In Lebanon, A popularity contest between politicians over a fake facebook page
On the evening of thursday 5th October, The municipal council of Tripoli, north of Lebanon, voted to change the name of one of its most famous and used roundabout on the northern part of the city.
Nonetheless, a fake facebook post has caused several politicians to start a quarrel, to reflect each one popularity over the other, by defending the city and its residents, while staring away from the real issue which is a false statement attributed to a politician.
The decision of the municipal council orders to change the label from (late syrian president) “Hafez El-Assad roundabout” to the “Takwa (Piety) Roundabout”.
Renaming for “El-Assad”
Since 1976, a lot of streets and highways were given the name of the syrian president, back then, Hafez El-Assad, as a sign of gratitude and honor for helping in restoring peace by limiting the presence of palestinian guerrilla in Lebanon, which had been significantly expanded prior to the outbreak of the civil war.
In 1991, the two governments of Beirut and Damascus signed a treaty that legitimized the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, which ended officially in 2005 with local and international pressure following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
And while most residents in Tripoli rarely use the name “Hafez El-Assad roundabout”, lebanese governmental bodies have not been using it during the previous years, neither the lebanese army, which used to send out updated statements on the developments of the armed conflict between “Bab al-Tabbaneh” and “Jabal Mohsen” neighbourhoods of the roundabout in Tripoli, Lebanon.
The most frequently used name by locals for the roundabout is “Dawar Abu Ali” in arabic or the “Abu Ali roundabout”, which takes its name from the “Abu Ali river” that flows in the middle of Tripoli, which is actually the last part of the Kadisha river, that pours down from the Kadisha Valley.
In return on the matter in hand, a post by former member of the syrian parliament Ahmad Shalash erected on twitter and the next day on facebook
The tweet that was posted on the 5th of October 1:21 PM (Beirut time) , before the voting session in the municipality Included the following:
The one who removed the name of the immortal leader Hafez El-Assad from Tripoli’s roundabout will receive a harsh and a very harsh response… We will destroy Tripoli on the heads of its residents.. If they do not back down.”
This tweet got, until writing this piece, no more than 5 retweets and 18 likes and more than a hundred replies.
On the next day, a facebook page connected to the previous mentioned twitter account posted the following text at 10:28 pm (Beirut time):
We will decapitate all of those who took part in the crime of removing the name of the immortal leader Hafez El-Assad from the roundabout of Tripoli and whomever covered this operation politically… Let these mercenaries know, that the name of the holy leader was an honor for them and their city, and its removal from the roundabout is a shame that won’t be forgotten from the lions of syrians and lebanese, always ready to put an end to every traitor and a infiltrator and even to whomever even thought of betrayal and treachery.
That facebook post that harnessed 140 reactions, 88 comments and 2 shares.
Afterwards, several whatsapp groups started to circulate screenshots of both posts which launched a wave of angry posts on social media, attacking the syrian MP and committing to “support and defend” the decision of the municipality and whomever was behind it.
On the other side, Ex minister Ashraf Rif, an active politician with a wide fan base in tripoli, sent out a tweet at 11:09 pm on thursday 5th October with the following:
“I salute the municipal council which removed the name of Hafez El-Assad from the “Abu Ali roundabout” and its name became “the takwa roundabout” . There is no place for the names of tyrants in our squares. Glory to the martyrs.”
And while the previous tweet originated from Rifi’s official twitter and reposted on his facebook page. Another statement claiming to be from Rifi started to spread on social media on Friday night, supported by facebook pages close to the media circle of Rifi itself, and replying directly on El-Shlash by indicating that the ex-minister will send out a letter asking the municipality to continue with the removal of all the names associated with the syrian regime from Tripoli, a post that was overwhelmly welcomed by the people of tripoli , a reaction which seem not to be pleasant to Rifi’s political rivals, the Future Movement, headed by current prime minister Saad Hariri.
And around 10 pm of friday evening, the Future Movement sent out a statement to the media expressing their refusal of El-Shlash’s alleged words and insisting that it will take measures against the syrian politician.
The Future movement media statement, that published a screenshot of El-Shlash tweet, ended by indicating that:
“We will notify the cassation general prosecution on Monday to take all legal procedures to prosecute him and prevent him from entering the lebanese territories, in addition to issue an arrest warrant against him”.
Apart from all the commotions that happened over social media and political statements, it is obvious the need to remind everyone, especially politicians that seem not to really follow what is happening in the world of social media, that El-Shlash has been for the last years, emphasizing in each interview he is giving, that he has no, whatsoever, online presences.
In a recent interview on Al-Jadeed lebanese tv station, published in Youtube on Jul 13, El-Shlash clearly denounced any relation to social media accounts, stating the following:
I never had, at any day, any presence on social media, no facebook or any other tools.
.. And today, if you just searched for my name on facebook, i’m sure that you will find a large number of accounts.
.. I already declared, on different media stations, that I don’t have any social media accounts, and I would like from everyone who is a member of these accounts or pages to get out of it, because none of them are mine. And whomever can close these accounts is very welcome and I would thank him for this.
Considering this isn’t the first time that posts are wrongly attributed to me, I request the lebanese government to work on pulling the plug from those account, and I demand from my country Syria, represented by the Electronic Syrian Army to do the same.
No lesson learned
And indeed, this isn’t the first time the ex-member of the syrian parliament has been wrongly attributed by social media posts. Here is a sample of how this Facebook page has been causing a lot of trouble during the last years:
In July 2017, social media users were mass sharing a screenshot of a facebook post, allegedly showing El-Shlash attacking the lebanese president and the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. El-Shlash went on tv (the interview above) to confirm what he always say that he is not on social media.
In August 2017, several news website published the content of a post in El-Shlash alleged facebook page, accusing lebanese MP Okab Saker of fighting with “Al-Qaeda”.
This image, showing a soldier taking a selfie with an armed soldier that looks like Saker, turned out to commander of the syrian “Tawhid” army.
In November 2016, the lebanese MTV tv station published a post from that page, threatening the Lebanese president Michel aoun. On the next day, el-Shlash gave a statement that he hasn’t said any of the words in question.
In November 2015, another post from the facebook page in question triggered angry reactions among some Syrian artists, after wrongly inciting that the syrian parliament has decided to ban the dubbing of Turkish soap operas to the Syrian dialect, thus arabic language.