Asma al-Assad: fearless critic of barbarism, unless it's aimed at her own people
March 1st, 2012
03:36 PM ET

Asma al-Assad: fearless critic of barbarism, unless it's aimed at her own people

By Mark Joyella, OutFront digital producer

She was, until recently, the beautiful woman described as a "rose in the desert"; the very modern wife of a man seen by many as a very old-style dictator. As her country has burned–and her childhood home has become an international symbol of civilian suffering, indiscriminate killing and the deaths of journalists–Asma Al-Assad has remained silent. "I wonder how Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad, a Homs native, is reacting to the destruction of her city," wrote CNN's Ben Wedeman on Twitter this week.

It's not as if Assad, the British born beauty married to Syria's Bashir Assad, has never spoken out against brutality against civilians. In a 2009 CNN interview, Assad condemned Israel’s offensive on the Gaza as ‘‘barbaric’’ and warmly but firmly used her position ‘‘as a mother and a human being’’ to demand its end. ‘‘This is the 21st century. Where in the world could this happen? Unfortunately it is happening.’’

And it is happening again–in her own country. Yet she says nothing. She stands silent even, as Wedeman has noted, as her own home town is shelled into submission, with the majority of the dead civilians–many of them children–and international journalists. The body of one of those journalists, Marie Colvin, has yet to be returned to her family in the U.S. because the Syrian regime has refused to stop its assault on Homs long enough to allow independent groups to recover the bodies of Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik, both killed during a rocket attack on Homs February 22.

Syria has instead sent in tanks and ground troops, cut off electricity and access to Homs, and ignoring a United Nations resolution condemning "systematic violations" against civilians.

Colvin's mother, Rosemarie, in an interview with Long Island newspaper Newsday, appealed to Asma Al-Assad's husband in words very similar to Asma's own: "do the decent, human thing," she said. "They are our children, they are human beings and we share that humanity with each other."

Were it any country but her own, it's easy to imagine Rosemarie Colvin finding a friend in Asma Al-Assad. For years, Assad was everything Syria wanted the world to believe about their country: beautiful, smart, modern, and compassionate. She was welcomed by politicans and Queens, and greeted by photographers' flashes from Milan to New York.

The Sydney Morning Herald described Assad as a "Louboutin-loving" fashionista who, "like other dictators' wives, live glamourous lives" that "earn them fawning spreads in western fashion magazines like Vogue. But at home they inspire dread, with tales of confiscating people's homes and punishing servants with boiling water."

As the Herald notes, the London raised former banker–fully at home at events like New York Fashion Week–had earned Syria glowing headlines. "French Elle had recently voted Asma 'the most stylish woman in world politics', Paris Match called her 'an eastern Diana, a 'ray of light in a country full of shadow zones’."

The days of fluffy profiles and frilly adjectives seem well and truly over as Syria's "shadow zones" have served up daily images of nauseating brutality.

As The Scotsman's Emma Cowing wrote a column this week titled "Shame of Syria first lady of hypocrisy", saying "Asma Assad has more than 34,000 “likes” on Facebook. Not bad for the wife of a man who has been systematically murdering his own people for the past 11 months."

As Cowing notes, the Assad PR push began to crumble a year ago. "Last February she was infamously profiled in American Vogue, where she was described as 'glamorous and chic' and 'the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies'. In the article – now curiously deleted from the Vogue website – she explained how she ran her household on 'wildly democratic principles'."

Erin Burnett OutFront found an existing copy of the text of the Vogue article online here.

After the Vogue story, and amid the continued bloody crackdown in Syria, Assad's office emailed a statement to the London Times in February after it ran an article asking: "What does Assad’s wife, an intelligent, educated woman raised in liberal Britain and seemingly dedicated to good works, think of the evils being perpetrated daily across Syria [...]? Is Asma Assad, 36, indifferent to the suffering being inflicted on her fellow Sunnis by her husband’s Alawite henchmen – or appalled? Has Syria’s Princess Diana become its Marie-Antoinette?"

As Cowing writes:

A few weeks ago Mrs Assad sent a letter to a British newspaper saying that she “filled her days listening to and comforting the victims of violence”. Her tone seemed to suggest that she was somehow innocent in all this, that Syria was under bombardment from evil terrorists and that she, as first lady, was doing what she could to help.

This is patently nonsense. Mrs Assad is almost as complicit in the slaughter of peaceful Syrians as her husband, helping prop up the regime through social networking and by publicly supporting her husband.

Just weeks before, CNN again profiled Assad, asking whether she would speak up–or "stand by her man." Her choice seems coldly clear.

