Interesting piece by the Guardian's Yemeni journalist who used to live in Damascus.
"In Syria, jokes about the brutality of the army have faded since Bashar al-Assad came to power, because he has clamped down on the culture of immunity soldiers used to enjoy. Criticism of such excesses is now permitted, because they are framed in the context of the government not living up to its stated ambitions.
In fact, Assad is said to greatly enjoy jokes about the regime and gains kudos from ordinary Syrians because of it. It is a curious phenomenon: the head of a regime enjoying jokes about his own regime's apparatus. In other places this might be seen as arrogant, as if Assad were laughing at the people. But it isn't seen that way and one of the reasons it isn't is because Assad is not generally perceived as the architect of the regime, only the inheritor of it, and so Syrians can believe that their views of what is ridiculous about the system are shared by the president".