- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
It’s hard to imagine that a Vogue editor woke up this morning and decided it wouldn’t be hugely embarrassing to publish a puff piece today, at the moment of the greatest upheaval in the Middle East in two generations, about Syria’s ruling family. But that appears to be exactly what happened.
The article does not once mention the protests currently under way in the Middle East, including scattered evidence of demonstrations in Syria. Instead, the article focuses on Syrian first lady Asma Assad — the "freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," endowed with "[d]ark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace." At a time when other Middle Eastern first ladies, notably Tunisia’s Leila Trabelsi, have been the target of protesters’ wrath, this may not be the wisest moment for Asma to flaunt her glamour.
One can only assume that the Assads agreed to be interviewed for this piece before the current outbreak of unrest made it embarrassing for both for them, and for Vogue. Still, some of the damage done to the Assads is self-inflicted. In one anecdote, Asma pays a visit to one of the centers run by her NGO, Massar, in the Syrian port city of Latakia — and promptly lies to the assembled schoolchildren about closing the foundation.
Then she throws out a curve ball. ‘I’ve been advised that we have to close down this center so as to open another one somewhere else,’ she says. Kids’ mouths drop open. Some repress tears. Others are furious. One boy chooses altruism: ‘That’s OK. We know how to do it now; we’ll help them.’
Then the first lady announces, ‘That wasn’t true. I just wanted to see how much you care about Massar.’