Her former friends in all the right places can now see her–and Syria's regime–for what she is, designer dresses and elegant shoes notwithstanding.

The days of meeting with royalty and gazing admiringly at exhibits of Monet are over. Assad can no longer expect to appear at a humanitarian fundraiser or edgy art gallery opening without being peppered by questions about the senseless deaths of mothers, fathers, and children in places like Homs.

As Cowing described the evacuation of Paul Conroy, a British photographer injured in Homs in the same blast that killed Marie Colvin, "Conroy’s evacuation happened despite, not because of, Mrs. Assad’s actions. As a British-born woman with the ear of the president, she could have helped. Instead she chose to condemn the journalists for having been in the country in the first place...in the same way, by not speaking up for them, she is now condemning thousands of innocent Syrians to death.

"She should be thoroughly ashamed of herself."

Filed under: Opinion • Uncategorized
soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Akiran

    Remember Joseph Stalin's wife and how she lost her mind? I don't know what's in Mrs. Assad's heart anymore than anyone else, but it may very well be that she can't speak out because she is being prevented from doing that.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  2. Andy

    This article is cheap and badly formulated P R O P A G A N D A

    April 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  3. John Franco

    I am dumbfounded by the glamorization of immoral world leaders: Castro, Chavez, and now Assad. To have Vogue profile a first lady of a dictator is inexcusable: back then as much as now. The dismissive nature of Vogue and other powerful media personalities of the vile acts of these leaders is akin to having dinner with Hugo Chavez. Oh, I forgot, Sean Penn and Oliver Stone did that. When will the 'Fonda Effect' end and rational evaluation of leaders begin?

    April 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  4. edmundburkeson

    Why don't you stop showing her face! She doesn't deserve the PR you are giving her.

    April 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  5. Chas

    She has repeatedly been reported as spending her days during the bloodbaths browsing the internet, ordering shoes, clothes and items for the home from expensive European outlets. She cares for nothing but her own pleasures. One of the pleasures a dictator's wife can indulge in, when bored with her usual playthings, is to hypocritically act out the part of a humanitarian.

    April 7, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • Andy

      So she's just like Barbara Bush and Cherie Blair..

      April 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
      • kitty hogan

        No, she;s more like Marie Antoinette Obama when it comes to spending. Bush ladies are frugal

        June 13, 2012 at 1:24 am | Reply
  6. Farouk

    Why does anyone think the situation in Syria really so simple? No country is perfect but Syria has the most religious freedom of any Mideast country
    The Rebels are not pro Democracy intellectuals and students from Middle Class they are Fanatical Sunni who are unpopular in Syria. They are armed by 2 US allies the Turks who committed genocide against the Armenians and Kurds and Saudi Arabia the most repressive Regime on earth who is currently crushing a pro-democracy movement at home. The Rebel are calling for a genocide of epic proportions against Christian Muslims and Jews who live in Syria.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • John Franco

      Calling an end to Syrian government indiscriminate bombing of its people is simple. Why can't you see that?

      April 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • roberta

      Really, there is no surprise here. If Asma al- Akras were truly a western woman , educated and a working professional she would have married a Wall Street broker or some other similar type she met professionally. Why quit your job, run off to some backwater country like Syria and marry the introverted Asad freak with no chin , unless you crave the power of the position. I heard years ago that she could be vicious to anyone who wrote unfavorably about her, even get them kicked out of her country. My guess is that she was raised in a family of Baath loyalists and that the marriage was arranged from the inside by both her father and Assad's father's advisors.

      April 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  7. AllAmerican418

    Let them eat cous-cous!!!

    April 3, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  8. Anthony Ames

    What, really, do people expect her to do? What would most of us do if we were in her position?

    March 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Reply
    • DropTheStone

      I agree Anthony. There are many wives of leaders who would instantly lose the ability to quietly help their people if they spoke out publicly for the sake of apeasing the media and arm-chair critics. People are like children when they expect/demand empty words that can not be fulfilled by someone who is visible but has no power. Queen Noor lives in a country where slavery is rampant, stonings and executions happen regularly without what we would consider any semblence of law or order and yet she is adored for her beauty and intelligence. She IS beautiful and intelligent. She can do more to help her people by filling her public role and therefore being allowed her ministrations off-camera. How ridiculous to criticize someone who to my knowledge (if I am incorrect I would amend my remark) never made a comment or action supporting the brutality of a regime that believes such a thing is treason warranting death. Why not volunteer to go and sit beside her and perform self-immolation in a show of solidarity.

