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Top Goon: Puppet drama lampoons Syria's Bashar al-Assad

Puppet show in Syria takes on the president and the revolution.

Homs as they traveled by bus near an Allawite neighborhood, with a senior Western diplomat in Damascus warning a sectarian war in the city is already underway.

Finding ways to make its largely Syrian audience laugh amid all the bloodshed and violence is no mean feat, but Masasit Mati has tapped a rich vein of satire in its portrayal of Syria’s president.

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Bashar, or Beeshu — a kind of baby name he is known by in the series — swings wildly between the character of a child suffering attention deficit disorder and the spoiled autocrat in his nightcap, comforted to sleep by his most trusted thug, in the episode Bishou’s Nightmares.

“The regime has fallen,” cries Beeshu, waking from his nightmare as his shabih opens fire on unseen opponents. “Shabih you moron!” screams Syria’s dictator. “It was only in my dream!”

Later Beeshu is seen flying into a rage on a game show, Who Wants to Kill a Million?, angered that his assertion of crushing the protesters is not the right final answer. Later his son and daughter challenge him over the killing of Syrian children and he responds by calling on his goon to put down this domestic uprising.

“We only kill our own people, but on the Golan Heights [Syrian territory occupied by Israel] we are a peaceful army,” Beeshu assures his audience during the episode, Talk Show, modelled on a famous talk show on Al Jazeera.

The direct and confrontational story lines, seeking to expose the lies by which the Assad regime has depicted its 41-year dictatorship as the choice of the Syrian people and a sacrifice in the name of Palestinian freedom from Israeli occupation, has won Masasit Mati rave reviews.

“It’s so good it’s driving me crazy,” posted one fan on the group’s Facebook wall. “I want to see a Masasit Mati TV station.” “It’s very good work and we watch it with our kids,” posted another, adding irreverently: “All we want to know is which finger you put Bashar on.”

Not everybody has greeted the series with such acclaim, however. Among the outpourings of praise, a few viewers have taken deep offense and posted threats that are unpublishable but tend to center on sexual violence against the mothers and sisters of Masasit Mati’s members.

“It’s kind of obvious it comes from the security apparatus,” said Jamil, who uses a pseudonym and did not wish to reveal his whereabouts.

The threat to the safety of those who would ridicule Syria’s president in words or pictures is all too serious. In July, a man identified as Ibrahim Kashoush was found with his throat slit in Hama after leading carnival-like street songs ridiculing the president.

A month later masked gunmen attacked Syria’s best known political cartoonist days after he published a cartoon showing Assad hitching a lift out of town with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The attackers fractured Farzat’s arm, left him with a black eye and symbolically broke two of his fingers.

In the Top Goon series, the voice of Bishou mimics the president’s lisping pronunciation of the letter S and shows the president giggling inappropriately and telling bad jokes while delivering rambling speeches on reforms, such as the Law of Gravity that he says will put an end to the so-called ‘flying protests’ — spontaneous and short demonstrations by the opposition.

The series got an unexpected boost last week with the broadcast of an interview with Assad on US network ABC in which the president denied all responsibility for the killing of protesters, telling ABC’s Barbara Walters that Syria’s security forces “are not my forces,” despite, as president, he is constitutionally sitting as commander of all Syria’s armed forces.

"We don't kill our people,” Assad said. “No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person. Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government.”

“We used to worry that people outside Syria might think the things we show in Top Goon are exaggerated,” Jamil said. “But after we saw Assad’s interview we decided to run it on its own as episode five and a half because the interview was more comic than we could have imagined. We didn’t even have to make something up.”