What is it about?

When the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, protestors stood up to their politicians through songs and slogans. The expression 'ya hef', roughly translated as 'what a shame', belongs to this repertoire of revolutionary discourse. The article sheds light on the multi-layered meanings of 'ya hef', taking into consideration its explicit and implicit references. To provide the reader with a rounded experience of the term, the article also investigates a revolutionary song and its various counter-iterations produced by pro-Asad members.

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Why is it important?

This article captures one of the many powerful voices of the Arab spring protests and embarks on a journey to unravel the underlying meanings of the revolutionary slogan and song ‘ya hef’. This article is important because it translates the resilience of the Syrian people against state-sanctioned violence, and it explains how this phrase constitutes a narrative of national recovery. It shows how the slogan ‘ya hef’ in its song form taps into moral values by accusing pro-Asad forces of brotherly betrayal. It also elicits a strong response from the protestors’ because the song frames contemporary massacres in Syria within past state-sponsored atrocities. This paper may interest Arabists, sociolinguists, and political analysts, as well as anyone who has a general interest in the Arab spring protests.


I hope this article makes readers familiar with the atrocities committed by the Syrian government against Syrian civilians. In doing so, I would also like to showcase how the Syrian protestors came together in such a turbulent time to vent their emotions and to overcome their oppressor by turning their pain into a powerful slogan.

Kurstin Gatt
University of Malta

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Political Potential of Ya Hef in Contemporary Syrian Politics, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, November 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/18739865-01504012.
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