      April 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • kitty hogan

      She should take her kids and go back to her own country: UK

      June 13, 2012 at 1:24 am | Reply
  9. James

    hey First Lady of Syria... don't you need to redecorate one of your palaces? what are you doing wasting your time with this silly business of the oppression and murder of your citizens by your military when there is a sale at Nordstroms to deal with!

    March 17, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  10. TheBob

    "Fearless critic of barbarism". Yes. Unless of course the criticism would be at odds with the lavish Versace shopping sprees. Then screw the downtrodden. Let them eat lead.

    It's easy to be a "fearless critic" of anything as long as it's no skin off your own back.

    March 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  11. Brady

    Mr. Joyella: What leads you to believe that Asma Al-Assad's silence is a voluntary "choice"? Bashir Assad is a brutal and powerful dictator in control of extraordinary resources that enable him to murder hundreds of his fellow Syrians - including women and children - with virtual impunity. Accordingly, is it so difficult to imagine that he has the ability to silence Asma? Your assumptions and the faulty logic that flows from them might turn out to be correct, but if so it will have been by accident. As a news Producer, you should be ashamed for such basic violations of sound journalism.

    March 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • standupkid

      Brady, I wrote that Asma Al-Assad's "choice seems coldly clear." It is of course possible that her husband has her held captive. At the same time, she has recently defended her husband in comments released to a UK newspaper. Are you suggesting that assuming a dictator's wife is silent only by force is somehow journalistically sound, while pointing out that a woman who has built a reputation on speaking out has suddenly fallen silent is a "shameful violation of sound journalism"?

      Please explain.

      March 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
      • Brady

        Mr. Joyella: I came across your piece after seeing the headline on a search engine. At first blush it seemed to be a very interesting piece and definitely worth a read. Unfortunately, what you wrote was little more than sensationalized conjecture and speculation. That's not journalism, and you shouldn't need me to explain why. Indeed, had you concluded that it seemed "coldly clear" that Basir Assad's silence was the result of her husband's brutality, my criticism would have been the same. By pointing out that a brutal dictator might have the ability to silence his wife (or issue press releases on her behalf), I was illustrating an equally plausible alternative hypothesis. There are dozens more; hundreds the further you slip from "plausible". Incidentally, after reading your piece and taking the time to comment (which I rarely do), I made a point to tune in to Out Front, which I'd never seen before. What I saw during the few minutes I could tolerate was Ms. Burnett bumbling on about how a vaccine might have caused the alleged acts of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Was that "story" your doing as well? Because it, too, was little more than sensationalized conjecture and speculation - and it reflected extraordinarily poorly on Ms. Burnett and the show's producers.

        March 28, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
        • standupkid

          Brady, thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

          March 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  12. jc3494

    She is no better than her husband is!

    By her silence on the issue she becomes part of the issue.

    March 17, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  13. NotHumanBeing_HumanBecoming

    hey lady its time to tell your husband to stop.

    March 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
    • Athena12

      And so it is with "royalty". Growing up in England, working in Manhattan, jet-setting around the world, she feels absolutely no connection with the people of her own country. She is a pretty, and worthless, figurehead. What a travesty, and so very tragic for the Syrian people who deserve so much better.

      March 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  14. loretta

    What did you expect Jackie O?
    She married to a dictator, did peolpe not get that? And waht do dictators nomally do when their people revolt?
    They try to slience them, and then if that does not work they kill or touture them.
    Why is everbody acting as though this action by her husband is a surprise?
    Dictators are for themselves, NOT the people, always have been , always will.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • Sugi

      Luella, they are trying for one world govt, just like Hitler tried. The other world pwroes Russia and China and Iran will NOT let the Saudis Isreal Brits USA become one world power. The axis pwroes of Iran China and Russia are planning their own world order. Don't underestimate either Axis or Allies. It's already on.

      April 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  15. Robocop

    In times of dissent human beings are expendible. To the victor go the spoils!

    March 12, 2012 at 7:51 am | Reply
    • loretta

      Ok Robin Hood, back to the forest.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  16. Chris

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Syria is not her childhood home? Isn't she from Britain but of Syrian background?

    March 11, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  17. FatBOiChubbyChaser

    I wonder if Assma uses an inhaled inhaler or the pills she needs to breath...glad to see the old gal without that nasty burka

    March 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  18. Paul

    The media has given me a choice of propaganda ! Love the world and detest the Israilis or love the world and detest the Israilis......
    I pick to love and be respected by the world !

