The opening of Nash Krai ("Our Region"), a luxury Russian restaurant, in Damascus several weeks ago sparked outrage among Syrians on social media in light of the dire economic situation in the country. The criticism arose after it was reported that the restaurant belongs to Luna Al-Shibl, an advisor to president Assad and a former Al-Jazeera presenter, who is on the list of U.S. sanctions and who, in media interviews, often exhorted the Syrians to be steadfast and to patiently endure the economic crisis in the country. For example, in a July 19, 2021 interview on Syria;s Al-Akhbariyya channel Al-Shibl said: "We have no alternative but to be steadfast. Our role right now is to endure, as the army has done."
The criticism, most of it voiced by Syrians living in the areas under the control of the Syrian regime, focused on the discrepancy between Al-Shibl;s statements and her opening of a luxury restaurant in which the cheapest dish reportedly costs 100,000 Syrian pounds (about $25), close to the average monthly wage in the Syrian civil sector. Many of the responses were sarcastic. Some, for instance, asked whether the restaurant serves helpings of "steadfastness" and others mocked Al-Shibl for being known among Syrians as "Mrs. Steadfastness."
As a matter of fact, this is not the first time there has been outrage over the discrepancy between Al-Shibl;s public statements and her conduct. For example, she faced criticism after she attended Assad;s swearing-in ceremony in July 2021 wearing expensive fashion brands. Her statements to Russia Today on January 18, 2022, in which she denied that Syrians are dying of hunger and cold, likewise sparked condemnation and accusations of being out of touch with the people.
Al-Shibl with her husband and son at the opening of the restaurant (Source: Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100077641252706)
Photos from the restaurant's Facebook page (Facebook.com/nashkraysy)
This report reviews some of the responses to the reports about Al-Shibl's opening of the luxury restaurant in Damascus.
Pro-Assad Syrians Mock Al-Shibl: Does The Restaurant Serve Helpings of "Steadfastness"?
Syrians living in areas under the regime's control were scathing in their mockery of Assad's advisor Luna Al-Shibl, who, as stated, is known for encouraging the Syrians to bravely ride out the economic crisis. They slammed her for opening a luxury restaurant while many Syrians are having trouble making ends meet. Facebook user Olaa Akiell, from Jabla in Latakia governorate, wrote: "Steadfastness, steadfastness, steadfastness…! You gave the people a headache calling for steadfastness. Syria's largest and most expensive restaurant has opened, owned by Luna Al-Shibl and her husband Walid Sa'ati. The restaurant specializes in Russian cuisine. The staff, the food, everything is imported. Nothing is from Syria. And best of all, it's fully booked for the coming week because it is so popular. Congrats on the cultural renaissance."
Olaa Akiell's post
The "Syrian People's Hardships" Facebook page, which follows the economic situation in the regions under the regime's control, wrote sarcastically: "Mrs. Luna Al-Shibl has the temerity to open a Russian restaurant for the high classes, despite the dire situation. She cleverly bypassed the American sanctions by hiring an all-Russian staff of employees and chefs to run the place, just as our wise and clever government bypasses [the sanctions] by handing over facilities to the Russians… Honestly, the lady is a patriot of the first order. She invested in Syria despite all the sanctions and the country's uncertain future. She has really earned the title of Mrs. Steadfastness…"
"Do They Do Deliveries Of Steadfastness?"
The post quoted above elicited many responses from Syrians. User Souzan KhairBaik from Tartous asked: "Do they do deliveries of steadfastness??!!" A user named Jafa’ar Mohammad from Homs asked, in a similar vein, "Do they serve helpings of steadfastness at the restaurant?", and user Lolo Khateeb wrote: "The steadfast [Syrian] people will surely be able to eat at this restaurant."
Syrian Opposition Activists: A Single Dish At That Restaurant Costs More Than A Syrian's Monthly Wage
Many responses on social media were by Syrian opposition activists, whose criticism was similar to that expressed by the regime supporters.
Assad's Advisor Is Saying To The Syrians: If You Have No Bread, Eat Caviar
Oppositionist Muhammad Ja'afar Al-Shardoub wrote on Facebook: "A Russian restaurant has been opened in the world's poorest capital at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. It employs some of Russia's most famous chefs and all the dishes are Western. Who owns this restaurant? Media personality Luna Al-Shibl, an advisor to the President, who has long been calling on the wretched Syrian people to be strong and endure the suffering so as to confront the great global conspiracy [against Syria]. [She also promised] that Syria would eventually vanquish Zionism, imperialism, the forces of reaction [i.e., anti-Assad Arab countries] and terrorism. From the window of her palace she saw the people waiting in line at the bakeries and the cars waiting in line for gas, and said to them: 'Patience, o Syrians. You will attain Paradise'… The French queen Marie Antoinette once told the hungry people of France, 'If you have no bread, eat cake,' and today the President's advisor Luna Al-Shibl is telling the hungry Syrian people: 'If you have no bread, eat caviar.' Notice that a single dish at that foreign restaurant costs more than the [average] monthly wage in Syria."
