The Shmooze

Vogue's Ill-Timed Profile of Syria's First Lady

By Nathan Burstein

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Her husband runs one of the world’s most repressive police states, but Vogue wants you to know that Syria’s first lady runs a “wildly democratic” household. She is also, the magazine says, “glamorous, young, and very chic.”

As other Arab dictators are forced from power, the fashion magazine has released what has to be one of its more awkwardly timed recent profiles, a fluffy feature about Asma al-Assad, described in the article’s headline as a “rose in the desert.”

Though Vogue is hardly the place to turn for clues about Syria’s true inner workings, the article is still occasionally thought-provoking, mostly for the questions it raises about the editorial decisions that went into its euphemistic phrasings and largely positive portrayal of the Assad regime.

While certainly not a total whitewash, the piece takes a largely indirect approach to describing Syria as it is. Bashar al-Assad was “elected president” with a “startling 97 percent of the vote,” the article reports, before adding matter-of-factly that “In Syria, power is hereditary.” Writer Joan Juliet Buck goes on to describe Syria’s “alliances as murky,” then proceeds to show that they really are not, noting the presence of both “souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays” and “the Hamas leadership” in Damascus. The country’s “number-one enmity” is Israel, she reports, before vaguely suggesting that “that might not always be the case.”

Mostly, however, the article focuses on 35-year-old Asma al-Assad, including her professional background, courtship with Bashar al-Assad and leadership of a local NGO. The article also includes the requisite celebrity name-dropping, noting that Christian Louboutin is a fan of Syrian silk, and that he owns “a small palace” in Aleppo. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie once spent time with the country’s first couple, Vogue reports.

Syria’s nearly vanished Jewish population also pops up at one point, after Asma al-Assad claims that many cultures and religions live “side by side” in Syria. (Outside the pages of Vogue, Syria is not generally regarded as a paragon of co-existence.) “Does that include the Jews?” Buck asks.

“And the Jews,” al-Assad responds. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”


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