The Failed Public Relations Campaign of Bashar al Assad's Family

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Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday afternoon that at least 1,429 people were killed in the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, including at least 426 children — evidence meant to bolster the case for an American military strike in Syria to deter the Syrian government from launching any more poison gas attacks. But if President Bahar al Assad is concerned with assuring the world he takes civilian deaths very seriously, his family isn't helping. Assad's 11-year old son, Hafez, allegedly posted a Facebook status on Thursday daring Americans to attack Syria. And Asma, Assad's wife, is counting calories

When Assad first came to power in 2000 (he was 34), he and Asma were hailed as a modern, cosmopolitan couple who could be reformers for Syria. Asma was born in Britain, graduated from King's College, and worked as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan before she was married. Now, it's becoming increasingly clear that Asma is standing by her husband's leadership and contributing to a propaganda campaign that ultimately has made the family look worse. Their son, Hafez, isn't helping matters.

A boy purported to be Hafez posted this missive to Facebook on Thursday, daring Americans to attack the country his father leads:

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He writes, "I just want them to attack sooo much, because I want them to make this huge mistake of beginning something that they don't know the end of it . . . Syria forever and everr [peace sign emojis]."

Asma, meanwhile, has been featured prominently in her husband's Instagram account, serving food at soup kitchens and playing with children. Many commenters aren't buying it: one wrote, "Shame on you! Did they not teach you the word 'genocide' while you were at Kings College??" Another said, "Clearly..Asma and Bashy have lost all sense of reality..they are living in a dream world..I can not believe some of their fotos on this site!!..insanity!"

In one of the Instagram photos, Asma looked to be wearing a Jawbone UP, a $129 bracelet that tracks how many calories she burns and how much she sleeps.

CNN reports that the first lady is currently just "hunkered down in Damascus." She could be online shopping — leaked e-mails between Asma and Assad show that she was "shopping online for jewelry, art and furniture" during massive anti-Assad demonstrations in 2012. Asma is known (and often criticized) for her penchant for Christian Louboutin heels. 

A 2011 Vogue article that ran online called Asma a "rose in the desert," praising her style. The piece was published after anti-Assad demonstrations had begun in Syria, and it was as much of an oops for Asma as it was for Vogue (the magazine ultimately pulled it from the website without explanation). Still, the profile offers a peek into the Assads' isolated, expensive life. The three children all attended Montessori school at the time, and watched American movies on iMacs. The photo at left, from the Vogue shoot, depicts Assad, Asma, and two of their children casually playing on the floor of their home. Joan Juliet Buck, the writer who penned the profile, defended herself thusly: "I wondered how this English woman I had met who so believed in the youth of Syria could stand by and not do anything. I fell for the line this woman fed me."

In April, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a long-ranging profile of King Abdullah II of Jordan for The Atlantic. In it, Abdullah discusses the problems that arise when royal family members get too accustomed to being in power, which are all too relevant here.

"No, members of my family don’t get it. They’re not involved day-to-day. The further away you’re removed from this chair, the more of a prince or a princess you are. That happens in all royal families, I think. The further you are from this chair, the more you believe in absolute monarchy. That’s the best way of describing it. And that just doesn’t work."

For Asma, it may not be that she doesn't "get it," but that she doesn't want to. Before Syria was swept into civil war and her husband's power threatened, she spoke out for human rights. In 2009, she told CNN that the civilian death toll in the Gaza War, a a three-week bombing and invasion of Gaza by Israel, was too high. "This is the 21st century," she said. "Where in the world could this happen? Unfortunately it is happening. As a mother and as a human being we need to make sure that these atrocities stop."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.