While the Assads current whereabouts are uncertain (it assumed they have left Syria), she nonetheless is still trying to put forth an image that clashes with the brutal regime of her husband.
In what can only be called a warped public relations ploy, the Assads recently launched an account on Instagram, a photo-sharing social media site where President Assad could post photos of himself to help convince the public that Syria was in good hands.
The account shows countless photos of Assad, clean-shaven and clad in dark suits, interacting with civilians and military personnel.
But the star of the photos is Mrs. Assad, smiling, posing, and showing off her volunteer work.
The staged publicity shots are fooling very few, and although some users have commentedon Mrs. Assad’s “beautiful soul,” the majority are less forgiving.
“I love ur designer clothes and shoes… paid for by the blood of your people! Seriously, u make Marie Antoinette look like an angel compared to you!” wrote one Instagram user.
Others comment on the “hypocrisy” of Mrs. Assad being pictured caring for young people when tens of thousands of children have died in the two-year Syrian war.
To date, more than 100,000 men, women, and children have been killed, and nearly two million Syrians have fled the country since the conflict started in March 2011.
But as millions have fled the fighting to neighboring states, the Syrian regime appears to have stepped up their attempts to show a life-as-normal image for the president and his family.
Nadim Houry, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and East Africa, said the Assads’Instagram account was something different to previous leaders, such as the deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
He said, “I think it is a generational thing, I am not aware older leaders like Mubarak and Gaddafi used social networking, but the Syrian regime has always been keen to show a business-like image to the world.
“I am not surprised by this account, but it is a parallel between the regime attempting to want to show a sense of normality and the reality for the people subjected to the bombs, arbitrary arrests, human rights abuses and violence.
“Bashar Al-Assad is not going to show the millions of people displaced, it’s not going to show attacks on civilians.”
Mrs. Assad has long captivated Syria’s and the world’s attention as the fashionable, educated first lady of a Syria. Born in Syria to a surgeon, she spent much of her life in England known as “Emma,” and graduated from King’s College in London. She even worked briefly at Deutsche Bank before becoming engaged to Assad and moving to Syria.
As first lady of Syria, Mrs. Assad was compared to Princess Diana of Britain for her charitable and humanitarian work, and profiled in various fashion magazines for her style.
When Syria descended into civil war two years ago, Mrs. Assad temporarily stayed out of the public eye, leading spectators to wonder whether she was against her husband’s crackdown on rebels. She soon appeared by his side smiling at a rally, however, and has been part of his public relations campaign since.
Now, Mrs. Assad can be seen smiling with children and ladling out food to hungry Syrians in the photos posted to the Instagram account. Still dressed fashionably and wearing full makeup, Mrs. Assad presents a stark contrast to other images leaking out of Syria as Assad’s forces and rebel forces battle viciously for control of cities.
In one photo, Mrs. Assad, 38, is seen wearing a Jawbone UP! band, which measures fitness levels, while she spoons food into a bowl at a soup kitchen.
The Assads are not the only ones using social media to further their message in the country’s two-year war. Last week, someone alleging to be their son Hafez posted a lengthy diatribe to Facebook daring the U.S. to launch a military strike against Syria and warning the West of possible consequences.
Mrs. Assad is currently subject to economic sanctions relating to high-level Syrian government officials, making it illegal in the European Union to provide her with certain material assistance, or for her to obtain certain products and curtailing her ability to travel within the EU excluding to the United Kingdom.
Asma al-Akhras met Bashar al-Assad while he was studying ophthalmology in London. After Syrian President Hafez al-Assad’s death in June 2000, Bashar took over the presidency. Asma moved to Syria in November 2000, and married Bashar in December of that year. They have three children: Hafez, Zein, and Karim.
In March 2011, Vogue published a flattering profile of the first lady titled “A Rose in the Desert” authored by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck. The article was later removed from Vogue’sWebsite without editorial comment that spring.
Responding to media inquiries about the disappearance of Mrs. Assad’s profile, Vogue’s editor stated that “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that [Syria’s] priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.” After strong public and media reaction to the article, Buck’s contract was not renewed with Vogue, although she had been employed by the magazine for over 30 years and had been an editor of French Vogue for seven years.
The New York Times later reported that the piece was intended as part of a larger Syrian government-sponsored image campaign coordinated by the public relations firm Brown Lloyd James.Buck has since written another article for Newsweek giving an extremely critical account of Asma al-Assad, concluding that she is the “first lady of hell.” Separately, Buck’s original profile of Mrs. Assad was satirized in The Philadelphia Inquirer.