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Flying above Bloodshed

Performative Protest in the Scared City of Damascus

Ziad Adwan

Keywords: catharsis; heroism; lightness; protest; spectatorship; theater

Syrian activists adopted the flying demonstration protest form in 2011 during the Arab Spring. A flying demonstration occurs for a few minutes, and then the demonstrators run away. Protestors mainly chose this form to avoid deadly confrontations with the regime’s secret police. This article examines how flying demonstrations challenged the Syrian state’s media allegations that no demonstrations were taking place. Action, spectatorship, aftermath, and catharsis were key concepts from the theater and performance fields that allowed Syrian activists to intensify the demonstrations and achieve certainty, making flying demonstrations a consistent phenomenon in the capital, Damascus. I analyze the flying demonstrations theories brought from Richard Schechner’s performance theory and Augusto Boal’s invisible theater. Although demonstrators were not considering theater during their protests, I conclude that flying demonstrations’ theatrical characteristics were essential to making this phenomenon visually compelling, encouraging more participation, and, to some extent, guaranteeing safety during deadly Syrian events.

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