A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Timing is everything: law-making and law-activating in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 11, 2007

Syria Today‘s “Daily News Updates” includes this fascinating tidbit:

Syrian Government Bans Cars Stickers

The Syrian Government banned all kinds of car stickers, mottos and signs through all over the country, Syrian official news agency (SANA) reported on February 28.

The Ministry of Transportation directed all car drivers in all provinces to remove all signs and logos except for the original logo of the car agency. It has also noted that driving licenses won’t be extended for cars that don’t apply the law.

The new directions were issued in law No.31 in the year 2004 and circulated to all transportation directories. But despite the new law, people in Syria, still put pictures, mottos and slogans on their vehicles.

I cannot find anything about this ban, either on SANA or any other site. And I must admit that I am quite disappointed with ST, which I usually love. Its banal reportage takes the government’s statement at total face value, doing nothing about its several curious aspects.

This article-let makes it quite clear that the law was published, but not enacted, in 2004. Hence “people in Syria [who] still put pictures, mottoes, and slogans on their vehicles” were not acting “despite the law”.

What I see here are two critical – and very mysterious – moments: the moment in 2004, when the law was created; and February 2007, when the law was put into effect. In Syria and around the region, there can be a great lag between these two moments; the reasons why can be difficult to discern, but deeply fascinating.

I suspect that in 2004 the political pressures prompting the creation of this law were quite different from those leading to its enactment. It could have been a reformist impulse – an effort to downplay the personality cult of the Assads and the totalizing grip of the Baath Party. The “stickers” in question might have been those showing the President and his family, and the mottoes those of the Baath Party.

Or it could have been something quite different: an attempt to minimize popular displays of support for Iraqi resistance groups, for example. 2004 was the year in which the first major wave of Iraqis came to Syria, bringing skyrocketing real estate prices and explosive growth in then-unincorporated suburbs like Jarmana.

And now, the reasons for the law’s enactment could be something else entirely. Perhaps the Druze star I have so often puzzled over is now too sectarian a symbol, as are phrases like “Salla 3ala al-nabi” or the very identifiably Shi3a “Ali wali Allah”.

Or perhaps it is something more mundane: an attempt to rid the country’s back bumpers of the stickers of beautiful Arab eyes and other kitsch. My all-time favorite Arab world car motto is the ubiquitous and puzzling “NO KISS”, which I have seen (in English) on cars around the region. Who knows what it means – that I should not try to kiss the driver? that the driver never mis-judges his space and “kisses” the curb?

And who knows why this law has been enacted now. Certainly not the Daily News Updaters at Syria Today, who I am disappointed to say have chosen mere reportage over journalism.


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