It’s just six months since the first lady of Syria, Asma al-Assad, was on a roll as the plushly-accessorized human face of Syria’s Assad regime. British-born, well-educated, multilingual, slim, young, and shod by Louboutin, Mrs. Assad had already been feted for her wardrobe by the Huffington Post, hosted Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Damascus, and been tapped by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association to serve as patroness and keynote speaker for its March 2011 Arab World Conference in Damascus. For the February edition of Vogue, she made herself oh-so-accessible to writer Joan Juliet Buck — who produced a widely circulated article describing Asma al-Assad as on a mission “to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.”
Courtesy of Asma, Vogue’s readers were effectively invited right into the home of the Assads — a home run on “wildly democratic principles.” There were insider moments, with Asma whipping up fondue in the kitchen, and a tour of the triple-decker playroom where Asma and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (in his “off-duty” jeans) played with their children — happy neighbors dropping by, to look in on Assad family life.
This Assad idyll was interrupted by mass protests from Syrians who have had a bellyful of the Assad dynasty. To hold onto power, Assad’s regime has relied on carnage in which the United Nations estimates more than 2,200 people have so far been killed. Assad’s forces have been using heavy artillery against Syria’s own people, availing themselves of the help and expertise of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and posting snipers on rooftops. In May, they returned the mutilated corpse of 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb to his family, reportedly on condition they keep quiet about how he was murdered. This past week, Syria’s best-known political cartoonist, Ali Ferzat, was grabbed by armed, masked men, who beat him and broke the bones in his hands, to stop him from drawing.
Somewhere in there, between the Harvard Arab Alumni dinner, and the heavy-artillery assaults and crushing of Ferzat’s hands, Asma al-Assad vanished. If there has been a reliable sighting in recent months, by all means, please write in. I haven’t found one. There have been articles speculating that sometime this spring she and her children slipped out of Syria that they may be in hiding somewhere in the UK. The Atlantic Wire wondered about this back in May — “Where Is the First Lady of Syria?” So did Al Arabiya: “President Assad’s wife, Asma, could be in London.” Earlier this month a web site called The Syrian asked “Asma Al-Assad, Oh Where are you?”
Where is Asma al-Assad? The question here is not simply what happened to the article that disappeared some months ago from the Vogue web site, or where might Asma al-Assad be sojourning, and at whose expense. The question is, where is the voice of this woman who so eagerly tried to promote the Assad regime as a beacon of culture and development? She didn’t just marry the dictator, bear his children, and cook fondue for the family. She bought into his regime. He provided resources and a platform that flowed from his chokehold on power in Syria, and she used those resources not just to round out her personal wardrobe, but to doll up the image of her husband’s dictatorship.
Wherever she is, surely she has access to the news. Is she having second thoughts? If so, this would be the moment to speak up . For the first lady of Syria to repudiate the bloody regime of her husband in Damascus would be a powerful message. Though it may be raw fantasy to imagine such a thing. Is she instead, in whatever hiding place she now occupies, busy browsing the autumn designer shoe catalogues while waiting for the tanks and snipers and torturers of her husband’s regime to restore the way of life she was used to? Paging Vogue. There are the makings here of a fascinating follow-up story, one way or the other.
PJMedia Flashback: Hey Anna Wintour! Great Timing on That Mrs. Assad Profile