These days, Asma al-Assad — wife of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — has a lot on her plate. She's got 3 kids to Mom, a whole country to First Lady, an unstable, despotic, maybe-evil chemical weapons-wielding husband to Wife, and, most importantly, luxury goods to consume. Juggling the multiple responsibilities of being an oblivious twit in the face of mass suffering and death is tough — but luckily, we're here to help. It's the Etiquette Guide to Being Married to a Murderous Dictator— for Ladies!
Poor Asma al-Assad's public image hasn't always been as bruised as a limbless child whose house was bombed by the Syrian military. In fact, prior to all this trouble with the proletariat, Mrs. Assad was well-regarded as a paragon of progressivism and glamourous fashionality as the UK-citizen wife of Bashar al-Assad. There was that now-notorious (and now-pulled) Vogue tongue bath from February 2011, sure. But prior to that, Elle commented on boy oh boy did she have some pretty clothes. So did the Huffington Post (they called her an "All-natural beauty!" in a glowing 2010 slide show). And the UN thought that maybe she would be the progressive kick in the pants Syria — a country with a human rights record nearly always described by professional journalists who ostensibly own thesauruses as "dismal"— needed.
But all that changed once the citizens of Syria began to rise up against Bashar al-Assad's government in March 2011, only to face an unimaginably cruel and inhumane response from the government — the UN estimates that in the last two and a half years, more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed and 2 million have fled the country. On August 21st, Bashar al-Assad reportedly used chemical weapons against his own citizens, a war crime that many US allies insist is grounds for military intervention. As it stands, the US stands on the brink of war. Again.
It's easy to see how Asma al-Assad has found herself in a delicate situation, etiquette and reputation-wise. So how's a purportedly image-obsessed lady to stand by her man without appearing, to the international community, like a huge asshole? Follow these very important DO's and DON'Ts.
DON'T feed your family "Western" food that you pay top dollar to import while other families who are not your family starve to death or flee the country, as former Assad government officials allege. Further, DON'T turn your nose up at Syrian food, because not only is Syrian food delicious, there are starving children in, uh, Syria (and various refugee camps full of Syrians) who don't have enough to eat.
DO perform charity work because you're a good person who gives a shit about people.
DON'T perform charity work as window dressing for your carefully cultivated image as a saintly fashion plate. And especially don't do charity work that consists of you showing up at a youth center and announcing to all of the children that the youth center would close, and then trying to get the children angry at the person who decided to close the center, and then being all LOL I was just testing you kids; you're all right! Also I was just kidding the youth center isn't going to close after all! YAY! What kind of a fucked up garbage person does that? Rude.
DO present yourself in a way that represents your country proudly.
DON'T hire a PR firm to present you in a way that makes you out to be some kind of Middle Eastern Kate Middleton at the same time your husband is inflicting unspeakable violence against your country's citizens. Widely considered tacky.
DO grant magazine interviews to Western publications. See them as opportunities to educate the rest of the world on your country's unique attributes and inimitable culture.
DON'T fuck with Joan Juliet Buck.
DO continue your education by encountering the world as it exists and constructively, maturely addressing your own shortcomings and working with your husband to help make your country better.
DON'T surround yourself with bodyguards whose job it is to make sure you don't read any Western media on the off chance that it might "depress" you.
DO connect with teens.
DON'T Instagram photos of yourself and your teen friends just days after your fucking psychopath husband used chemical weapons citizens of the country you're supposed to be First Ladying. It reminds people of the other, deader teens that are not pictured. Etiquette tip, just, overall: if you want to be like Princess Diana, Mrs. Assad, before you do something, think "Would Princess Diana do this? Would she act like everything was Hunky-Dory while her husband was ordering his military to shoot unarmed protesters?" if the answer is "no," then... don't.
DO support the arts.
DON'T cope with your country's civil war by importing expensive chandeliers, MTV Cribs-stupid expensive furniture, and designer clothes through Lebanon in order to avoid international sanctions. Shopping sprees only solve your Bad Feels if you're a rom-com protagonist. As the wife of a possible international war criminal, public, extravagant retail therapy only serves to conjure images of Marie Antoinette. And we all know what happened to her.
From our cushy positions behind various expensive computing products, it's easy to condemn Mrs. Assad for not leaving her husband and fleeing Syria in the middle of the night like the Von Trapp family over the Swiss Alps. But that would be unfair; we don't know how much agency Mrs. al-Assad has over her movements. All we ask is that, if she must stay, she make a modicum of effort to be less of a dick about this princess nonsense. Otherwise, all the expensive PR in the world can't erase the truth that Asma al-Assad is probably a bad person.
Image via Getty.