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March 23, 2012 4:42 pm

The Assad Family and the Vogue Article

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avatar by Lakkana Nanayakkara

Bashar and Asma Assad. Photo: wiki commons.

Bashar and Asma Assad. Photo: wiki commons.

Bashar al-Assad was born on September 11, 1965, and studied ophthalmology in Tehran before moving to London. In 1982, his father Hafez al-Assad killed nearly 20,000 people when he crushed a revolt in the city of Hama and after his elder brother Bassel died in a car crash in 1994, Bashar returned to Syria and entered politics.

Mr Assad “became a tank battalion commander in 1994 and rose to the rank of colonel in 1999” after entering the military academy at Homs.  After his father’s death, he stood as the only candidate for president, taking over in July 2000 after regime loyalists amended the constitution by “scrapping the minimum age limit of 40 to allow Bashar to run for president.”

In the first few months of his reign, he released political prisoners, licensed independent newspapers and allowed intellectuals to “hold public political meetings and publish statements”. Despite promising reform, from early 2011 intellectuals’ meetings were closed down, opposition figures were arrested and press freedom was limited. President Assad and the Syrian military were accused of involvement in the February 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Several publications had focused on the appearance of his wife, Asma al-Assad, while ignoring the human rights abuses carried out by the Assad regime. The most notable failure to convey an accurate image of the Assad family was the Vogue magazine article which portrayed them as “tolerant and peaceful”. The article included a photo of Bashar al-Assad playing with his kids, while Asma al-Assad was described as “glamorous, young, and very chic”.

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Due to the ongoing brutal crackdown by the Syrian military since March 2011, the article became a public relations disaster for Vogue magazine who have since removed it from their website.

The article claimed that “Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East” and Bashar al-Assad was elected president in 2000 “with a startling 97 percent of the vote”. The crackdown in Syria over the past year has clearly refuted the first claim with an estimated 7,000 people having been killed by Syrian security forces. Regarding the second claim, the article failed to mention that Bashar al-Assad was the only candidate to run for president.

The European Union has moved to restrict Asma’s travel inside Europe, banning her from entering and freezing assets inside European banks.

According to The Hill, U.S. lobbying firm “Brown Lloyd James agreed to a $5,000-per-month contract” with Syria in November 2010 to help with the Vogue interview and photo shoot.

During a 2009 CNN interview, Asma al-Assad expressed her concern for Palestinian children in Gaza and claimed that no milk was getting through to them due to the Israeli blockade.

In the past year, the Assad regime has killed and tortured hundreds of Syrian children and there are also unconfirmed reports of the Assad regime cutting off food supplies to some Syrian cities. In a stunning display of hypocrisy, Asma al-Assad did not comment during a meeting in September 2011, when aid workers told her about human rights abuses committed by her husband’s government.

The Assad regime is unlikely to relinquish power peacefully since they have a lot to loose if the regime falls. Bashar’s younger brother Maher commands an elite army division, “and is accused of widespread human rights abuses”. His cousin Rami Makhlouf is “the richest man in Syria”.

Bashar al-Assad has denied that he controls the Syrian military but former Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam refuted that claim outright, saying Assad is responsible for the bloodshed.

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