10/04/2017 13:49 BST | Updated 10/04/2017 15:20 BST

The Real Reason Syrians Are Changing Their Social Media Profile Pictures To Donald Trump

It's not just straightforward praise of 'Abu Ivanka'.

JIM WATSON via Getty Images
Trump's bombing of a Syrian airfield has spawned intense praise and criticism online

Donald Trump’s intervention in Syria has sparked a curious wave of support and criticism, manifesting in the social media profile pictures of the troubled country’s citizens.

The US President has been hailed as Abu Ivanka Trump - Arabic for ‘the Father of Ivanka Trump’ - after bombing a Syrian military airfield on Friday.

The controversial intervention prompted a host of social media memes in Syria - ranging from pictures of Trump imposed with Arabic text reading “We love you” to a cut-out of his head appearing on the flag of so-called Islamic State. 

Zain Karam / Reuters
A rebel fighter walks on posters depicting Assad with writing on. It translates to 'We love you, father of Hafez'

Syrians supporting Trump

Fifty-nine cruise missiles were fired from US Navy ships in retaliation to a chemical attack that killed 70 civilians, which the Pentagon claimed there was “no doubt” Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was behind.

At first glance, Syrians changing their profile pictures to Trump’s image appears to indicate support for his intervention. 

One changed profile photo
Trump giving a thumbs up in another Twitter profile picture
Mahmoud Yamak
A Facebook post with Trump's face, the American flag and Arabic for 'We Love You'
Moustafa Jacoub
The 'We Love You' message spread across Syrian social media

A Syrian human rights researcher even posted this picture of Trump at a rally of truckers in the US, doing the rounds in a WhatsApp group of rebel fighters.

But the posts might actually be satire

Several Syrian-based journalists and activists have responded to media reports of the phenomenon, saying they believe the move is satirical - not serious. 

“Syrians are not cheering a pathetic human being like Trump, they’re just happy Assad has less means to kill them with,” wrote Damascus-based reporter Rami Jarrah. 

Jarrah said imposing the phrase on pictures of Trump was not a direct method of praising the US President, but mocking the popular propaganda technique of Assad. 

‘We Love You’ is a phrase frequently used by Assad propagandists on posters and at rallies.

“Syrians changing their profile pictures to Donald Trumps picture with (We Love You) in Arabic text is satire, and goes to mock Assad’s slogan that was seen on every street of Syria.

“Syrians are not changing their profile pictures to Trump in order to thank him, its a joke.”

The whole concept of telling a leader they love them in this way has become a thing of the past."Rami Jarrah

In fact, one of the main Twitter accounts touted by news media as changing their profile picture to praise Donald Trump has since admitted the “We Love You” writing was “absolutely” meant as a satire.

“Donald Trump is honestly quite the horrible human being,” they wrote on Twitter. “But he did something right.”

Anti-Assad activist Mostafa Mahamed, who‏ originally pointed out the Trump profile picture phenomenon, also urged people not to be taken into thinking the adoring messages were proof of support for the US President.

“This attack was clearly an attempt to win over hearts and minds,” he wrote on Twitter. “Only the naive will be fooled to believe that Trump has a heart.

“I am confident that most people in the world (not just Syrians) can see that Trump is not the good Samaritan that he is posing as.”

But Trump’s face is appearing in other anti-Assad propaganda too

A cut out of the US President’s head imposed on the flag of terror group Isis is also doing the rounds.

Maytham AlAshkar, who claims to be a Syrian-based journalist, posted the original image.

It comes after speculation that Trump’s military strike against Assad could help Isis, by weakening the force fighting against it.

Symbolic social media profile picture changes have been used before to highlight the plight in Syria.

Less than a week ago, yellow squares dominated social media to raise awareness of the chemical weapons attack. (The gas appears as a yellow mushroom cloud.)

Tensions between the US and Syrian governments could be set to escalate even further after Friday’s assault. 

When the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked if he supported efforts to oust Assad, he said: “Those steps are underway”. He added yesterday that further chemical weapons attacks by Syria against its own people “would not go without a response in the future.”

In the UK, Downing Street has refused to give its unconditional backing to further airstrikes by the Trump administration. 

When asked if Theresa May backed the policy of more airstrikes in response to further chemical attacks, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that she was focusing on building a “political solution” to end the civil war in Syria.

When pressed, the spokesman refused to be drawn on what he described as a “hypothetical questions”.