    March 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  19. CivilRights8

    If she really is pro-democracy and believes in human rights, her silence would not be helpful. If she cannot speak up in Syria, the least she can do is to leave Syria "for a visit" and then speak up!

    March 10, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
    • Dreamstyle

      Anonymous,I fear you'll have a hard time challenging ynihtnag by calling yourself anonymous. If I may encourage you to use your first name so I could keep track of who's who, that would be most helpful. I have no way of knowing which anonymous commentator you are otherwise.I wonder why you feel the need to psychoanalyze me. I'm quite sure there are many wonderful Arabs. I've never suggested that Arabs are all the same. In fact, I have several dear friends who are Arabs, Middle Eastern, Druze, etc. As for Jews being pro-Israel the bulk are, especially in Israel. That's merely a reality largely ingrained in a quest for human survival. Would you expect an Israeli to want to see the destruction of their nation-state that they built from swamp and dirt?I find it questionable that you're so offended I'm pointing to the inhumane treatment Jews suffered under Syria's regime. Should I ignore that to appease anonymous commentators such as yourself? Should I deny my heritage to appease your distaste for Israel?Peace is mirage if you expect the bulk of Israeli Jewry to hide what they went through under Arab nationalist regimes. I haven't an ounce of European blood. So when anti-Zionists and/or anti-Semities tell me to go back to Europe, I can only conclude that they don't know the realities of what Mizrahi Jewry faced in their native lands or that they are hateful. I hope it's the former as ignorance, through education, can be corrected. With best regards,Reut R. Cohen

      April 6, 2012 at 1:29 am | Reply
    • Alex

      All true. My dad has been deployed to France and ehotrbr to South Korea. My dads unit is air national guard refueling unit. They are ready. The USA drills 24/7 Military in KuwAit, Georgia, Israel. France. Don't forget about all national guards of every branch in every state and puerto Rico. Also talk of draft. It's on, just sayin.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  20. mark

    hey erin dont be so naive, her tounge would be cut out if she spoke out against her butcher husband. you seem to think that women in other parts of this world have the same rights as women in our great country. not so. its not even a story, so you liberal reporters can learn something from this: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHY WE NEED TO ERASE THESE BASTARTDS FROM THE PLANET, SO ALL OF US HAVE BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS, LIKE YOU HAVE!!!

    March 10, 2012 at 12:06 am | Reply
  21. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    She is only beautiful by Middle Eastern standards… and that’s not saying much.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • blake

      You're mean.

      March 10, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
    • Chris

      What on earth does that mean?! I understand the statement but what does her "beauty" or look have to do with the situation in Syria?

      March 12, 2012 at 12:38 am | Reply
  22. Steve -- who truly knows it all

    One day this lady and her husband will go the way of the Marcoses and the Duvaliers, but if there's any real justice, they will suffer the same fate as the Ceaușescus.

    I'll keep my fingers crossed for the latter outcome.

    March 9, 2012 at 7:31 am | Reply
  23. Kyle

    It said she's british bown, but then later says "as her hometown is shelled into submission" last I checked, Syria wasn't shelling anywhere in Britain. Confused...?

    March 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  24. Mona Rose Daniels

    Sweet dreams with all the horror first lady of no integrity or heart.

    March 8, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  25. Meg May

    I am so glad someone covered this. I remember reading her expose in Vogue and found the article curious...
    Now I'm discusted Vogue hasn't made a commet on drooling all over her.

    March 8, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  26. MasteroftheObvious

    She's in Syria, wife of the head of the regime, obviously her husband would have an issue if she even wanted to speak out. She knows this and he would probably stop her if she did say anything...

    March 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  27. Thezel

    forget about the atrocities in syria... she's hot.

    March 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  28. Reader-Fan

    Sadly Erin, Asma even if she does have issue with what is happening in her own Country / Town her life would likely end if she did speak against her husband because of the type of person (if you can call him that) is. I could be wrong and giving her credit that is not deserved but if you lived in her shoes you might see things that causes her to be the way she is while suffering inside wishing she could stop the violence.

    Keep up the great reports!!!

    March 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  29. Amir

    How much are those Erin Burnett calenders?..............

    March 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  30. Amir

    Your hair looks good there girl. Liek the picture by the way. What made you take that one there? Just curious....................

    March 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  31. Amir

    I know the deal..there. Reminds me of the guy who's wife had an uncle or something like that who used to watch her husband. Sayin that he thought he was cheating but............he was really watching for some other reason. Or the guy who was afraid of someoneles edoing something wrong. When they get cought .........in the same place without permission. tough call.

    March 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply

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