x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Assad posts selfies as Syria burns

Syrian president is turning to the popular photo-sharing service Instagram in the latest attempt at improving his image as his country crumbles around him.

The Instagram account of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.
The Instagram account of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

BEIRUT // Syria's embattled president already has a Facebook page, Twitter account and a YouTube channel. Now Bashar Al Assad is turning to the popular photo-sharing service Instagram in the latest attempt at improving his image as his country crumbles around him.

The photos show a smiling Mr Al Assad among supporters, or grimly visiting wounded Syrians in the hospital. The pictures have him working in his office in Damascus, an Apple computer and iPad on his desk. His wife, Asma, who has stayed largely out of sight throughout the conflict, features heavily in the photos, casually dressed and surrounded by Syrian children and their mothers.

The sophisticated PR campaign is striking for an isolated leader who has earned near pariah status for his military's bloody crackdown on dissent.

It is also in stark contrast to the machinations of other dictators at the centre of Arab Spring revolts, many of whom relied on antiquated methods, such as state-run media, to transmit stilted propaganda.

The result is an efficient, modern propaganda machine - but one that appears completely removed from the reality on the ground.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Assad family's decades-old iron rule began in March 2011.

This week's launch of the presidency's Instagram page is Mr Al Assad's latest attempt at burnishing his image.

"Welcome to the official Instagram account for the presidency of the Syrian Republic," said the greeting on the page, which in just a few days has collected more than 5,200 followers.

The 73 photos posted so far show Mr Al Assad in situations that portray normality, compassion and confidence: Talking earnestly to a group of workers in hard hats, clutching the hand of a wounded man swathed in bandages in the hospital.

Mrs Al Assad, her hair twisted casually in a bun, is seen serving meals to the elderly.

The pages are professionally managed by censors who appear to work around the clock to keep off offensive remarks. A few do slip past - or are allowed to remain to give the impression of tolerance.

"Kill the people, destroy their homes, and then visit them in hospital. Yes, well done," read a comment left under a picture of Mrs Al Assad visiting a wounded Syrian woman.