Strangely united in song: Syria’s rebels and its pariah government

Syria’s rebels have their own governmentunder-construction website and flag, but one thing they don’t have is their own anthem.

They sing Ħumāt ad-Diyār, Guardians of the Homeland, just as the disgraced president Bashar al-Assad and his supporters do.

It’s an odd state of affairs for a civil war, especially as al-Assad often uses the anthem in rallies. You’d have thought the rebels would want to distance themselves from it as far as possible.

I was chatting with some rebel supporters in London recently – they were demonstrating in Westminster, trying to get the UK to sell them arms – and they surprisingly told me they had no problem with the song.

“It’s got nothing to do with fucking al-Assad,” one politely put it. “It’s from the time we won independence [from France]. And the words, they’re perfect for our situation.”

He’s right on the last point. The opening lines are “guardians of the homeland, upon you be peace, our proud spirits refuse to be humiliated.

Later on the song talks about the “flutter of hopes…uniting the entire country”, then it starts rolling out line after line about martyrs, some of them quite poetic (the ink the Syrians use to write is martyr’s blood).

It’s stirring stuff – a true song of defiance and revolution – and it’s easy to see why it appeals to both the rebels and al-Assad’s forces.

It’s a shame, then, the music’s so poor. Ħumāt ad-Diyār is a dull military march, the sort of tune that says nothing about Syria or the Middle East. All it really says is that the song was written in the 1930s, and that the person who wrote it was under the influence of French military bands.

Here’s hoping that among the rebels are a few musicians looking to compose something better.

(If you’re reading this on a mobile, you can listen to the anthem here. The picture at the top of this post is stolen from this great series by the AP photographer Narciso Contreras)