A Syrian opposition activist on Twitter, @IBRA_SYR, wrote: "Mrs. Steadfastness, Luna Al-Shibl, has opened a fantastic restaurant in central Damascus at a cost of millions of dollars, while you, the poor Syrian citizen, are required to be steadfast…"
The Menu Includes Steadfastness And Oven-Baked Resistance
The "Syrian Salabina" Facebook page, also affiliated with the opposition, posted the restaurant's "menu," featuring a serving of "steadfastness" for 1.5 million pounds, a serving of "oven-baked resistance" for 3.5 million pounds, a serving of "hope in milk" for 95 million pounds, and "resistance juice" for 0.8 million pounds.
The post on the "Syrian Salabina" Facebook page
Syrian cartoonist 'Ali Farzat was even more scathing in his criticism, drawing the restaurant as a slaughterhouse in which President Bashar Assad and Luna Al-Shibl serve plates of blood-soaked bodies and body-parts of Syrian civilians and children.
'Ali Farzat's cartoon (Source: Facebook.com/ali.frzt, June 5, 2022)
Syrian Journalist: The Official Spokeswoman Of Steadfastness Has Declared Herself A War Profiteer
'Abd Al-Qadir Al-Manla, an actor, artist and media personality identified with the Syrian opposition, wrote on the opposition website Syria.tv that the restaurant will be used by Russia for clandestine activities like money laundering, or as a war room: "After hearing the news about the opening of the Nash Krai restaurant, owned by Luna Al-Shibl, in central Damascus, we will not be surprised if we hear that the regime's foreign minister is about to open a large shop for second-hand Iranian clothing, that the tourism minister has opened a high-end real estate agency, or that the culture minister has opened a night club. Have the war profiteers, who serve the gang that rules Damascus, started to reveal their true face by spending some of the money they looted on projects that have nothing to do with their field of expertise or their official jobs and positions? Or do these investments have another aspect and function, having to do with the supreme interests of this gang and its strategic goals, which are to complete the plan of destruction and expulsion?...
"The media and social media were in an uproar over the news [about the opening of the restaurant] several days ago. [This news] surprised most of the Syrians and was the subject of jokes, mockery, anger and criticism, but it hit the regime supporters like a bolt of lightning. Because here was the official spokeswoman of steadfastness and resistance formally declaring herself a war profiteer and an investor in the [Syrian] crisis. The only thing that interests her are the needs of the velvet class, namely the class of her fellow profiteers, who are the only ones who can [afford] to eat at her restaurant… Al-Shibl created a problem for the regime supporters, who for many years have pointed the finger at certain figures identified with the opposition who opened restaurants abroad, claiming that they were the best proof that the [Syrian] revolution was a plot against the Syrians… and had robbed them of their wealth. But now Al-Shibl has come along and robbed them of this wealth of decisive proof against the revolution…
"The restaurant will probably be a hub of Russian activity of some kind. At best it will be a hub for laundering profits from the sale of weapons, [but] it cannot be ruled out that it will be a hub of espionage or another gathering place and war room of the Russian intelligence [services], since neither Putin nor Luna Al-Shibl need the profits from this restaurant…"
 According to a UN report from January 2022, 90% of Syrians live in poverty and 60% lack food security. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 12, 2022.
 State.gov, August 20, 2020.
 Other reports denied this, claiming that the restaurant is owned by 'Ali Najib Ibrahim, the business partner of Assad's economic aide Yasser Ibrahim. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 8, 2022.
 Sana.sy, July 19, 2021.
 Alarabiya.net, June 6, 2022.
 Thelevantnews.com, July 22, 2021.
 Snacksyrian.com, January 18, 2022; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), January 20, 2022.
 Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100077641252706, June 5, 2022.
 Facebook.com/syria.Damascus13, June 5, 2022.
 Facebook.com/syria.Damascus13, June 5, 2022.
 Facebook.com.abogmail.jaafar.9, June 12, 2022.
 Twitter.com/IBRA_SYR, June 5, 2022.
 Facebook.com/salabina, June 5, 2022.
 Syria.tv, June 12, 2022.