The cool cyber world of Bashar and Asma Assad
They’re such a cool, contemporary couple: he, modest and compassionate, cradling the hand of a heavily-bound hospital patient, like an oddly updated scene from Catch-22.
She, stylishly tousled and immaculately suited, sharing that great graduation day moment with sparkly-eyed teenage girls.
Could it all be a sham? Surely not. It’s the latest excursion of Syrian strongman, er, President Bashar Assad and his onetime Vogue-star spouse Asma into the thickets of social media.
Assad’s new Instagram feed is tailor-made for the dictator who has everything – but a lot of likes.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? On social media you can be your own spin doctor, autobiographer and best friend. Leading a parallel cyber-life while all around you is ugly and threatening. Doing it your way, with a twist.
Assad, it seems, is waging an otherworldly charm offensive that features himself – who else? – as he loved to be seen, before all that nastiness caused by terrorists who forced him to scoop up thousands of people, beat, rape and torture them, send those noisy tanks to level their villages, and put all those screeching warplanes into the air to drop bombs on their homes and families.
It’s really inconsiderate of the terrorists to carry on like that!
Before they started those so-called peaceful demonstrations in 2011, Bashar and Asma could walk hand and hand through the nicer bits of Damascus, like any other upscale couple, their subjects watching admiringly from the wings.
She could trip through the less-fortunate villages and lecture the disadvantaged on democracy. He could receive foreign dignitaries well aware that he was a British-trained eye doctor (who chose the specialty because he didn’t like the sight of blood.)
And in spite of the occasional dust-up in the neighborhood, the Assads were welcome in the most fashionable drawing rooms of Europe.
Now, with some 100,000 Syrians dead, 1.5 million exiled and thousands jailed and disappeared, things stubbornly refuse to get back to normal.
Like Zimbabwe’s 89-year-old Robert Mugabe, plastering youthful election portraits on Harare walls; like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, masquerading as a victorious general, a sports star or a patron of the arts, the Assads are giving it their best shot, but can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
Except in their own delusional cyber-dreams.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.