BEIRUT — Several Lebanese artists sparked controversy on social media following their performances at the Damascus Citadel Nights music festival in Syria.
Ziad Bourji, a singer originally from Baalbeck, drew the ire of internet users after he praised the Syrian army, the "wise leadership" of the regime, and paid tribute to President Bashar al-Assad on stage.
His fellow countryman Joseph Attieh, who wrapped himself in the Syrian flag at one point during his performance, also garnered criticism.
The apparent pro-regime stances did not sit well with some Lebanese internet users.
"Ziad Bourji may not know how many Lebanese have disappeared in the prisons of the Baath Party," said one Instagram user. "Shameful!" another comment read under the same video, posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
"Artists can compliment any country and any people, but not a regime that occupied Lebanon, kidnapped its population, which remains incarcerated in its prisons to this day, a regime that killed its people with explosive barrels," another internet user commented.
These comments allude to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. While 17,451 individuals are believed to have gone missing during the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanese people believe that many of them could still be in the custody of the Syrian regime or have perished in its prisons.
Relations between Beirut and Damascus are regularly the subject of controversies, with a portion of the political class refusing to normalize ties with the Bashar al-Assad regime while others argue the potential advantages, particularly economic, that such normalization could bring.
A similar sentiment is echoed among some of the online reactions to the concert, particularly among the artists who were present. Singer Carole Samaha, for example, praised the hosting of such an event "despite all the challenges that Syria has faced."
"I truly feel that we are in the right place at the right time," emphasized Syrian singer Mohammad Majzoub.
Syria was reinstated into the Arab League after being excluded for nearly twelve years due to the repression of anti-regime protests that devolved into a civil war.