Syrian anchor Elissar Moualla shocks opposition at Geneva talks

Elissar Moualla
Elissar Moualla
Among dozens of Syrian and foreign journalists covering the Syria peace talks in Geneva, Elissar Moualla stands out.

The popular Syrian news anchor, working for the state-sponsored Syrian TV, never misses an opportunity to confront the opposition delegation.

With a loud and agitated voice, she asks tough questions in press conferences and she challenges statements the opposition representatives make in the more informal media hub, the garden of the UN headquarters.

“Can you tell me why the armed groups [you support] are holding women and children hostage in Homs?” she yells to an opposition spokesman.

“You claim you want to stop the fighting, but do you have control over the armed groups?” she asks another.

The conference in Switzerland is the first time the Damascus-based anchor has interacted with the Western-backed political opposition trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

She says the opposition representatives were “shocked” when they faced reporters from Syrian state media. “Even though they are trained to answer journalists’ questions, this is the first time they’ve been grilled by journalists coming from inside Syria. This is why they couldn’t deliver their messages as effectively as they wanted,” the 37-year-old told Al Jazeera.

For Moualla, the peace conference is a media parade – but also a battlefield of countries she believes are trying to meddle in the affairs of her country.

“This is the first time I see how big is this game of nations and how the fighters in Syria are manipulated,” she says as she sips her coffee in the press bar at the UN building, where the US- and Russian-backed talks are taking place.

“For the first time I pity the [opposition] fighters because I realize just how misled they are. They think they are fighting for the cause of freedom or a religious cause or whatever cause it is. But in reality, they are fighting the battles of other countries,” Moualla says.

“Despite all the suffering they have caused, I still cringe every time I watch them dead on TV. I don’t like them and I hate extremism, but I am human,” Moualla says.

“I always tell my colleagues: ‘When you film them, do not take these harsh images; they are humans. Cover them when you film them.'” She then quickly adds: “Those same people would kill me if they saw me.”

Many rebel groups consider state media employees legitimate targets because they defend the Syrian government. Presenting the views of her channel has come at a great cost for Moualla, who says she has received a barrage of death threats and vicious bashing. “I receive countless phone calls and messages. They once threatened to kill my father. And the swearing is as ugly as it can get”.

Going from her home in a flashpoint area on the outskirts of Damascus to her workplace in the center of the capital is also a daily challenge. She recounts the day she thought her life was nearing its end: “One time, three armed men wearing black bands around their heads tried to attack me in my car after they recognized me. They ran away after the police arrived. I will never forget that day.”

Her parents, who lived in the coastal province of Latakia, have left their hometown and moved to Damascus because they are worried about her safety.

But the threats have not deterred her from carrying on with her job. She remembers her colleagues who lost their lives and says some other pro-government journalists suffer even more than she does.

At least five employees of Syrian TV have been killed in the conflict, and the fate of one of Moualla’s friends in the channel, Mohammad Saeed, remains unknown after he was kidnapped.

Over the past three years, scores of journalists reporting on the Syrian conflict have been killed, arbitrarily arrested, subjected to enforced disappearances or tortured.

Moualla believes that the government’s narrative of events in Syria has now become an undeniable truth. “Nobody can deny it,” she says. “The government is defending its territory from terrorists.”

Moualla says that the coverage of the Syrian conflict by most media organizations has been biased, whether intentionally or unintentionally. She says atrocities committed by opposition forces have not been covered well by foreign media and the Syrian state media.

The government has at times covered up crimes committed by armed groups in divided cities like Homs, to prevent a rift among the people, she says. “The government demanded from reporters [of state media] that they do not film these atrocities, so that the Christian wouldn’t view the Muslim in a negative way, so that the Alawite wouldn’t view the Sunni in a negative way.”

“The Syrian army is killing, but it’s killing the terrorists,” Moualla insists. “There is a truth that should be acknowledged: They are monsters. They are monsters that have been released on Syrian land. Not humans. Some of them hold Syrian citizenship. But they have lost all ability to live in a normal society.”

Moualla will leave the peaceful city of Geneva for war-riddled Damascus, and return to the same death threats, the same sounds of shelling, and another news bulletin full of blood and death.


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