In exile, in danger and in music: How Amir Al-Muarri is using rap as a form of political resistance against the Syrian regime

Amir Al-Muarri is pictured whilst filming for his music video for 'Intifadi'
6 min read
15 October, 2021

Speaking in the name of truth is a known virtue, but how far would you go to give your truth a platform? What cost of speaking your mind would be too expensive? For exiled Turkey-based Syrian political rapper, Amir Al-Muarri, no price is too high, as his craft and ambitions characterise fortitude in the face of threat, trauma and adversity.

Carrying a heavy burden of pain accumulated over ten years of the Syrian war, Amir has learned to translate his trauma and the trauma of his people through music, rapping against both the Syrian regime and opposition factions in a form of political resistance that rings true to him.

“The media ties the Syrian revolution to opposition factions, even though those factions oppress us just like the regime… the revolution of the people is a revolution of its own,” Amir begins.

"The revolution of the people is a revolution of its own"

Expressing betrayal with Intifadi

However, in his latest release, Intifadi, Amir addresses his own people as opposed to political actors, channelling the deep betrayal he feels by “hypocritical” Syrian citizens.

In the song, the rapper targets Syrians inside and outside of Syria “who support or elected the Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, despite being displaced or having family members killed by him,” he tells The New Arab

Syria’s 2021 elections, which were described as “illegitimate” by the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany, saw some Syrian refugees visit Syrian embassies across the world to vote for Assad, as the dictator won another seven years in office.

“Without the revolution, they never would have held the Euro or seen countries outside… they crossed borders to elect the one that destroyed [Syria],” Intifadi’s lyrics read. 

“I hate hypocrites... I hate those who are coloured in grey... those who bought, sold and betrayed at the expense of our martyr’s blood.

"They forget the crimes of the regime and stand in solidarity with Palestine,” the song continues, as Amir calls out Assad’s supporters who protested against Israel during the Gaza war last May, referring to both the Syrian president and Israel as killers. 

With a play on words, Al-Muarri splits the song title in his music video to spell ‘inti fadi’, calling the subjects of his lyrics “empty”. 

From living in Idlib to living in exile

“I have lived through the crimes of the regime. I lived through the missiles and bombing. I had to climb out of the rubble of collapsed buildings. I saw people dying in front of me. I saw a lot of things that are very hard for a human brain to digest,” Amir tells The New Arab, as he explains how his displaced family are still living inside Syria, in the northern province of Idlib.

In 2015, the rapper fled from Syria to Turkey for the first time, but when his brother was shot and killed by Turkish snipers at the Syrian border in 2018, he returned to Syria to look after his family, exchanging his Turkish refugee status for a five-year Turkey-ban in the process.

"I have lived through the crimes of the regime. I lived through the missiles and bombing. I had to climb out of the rubble of collapsed buildings. I saw people dying in front of me. I saw a lot of things that are very hard for a human brain to digest"

However, despite the ban, Amir managed to re-enter the country bordering his motherland in 2020 but could be deported at any given moment, which could be life-threatening, as the rapper has received countless threats from the Syrian parties he raps against.

Al-Muarri's recording studio in Idlib
Amir used to record his music in this room after being displaced from his home in Maarat Al-Nouman to Azaz in Syria's northern Idlib province [Amir Al-Muarri]

Despite the possibility of being fed back to the wolves that threaten him, the artist refuses to be silenced, as he continues to produce music in the name of truth despite his difficult situation.

“I was still in Idlib when I recorded my first song, I had the opposition factions all around me, but I wasn’t afraid… my little brothers asked me why and I told them that what matters is the truth and if it costs my soul then I’d be proud to have given it up,” Amir said, stating that his apparent blasé attitude to his life is a result of his close encounters with death.

Censorship in Syria

However, many Syrians, albeit with the revolution, do not follow in Al-Muarri’s footsteps when it comes to speaking out against the ruling dictator or opposition factions, as Syria remains a dangerous place for anyone who chooses to do so. 

“Fear is innate for Syrians, the regime has been planting fear in their hearts for over 50 years… I understand their reasons [for staying silent] and don’t entirely blame them, but fear is also not an excuse because in the end if people don’t unite and speak out, no one will and nothing will change,” Amir says, as he clarified the betrayal he feels is from Syrians “who don’t have a reason not to speak, that don’t speak”. 

"Fear is innate for Syrians, the regime has been planting fear in their hearts for over 50 years"

“As creatives, we tell our stories, truths and ideas to the people who care to listen,” the rapper adds, stating that in his three years of producing music his confidence and intention never wavered. “I’m a political rapper that can’t be politicised, that’s why I can’t sign with any music agencies because they usually want to control what you’re saying.” Nevertheless, he one day hopes for a record deal that he is able to sign on his own terms, to continue spreading his message.

Determination despite difficulty

After being exiled and unable to work, due to not being recognised as a refugee in Turkey, Amir described 2020 as "the hardest year [he] lived" in an Instagram post. His ongoing struggle means that Amir has found it challenging to produce music, particularly due to low finances.

For recent record releases, the rapper has collaborated with fellow creatives and friends, working at a much slower pace than he would like.

Despite his struggles as an independent artist, Amir has received global recognition, with international media coverage, messages of support from stars such as Money Heist's professor, Álvaro Morte, and a feature on the Joe Show, each elevating his platform and reach.

“Honestly it’s a really nice feeling, especially when people tell me I changed their perspective of the Syrian revolution,” Amir reveals to The New Arab, referring to his Russian fans who previously believed, Assad ally, Russian President Putin's narrative of the war before discovering the rapper's music.

He also plans to continue using music as a communicative force of political resistance, though waits for the day he is able to return to a free, calm and stable Syria. 

“Syria is a forest right now, there are really bad things happening… I want to go back to a free Syria that has reached a solution,” he says, vowing to continue embodying strength, fearlessness and courage in his craft with the desire and determination to tell his truth, and the truth of his people, who continue to live through tragedy and despair in his war-torn country.

Aisha Aldris is a journalist and podcast host, accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council. She specialises in social and humanitarian issues, alongside cultural identity and the arts. Follow her on Twitter: @aishaaldris