Glossy PR exposed on the road to Damascus
When Vogue published its February 2011 profile on Asma Al-Assad, the English-born first lady of Syria, her husband’s totalitarian regime already had blood on its hands.
President Bashar al-Assad has ruled Syria since the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad. They are members of the Baath Party, Arab nationalists who have ruled Syria under “emergency law” since 1971. Under emergency law the government can arrest people without warning, launch police operations against suspicious citizens and jail them without trial.
Yet Vogue, the glossy bible of all things fabulous and fashionable turned a blind eye. Describing the regime as “not as secular as we might like” while salivating over Asma Al-Assad’s long-limbed and analytic beauty. A “desert rose” in the heart of Syria. It’s the safest country in the Middle East, they cooed.
But how many people could Vogue really have fooled? The elaborately worded, evocatively photographed feature was nothing more than a political ruse. Albeit a clever one. Designed to cloister the brutal, bloody and shocking reality of life in Syria and apply a sheen of “humanity” to the totalitarian regime. A country voted by Human Rights Watch as among the worst offenders of human rights abuses in 2010.
According to The Atlantic, the Al-Assads paid American lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James, a hefty monthly fee to arrange the Vogue feature, in a bid to boost the country’s public image. Their chosen subject: the first lady of Damascus, the “city of shadows”. It wasn’t their toughest assignment. Asma Al-Assad is an intriguing subject, beautiful and powerful. The British born daughter of a London cardiologist, managed a successful career in investment banking before marrying Bashar al-Assad in December 2000.
But as the PR company quickly learned, you might can’t stage manage an entire country on the brink of destruction. Just weeks later, as the democracy protests continued, Vogue deleted all traces of its glowing feature from the internet. Along with most other interviews or profiles that shone any light on life behind the scenes of Syria’s first family. By the end of March the entire country was swept up in the shocking and widespread bloodshed. If not the beginnings of civil war.
The revolt was sparked by a protest against the internment of a group of small town children arrested for anti-regime graffiti. People took to the streets only to be fired on by government forces. You can read the full detail here in this very detailed Q&A by The Daily Beast.
One year later and the fighting and bloodshed continue in Syria. Approximately 7000 people are believed to be dead. Although the United Nations claim they stopped an official count at 5400 last December because they were no longer able to “verify” accurate numbers.
Daily news reports tell of endless shootings, dire shortages of medical supplies and food. Blackouts, random street violence and children who are kept inside their houses for fear of being shot in the streets.
The Syrian army, the only armed force operation in the country remains committed to the President Bashar al-Assad and members of the minority Alawites faith. They fear losing power and are expected to amp up their already brutal, bloody and violent methods of social control.
“I don’t see a hopeful situation on the horizon unless the UN acts,” Professor Amin Saikal, professor of political science at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University told The Punch.
But the United Nations remains divided on Syria. Russia and China have ruled out cooperation. They have made large economic and political investment in Syria and don’t want to upset the balance of power in the region. Without their consent, the rest of the World has no choice but to wait. And watch the bloodshed spiral out of control.
Expensive, tripped up PR can’t save Syria now.
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