DAMASCUS, May 31 (Xinhua) -- As Syria's presidential election is inching closer, patriotic merchandise has become a trend in the capital Damascus, enticing many die-hard Assad supporters to express loyalty to their leader ahead of the June 3 vote.
Many Syrians have taken advantage of the occasion to make money in a country that has been torn by more than three years of war that has brought most jobs to a standstill and drove unemployment to an unprecedented level.
The election has spawned this souvenir industry, churning out everything from tapes and CDs of President Bashar al-Assad's speeches to posters, key chains, chains of beads, cups and T- shirts. The most fashionable ones are mobile cases bearing the Syrian flag, or portraits of Assad and the leader of the Assad- loyal Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group, Sheikh Hasan Nasrullah.
Stalls selling souvenirs embroidered with national flags and pictures of Assad could be seen in all Damascus' souks as supporters of Assad, who is expected to gain a new seven-year mandate in power, rush to buy those souvenirs to express loyalty to their leader.
Excerpts from Assad's speeches and patriotic songs blast from the speakers of music shops in the Syrian capital and from the speakers of many stalls.
The tape of Syrian nationalist songs has become a runaway bestseller.
"I am looking for a case to my mobile that is decorated with the word Sawa, Arabic for Together, which is the title of Assad's electoral campaign," said Aya Qattan, a 16-year-old girl.
"I do love him. He is the best leader and the only one who can bring back security and stability to this country," she said, adding that she doesn't mind to pay 1,500 Syrian pounds (10 U.S. dollars) to buy the mobile case.
"This is the last CD I have for national songs. Every day I sell no less than 50 CDs," said Maher, a stallholder in the crowded al-Thawra street in downtown Damascus.
He said that most of his customers are young people, adding that "people insist to buy as they are showing growing nationalistic feeling and desire to take back their country to the pre-crisis time."
"We have gone through very delicate and tough times and we feel that the post-election stage will usher in new brilliant times and end the current nightmare," he said.
Hassan, a 25-year old minibus driver, bought a Syrian flag and immediately tied it around his neck. He said he is still looking for white cap with Assad's picture.
"Most stallholders are selling these merchandise at high prices. They are capitalizing on the people's patriotic sensations," he complained.
Three candidates are running in the presidential election; President Assad, lawmaker Maher Hajjar and ex-minister of state for administrate development Hassan al-Nouri.
As such trends are enticing the relatively young segment of society, a large segment of the Damascenes, who are labeled as the silent majority and who see no major difference in the political programs of the three candidates for presidential election want the next president to work only to bring back security and improve living conditions.
Still, those silent Syrians said that they don't oppose a new term for the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been credited for his ability to remain steadfast for more than three years and for making national reconciliation across the country, but believe that the most daunting challenges the next president will face is his ability to launch the process of reconstruction and injecting life in the ailing economy.
Assad, Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nour share the common vision on the need of fighting terrorism and going on with the military offensive to eliminate al-Qaida-affiliated fighters. The three candidates vowed to improve the devastating economic conditions though they have given different visions.
Mohammed Wael Habash, an economist and financial expert, told local media "I am looking for good intentions and for making reformist political steps in order to work better on the social project represented by bringing back all displaced Syrians and building up the economic infrastructure again."
Ayman, 38, a lawyer, said "Since the three candidates have made it clear that they would primarily work to end the crisis and almost have the same visions to recover economy, I will vote for Assad because he is the most capable person to lead the next stage. "