She is not the face you are expecting.
Smooth skin, clear eyes, softly curled hair. A navy blue, slightly off-the-shoulder blouse with a brooch on her right beast.
Asma al-Assad is the First Lady of Syria. She has a British accent, she was schooled at King’s College in London and she is married to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Her country is falling apart and she’s still smiling for Instagram.
Last week, we saw Syrian children being hosed down as chemicals burnt their skin. It was a rebel-held town in the Idlib province where the Syrian government allegedly dropped chemical bombs that killed 89 people, many of them children.
The same week, on the Instagram account run by, or dedicated to, to the country’s First Lady, we saw a ‘throw back’ to an interview she did in 2009, in the city of Damascus. She can be seen talking to a journalist in a park, a peaceful street in the background.
Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss whether Asma Al Assad can be held accountable for her husband’s actions on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
We saw footage of children foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling back in their heads.
We saw another throwback image of the First Lady in a pretty summer dress. It’s white with black spots, held at the waist by a black belt. The hashtags read: #WeLoveYouAsma #syria #tb #assad
We saw a father sitting in the red dirt, holding his two dead twins and screaming. Their bodies had been burnt by chemicals, their faces doll-like skin flushed red.
We watched as the The First Lady smiled for the camera while visiting a group of women who, according to Google translate, are the Association of Disabled People.
It goes on. A stark contrast. More than that: a harsh denial of reality.
Yes, her husband has disputed claims that the Syrian government's involvement in last week's chemical attacks. “Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack," he told AFP news agency.
But there is no denying his active involvement in four years of conflict across the country.
He has dropped barrel bombs on civilians. He has held his own people hostage in the city of Aleppo. The forces of his government have stormed the same city, leaving thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless.
Four years ago, hundreds of bodies were found floating in Aleppo's river. They were not rebels. They were shop merchants and civilians. They had been captured by pro-government forces while shopping or visiting family in the government-ruled section of the city. Many showed evidence of torture.
Still, the First Lady kept smiling.
Mocking Melania Trump. Post continues below.
Asma married al-Assad in December 2000 when she was 25.
She was born in London and grew up in the UK. She studied French and computing at King’s College, London and worked for a time as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank in New York. She met al-Assad while he was learning ophthalmology in London. In 2000, as she was about to undertake her MBA at Harvard university, the pair reconnected and moved to Syria instead. Al-Assad had just become the country's president.
He was meant to bring reform and modern change to a country that had been torn apart under his father's dictatorship. No such thing happened. Freedom of the press was non-existent. Public meetings were closed down. Anti-government messages were quashed. People started disappearing and Islam and Kurdish activists were imprisoned. In 2011, when four boys were arrested for spray painting anti-government messages at their school, tension erupted between rebel forces and Al-Assad's regime.
In December 2011, the Syrian government - led by al-Assad - began an unprecedented bombing attack upon its own people.
"المرأة تشكّل نصف المجتمع، ودورها يزداد أهمية في ظلّ الظروف الصعبة التي يمرّ بها الوطن، فهي تحمل في أحيان كثيرة أعباء المرأة والرجل في الأسرة." ???? السيدة الأولى أسماء الأسد خلال زيارتها لمشفى دار التوليد بدمشق بمناسبة اليوم العالمي للمرأة – 8 آذار 2014 #IWD #internationalwomensday #future #Hope #women #love #syria #weloveyouasma
Just one year earlier, in December 2010, the president's wife presented as "informal and cheery", according to an interview she did with American Vogue.
"She was as brisk as a prefect, as on-message as a banker, as friendly as a new acquaintance at a cocktail party. She sounded like the kind of young Englishwoman you’d hear having lunch at the next table at Harvey Nichols," the journalist who interviewed her, Joan Juliet Buck, has written for The Telegraph since.
"She was on show and delivered a well-rounded and glossy presentation of a cosy, modern, relaxed version of herself, her family and her country to an American fashion magazine."
It's an image she's retained ever since. Mostly, through her silence and equally-as-silent Instagram posts.
For eight years, the First Lady did not speak to the press. It was only in October, 2016 that Asma spoke again to the media. She was responding to offers from various countries willing to provide her and her children asylum.
She and the president have three children together. Their first son, Hafez after Hafez al-Assad, was born in 2001; their daughter Zein was born in 2003; and their second son Karim in 2004.
“I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all,” she reportedly told Russian state-backed television channel Russia 24 in October last year. The video has since been taken down.
“Yes, I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria or rather to run from Syria. These offers included guarantees of safety and protection for my children and even financial security. It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after. It was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president.”
When asked about the conflict in her country (the reporter did not mention her husband's involvement) Asma said she felt "pain and sadness".
“Could you ignore them? In Syria we believe in honouring our word. That’s important," she said.
This could be reminding you of someone else.
In January this year, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, was slammed on social and mainstream media for posting an image of herself and her husband Jared Kushner attending a black tie event the day after her father signed an executive order banning immigration to the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
The post was called "tone deaf" and "out of touch" and Ivanka later apologised.
In Asma's case, there will likely be no apology. She will continue smiling as the bombs fall, as she has done for the past nine years. All in the name of "maintaining confidence in the Syrian President".
I wonder what it might take for her image to falter? God help us if we ever arrive there.
You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.