The 'Fake' Cities of Syria's Unrest

Syrian television alleges the country's uprisings are taking place in cinematic replicas of its cities

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Ho New / Reuters

It’s been reported briefly by a number of news outlets that a documentary/news show in Syria recently suggested the unrest currently taking place there is not really happening. Instead, they allege it's actually being staged in cinematic replicas of Syrian cities for the Al Jazeera news organization.

That's right: fake cities, built in Qatar by Al Jazeera, occupied by hordes of actors, under the direction of filmmakers to create a false impression of what’s happening on the ground in Syria. Or at least that’s the spin.

Or perhaps more accurately, propaganda. As this post from The New York Times mentions, the station that ran the allegations on September 9 is closely tied to the ruling regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Addounia TV is owned by Mohamed Hamsho, who is the brother-in-law of Maher al Assad, the commander of Syria’s Republican Guard and the brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.”

The post also links to this video of the broadcast, subtitled in English by a YouTube channel called the Syrian Interpreter and aptly titled "Addounia TV hitting the crack pipe, 9 Sept."

The segment claims that movie-set versions of Syrian cities and public squares have been constructed with the help of American and French directors to dupe the global audience. It’s also suggested that a similar illusion was created in Libya.

“The world and the Libyans were deceived by those replicas that Tripoli fell. With those replicas, Al Jazeera will continue media fabrication and cinematic tricks by shooting scenes of big defections from the Arab Syrian Army and shooting scenes of clashes between some elements who claim being defectors and elements from the regime.”

The report also claims that Al Jazeera has had replicas built of Al Asi Square in the city of Hama, the Clock Square in Homs, and some of the neighborhoods in Idlib. Unconvincing zoom-ins of satellite images purport to back up these allegations.

The construction of a fake city—let alone multiple fake cities—would be a major undertaking. The sheer scale of it makes even the suggestion almost laughable. It calls to mind the climax of the 1974 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles, in which a fake version of a town is created to fool a band of thugs intent on terrorizing the locals into leaving. Or the fake war created for TV in Wag the Dog. Or even the theory that the moon landing was filmed on a soundstage.

But if such a monumental building project were to take place, a pretty surreal alternate reality could be created. Maybe the Syrian government could even follow its own line of reasoning and build some fake cities to counter the fake cities they claim Al Jazeera has built. Instead of “staged” conflict, they could film a smoothly-functioning government that respects the will of its people. In Syria right now, a film set in a fake city might be the only place to find such a thing.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.