Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad has been compared to Princess Diana for her youth, beauty and compassion. Now private e-mails leaked to the Guardian newspaper portray a woman who resembles Marie Antoinette.
Since the Syrian uprising led to a brutal crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's regime a year ago, his wife Asma has largely remained out of the spotlight, except for two public appearances supporting her husband. In January she was almost inconspicuous with a beret on her head, while clutching two of her young children and feigning a smile for the cameras as her husband gave a speech at a rally.
In late February, the first lady looking more confident and elegant in black, was seen smiling and greeting supporters alongside the President as they cast ballots in a referendum on constitutional reform, which was regarded as a farce by opposition forces and condemned by the West. At the same time, the city of Homs, which has been at the epicenter of the pro-democracy movement, was bombarded with mortars and rockets. At least 8,000 Syrians have been killed in the year-long bloodbath, according to UN estimates.
Earlier in February, the First Lady provoked outrage in Britain by sending an unsolicited e-mail to the Times newspaper, saying "The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First lady supports him in that role."
She appears to communicate often by e-mail. On Thursday, Britain's Guardian newspaper published the first couple's private e-mail documents leaked by the opposition group Supreme Council of the Revolution. The e-mails portray a woman who ordered tens of thousands of dollars worth of chandeliers and candlesticks among other luxury items within the past eight month period, when her country was under siege and ordinary Syrians were facing food shortages.
Mrs. Assad also maintained e-mail contact with the Qatar emir's daughter Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, who urged the first couple to leave Syria and even offered them asylum in Doha, but since then relations between the two friends have apparently chilled.
A nice English girl?
Diyab believes that the First Lady should have seized the moment during the Arab Spring upheavals a year ago and could have won the support of millions of Syrians by speaking out against the government massacre of teenage protesters in the Syrian city Deraa, whose only offence was to spray pro-democracy graffiti on walls.
Duty to her nation
"She had to publicly condemn what the government is doing and I know Asma is a wife, mother of three children, but when you choose to be First Lady, you are not only playing the role of mother, wife and daughter. You have a national responsibility toward people who had faith in you as a First Lady," Diyab, who now lives in the UK, told DW.
The First Lady could have been a role model for young people and women in particular, but Diyab sees a lack of moral courage.
"She 's very fragile. The image of her as a Damascena rose is very her. She is not a strong woman as such, because she was born and bred in England where you don't need to show a lot of resistance to prove your point. Maybe her fragility fails her to support her nation," she said.
Why is this even remotely worthy of discussion when considering the extent of the brutal oppression of ordinary citizens in Syria?
Even worse when you marry known turds & tie your life to theirs, Rocky!
One of the most striking aspects of the emails' leak is how Assad bypassed his male aides. Instead, as his country slipped further into bloodshed, he appears to have grown reliant on media advice from a group of young, westernised Syrian expats. Most are women. At their core are Ali and her friend Sheherazad Jaafari, a former intern at the New York-based PR firm Brown Lloyd James.
Of the two, Jaafari has the better connections: her father is Syria's ambassador to the UN in New York, with a hotline to Damascus. But Ali's biography and now deleted Facebook page offer clues to her rapid rise. Like Assad and much of Syria's elite, Ali is from the Alawi religious sect. She grew up in the coastal town of Qurdaha, known for its Alawite population.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/spin-doctor-who-calls-assad-the-dude-20120319-1vepo.html#ixzz1pWsi5eml
Even worse when you marry known turds & tie your life to theirs, Rocky!
He seems quite pro women to me
What does Assad's wife's attitude about what is occurring in Syria have to do with her "failure as a woman", for heavens sake?
There are two sides to Asma al-Assad," says Tabler. "She is a modern woman, definitely apart from other wives of Arab leaders."
She ran nongovernment organizations specifically geared toward the country's worst problems: high unemployment and disparity between the rich and poor. But Asma al-Assad coveted the good life too, Tabler says.
"She also wanted to be a princess."
Asma al-Assad has been condemned for supporting her husband, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the bombardment of her family's home city, Homs, goes on. But do autocrats' wives ever rein in their husbands?
The first public intervention of British-born Asma al-Assad, 36, since the uprising began in Syria nearly a year ago was an email from her office to the Times newspaper in London.
In it she expressed her support for her husband, the president, while stating that she "comforts" the "victims of the violence".
It's estimated by human rights groups and activists that more than 7,000 people - 2,000 members of the security services, and 5,000 others - have been killed in the unrest, and Syrian opposition supporters promptly condemned Mrs Assad's "hypocrisy".
But her stance should come as no surprise, says Rime Allaf, an associate fellow of Chatham House, the London foreign affairs think tank.
"Why are we shaming her and saying she should do something? There was never any question that she would do anything else.
"Even if, deep down, she was not happy with what's happening, she wouldn't be able to do anything about it.
"And even if, between four walls, she told him 'I don't approve of this', we wouldn't know about it. Let's be more realistic about this."
But there have been examples where wives have stood up to their authoritarian husbands.
In the early 1990s, Susana Higuchi condemned her husband, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, as a "tyrant" and he responded by divorcing her and giving the status of First Lady to his daughter.
Columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown agrees that women are sometimes judged unfairly, but anyone who stands by a dishonourable man with the power to make or break a nation fully deserves blame and punishment, she says.
She believes there are "true Lady Macbeths" like Madame Mao, partly responsible for the Cultural Revolution, or Mira Markovic, widow to Slobodan Milosevic and regarded as a key influence on him.
But the silent wives also deserve condemnation, in her view.
We don't know if they're victims. I see the difficulties for them but if something like this [in Syria] is going on, for me it's unforgivable. It could be that Asma is under terrible pressure, that she's been told that if she doesn't do this she will be in trouble.
"But both Suzanne Mubarak [wife of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak] and Asma are powerful women. They're not put upon or oppressed women."
Unlike the wife of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who didn't have much of a presence, others like to present themselves as modern Arab women, says Ms Alibhai-Brown. Yet they allow themselves to be silenced when they should speak out or act.
"The biggest rulers in the Ottoman Empire were always very easily manipulated by their wives and mothers, so women could play a part, but since then we've gone backwards.
"It can't be possible that today they are all too oppressed."