The Story of a Man Behind Syria's Protest Anthem

"Come on Bashar, Leave" has spread from Hama to other cities

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While Tunisians popularized the Arab Spring's iconic slogan, "The People Want to Topple the Regime," Syrians have their own anthem: "Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar," or "Come on Bashar, Leave." Anthony Shadid explains in The New York Times that the anthem originated in Hama and has since spread to other cities, becoming "a symbol of the power of the protesters' message, the confusion in their ranks and the violence of the government in stopping their dissent."

At the center of that symbolism, Shadid adds, is a young cement layer from Hama named Ibrahim Qashoush. According to residents, Qashoush sang the chant in protests until early July, when Syrian security forces shot him, cut his throat, and ripped his vocal chords out. "They really cut out his vocal chords!" a pharmacist in Hama tells Shadid. "Is there a greater symbol of the power of the word?" Others dismiss that narrative. "Some residents have suggested that Mr. Qashoush was not the real singer, that two men had the same name, that he was really a government informer killed by residents, that he is still alive," Shadid writes. "One resident insisted the man killed was a second-rate wedding singer."

Shadid's colleague, Robert Mackey, follows up with two clips that purportedly show Qashoush singing the anthem. The first, which has English subtitles, takes place in Hama's central Assi Square just days before Qashoush's death. In the second video, the singer leads the crowd in a chant of "the people want to topple the regime" once the anthem concludes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.