Opinion makers

Independent voices from inside Syria are often impossible to verify. Although there are no statistics on blog rankings in Syria, some writers, bloggers and dissidents have become widely known (also abroad) by providing regular, interesting news, views and opinions on events from inside and outside the country. Checking the ten Twitter accounts with the highest number of followers in Syria gives very thought-provoking insights. With 3.225 million followers, the most popular account belongs to Adnan al-Arour, a Sunni cleric who became widely known for his support to armed opposition in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. His views once dismissed as “extreme” have acquired an increasing popularity with the exacerbation of the conflict and the increase in sectarian polarisation. Second-ranking (with more than 2 million followers) is the account devoted to the late controversial Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani and in the top ten there is another personality from the literary world: Ghada Samman, another much-loved and just as much controversial Syrian writer, with two accounts dedicated to her. From the media sector, there are two accounts in the top ten: the Sham News Network of the namesake opposition media outlet and Hadi al-Abdallah, a Syrian citizen journalist and activist who was awarded the Press Freedom Prize by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in November 2016. Three accounts belong to Syrian celebrities: singers Assala Nasri and Farrah Yousef and actor Kosai Khauli. The account belonging to Amanat muhafazat Jedda (the Jeddah Municipality) ranks fourth.

Beyond the outcomes of Twitter data, there are some prominent Syrian opinion makers that represent the main dominating narratives in the overall polarised war context. Among them there is Faysal al-Qasim, the famous Al-Jazira anchorman living in Qatar. For years he has taken overtly harsh anti-government positions and on his Facebook pages enjoys more than 11 million likes. In the same pro-opposition sphere, there are other relevant opinion makers followed by hundreds of thousand social media users as long-standing jailed dissident and exiled intellectual Yasin Hajj Salih and leftist newspaper columnist Tha’ir Ali Deeb. Another influent figure is Usama Sulayman, aka Rami Abderrahman, founder and director of the Syrian Observer for Human Rights (SOHR). He appears almost on a daily basis on the screens of pan-Arab and Syrian opposition-driven TVs. Among pro-government opinion-makers, there are prominent anchorpersons and war reporters of the main Damascus-based TVs, such as Wafa Duwyari and Majid Harmuz (Addouniya TV), Kinana Allush (Sama TV), Shadi Hilwa (Al-Ikhbariyya). Current minister of expatriates Buthayna Sha‘ban is also a prominent columnist of the website of the pro-Iranian Beirut-based Al-Mayadin TV and she enjoys wide popularity in the pro-government audience.