11.16.11

Syria's Revolutionary iPhone App Helps Fight the Assad Regime

Amid a brutal crackdown, rebels are fighting back on their iPhones. Babak Dehghanpisheh on how the Arab Spring’s newest weapon keeps the opposition informed—and the regime in check.

The revolution is online. For the past eight months, the Internet has played a key role in the Syrian uprising: with foreign journalists largely banned from the country, protesters have turned to the web to document their rallies, anti-regime chants, and, at times, gruesome videos of security forces shooting and beating people. Now the tech-savvy opposition has taken things one step further: an iPhone and iPad app launched on Tuesday called Souria Wa Bas (which roughly translates as “Syria and That’s All”), perhaps the first of its kind in the history of revolutions.

Despite a fierce government crackdown—the U.N. estimates that more than 3,500 people have been killed since March—the protest movement in Syria shows no sign of disappearing. In fact, it’s the Syrian regime that has taken some hard hits in the past week. On Saturday, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria’s membership, a decision that infuriated officials. Foreign Minister Walid Moallem called it an “extremely dangerous step.” That didn’t stop King Abdullah of Jordan from getting in an extra dig on Monday when he publicly called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

And if the diplomatic assault weren’t enough, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed opposition group composed mostly of military defectors, claimed to have launched a series of attacks around Damascus in the early hours of Wednesday morning. One of the attacks allegedly targeted the Air Force Intelligence headquarters in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, which appears to be the most high-profile and complicated operation the group has carried out since it began operations last summer.

News of the FSA’s attacks featured prominently on the new app on Wednesday with one link showing an aerial photo of the intelligence headquarters that was allegedly attacked, complete with arrows purporting to showing the three directions from which fighters launched their assault. The creators note on their website that they pulled the app together to counter distorted (read: regime) accounts of the opposition’s activities. “Under the fast-moving events in Syria … And the deliberate attempts to distort the facts by some. We have compiled the most important Syrian news sources available,” the creators write.

The app features links for news, videos, a map of opposition hot spots, and … jokes.

The app team gives a shout-out to a handful of opposition groups, including the Local Coordination Committees that claim to have members across the country. The app features links for news, videos, a map of opposition hot spots, and … jokes. That may seem odd, but the opposition has shown that it can keep a sense of humor even in the face of withering violence: one of the most well-known opposition songs features humorous putdowns of Assad, his family, and regime cronies. The jokes in the app use similar biting humor to criticize the regime. One link shows Assad wearing a shepherd’s outfit and standing next to a donkey with the punch line “Bashar al Assad wandering in the mountains of Tehran in disguise.” The Tehran reference is a jab at Iran’s leaders, who have shown strong support for the regime.

The war of words—and potentially an all-out bloody war—between the opposition and the regime will likely ramp up in coming months. Opposition supporters will surely turn to applications like Souria Wa Bas to get their news. It remains to be seen whether the Syrian regime will counter with an app of its own.