While it's tempting to casually dismiss the upcoming Syrian election as a pointless exercise in legitimizing Bashar al-Assad's rule, the scenes today in Lebanon are a clear reminder that a lot of people feel very strongly about it.
Photographs taken near the Syrian Embassy in Yarze show huge crowds on the street, desperately trying to get to the embassy to vote ahead of the June 3 election. The Post's Liz Sly was at the scene, and described it as "forceful affirmation" of Assad's grip on power.
Many of those in the crowd appear to be supporters of Assad, carrying banners that show the Syrian president's visage. Some in the crowd were chanting, "With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Bashar," Sly reports.
It's a clear show of strength for the Syrian regime, which has spent the past three years locked in a bloody civil war that led to widespread international condemnation.
“The Syrian people will say their word in these elections, and their word is the one that counts," Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Monday said. "Not Obama’s word, Cameron’s or Hollande’s.”
With the huge crowds and soaring temperatures on Wednesday, many Syrians suffered in their bid to vote. Photographs from Yarze show some who fainted, and Lebanese firemen hosed down the crowd with water in a bid to keep them cool. The Associated Press also reports that clashes took place by the embassy, with soldiers hitting voters with batons as they tried to push their way into the compound.
There are at least 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a small state which has long been dominated by its larger northern neighbor, and many other expats have lived there for years.
Inside Syria, the civil war will likely make it impossible for many to vote. More than 9 million people have been displaced in the country, and few people in rebel-held areas are expected to vote. While there are two candidates on the ballot other than Assad, most opposition leaders were stopped from running by new election rules, and the two viable candidates are not well-known.
“With vast parts of Syria completely destroyed by Assad’s air-force, army and militias over the last three years, and with a third of Syria’s population displaced internally or in refugee camps in the region, there is no electorate in Syria in a condition to exercise its right to vote,” the main Syrian Opposition Coalition said in a statement last month.
Syrian's also voted today at other embassies around the world. In Lebanon, they may get more time: The embassy announced late Wednesday that they would extend the vote for another day due to the crowds.
While the result looks like a success for Assad, dark rumors swirled that those who didn't vote wouldn't be allowed to return home. “Everyone knows that if you don’t vote, you can’t go home,” one refugee from Damascus explained to Sly.
Read Liz Sly's report from the scene here.