the demonstration is over and must be wrapped up or cancelled immediately.

It's interesting in terms of its nuance between overt and hidden double meanings. The original term means to disrupt or prevent something from happening, but it was not a widely used term. Flash mob demonstrators were the only ones that revived it and its usage was not popularized into normal daily life, making it a quite explicit revolutionary jargon.

Still, at least in the early phase of the uprising, it was the "officially" used term not only to end an ongoing flash demo, but also to cancel it if security presence was sensed before its beginning. Total strangers would pass you by saying “farkesh” while looking straight ahead: in case you are not there for the flash demo, you might not realize what they meant or if they were addressing you.

Shahed ʿAyan: "Eye witness" turned into a media phenomenon in the first few months of the revolution. The complete media blackout imposed by the regime not only prevented most professional journalists from covering the events, but it also meant that any Syrian person caught filming, or even using their mobile phone, around politically relevant events or locations was at risk of being detained incommunicado and possibly tortured or killed. So news had to rely on the words of random eye witnesses, who were not always a credible source.

Later on, as false witness accounts grew more frequent, the trend decreased and the term became synonymous with rumors and fake stories, mainly among regime supporters.

Al-Qanawat al-Mughridah: The "devious channels” and its twin term Tadlel Iʿlami (“media deception”) are key words for the regime propaganda machine. The "devious channels” are all the non-regime-supporting channels of the world, but the focus has been mainly on pan-Arab channels like al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, MBC 1 and France 24 Arabic.

“Media Deception” was actually a TV program on the pro-regime Dunia news channel (and its successor Sama TV), in which news reports by “devious channels” were denounced as mere montage and software fabrications. All these terms are now used sarcastically to deny obviously undeniable but inconvenient news as mere rumors and fabrication. For instance, a parent asking their child if they had failed a test might be answered: “Who? Me?! No, no, that’s all just media deception!”

Al Bistar: The "heavy boot" was the name of military shoes back in the Ottoman days. Today it exclusively means the oppressive force of military dictatorships. The sub-term Abeed Elbistar ("heavy boot slaves") refers to apologists and supporters of fascist dictators, who praise their oppressors in an almost addictive manner comparable to that of Stockholm syndrome patients.

Tilhas Halab: "Lick Aleppo" is a rather foul term. While “kissing” someone's backside is used in English, “licking” is used in Arabic. The reason why Aleppo is placed here goes back to the first year of the revolution, when most Syrian cities were in turmoil while Aleppo remained the least active (apart from university campuses). This turned the city into an insult amongst dissidents and the term spread to reach even Aleppo itself, where you could hear young demonstrators shouting “Lick Aleppo” to mock each other.

Al-Battah: The "duck” is not a cute bird anymore, it is Bashar al-Asad’s pet name according to his wife, Asma’ al-Akhras. The nickname was accidentally discovered in a leak of Asad’s personal emails in 2012. For several weeks to follow, rubber ducks were squeaking all over demonstrations throughout the country.

[Photo: Syria’s President Assad is depicted as a duck in graffiti in a village in the Jabal al-Zawiya area. The graffiti pokes fun at a leaked email exchange between Assad and his wife Asma in which she refers to him by his nickname “duck” - Jabal al-Zawiya - Idlib - 20-10-2012. (Source: Freedom House/CC BY 2.0)].

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