It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dictator who wants to be accepted by polite Western society should look for a charming, glamorous wife. That, at least, is what the world’s autocrats are learning from the example of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria.
First, his wife, Asma al-Assad, was the subject of a glowing profile in the March issue of the U.S. edition of Vogue, which described this ‘‘rose in the desert’’ as ‘‘the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies’’ and reported on the ‘‘wildly democratic principles’’ that govern family life chez Assad. Now, the Harvard Arab Alumni Association has organized an event in Damascus, ‘‘under the patronage’’ of Mrs. Assad, who was scheduled to deliver a keynote address on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the day before the planned Harvard alumni event, security officers beat and detained a group of nonviolent demonstrators who gathered to call for the release of the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 political prisoners in the country.
On its Web site earlier this week, the Harvard Arab Alumni Association highlighted its connection with the dictator’s wife: ‘‘We are greatly honored to hold our Arab World Conference under the esteemed patronage of Her Excellency Mrs. Asma al-Assad, The First Lady of Syria, and are privileged that Her Excellency will deliver the conference’s keynote address. A thought-provoking, inspiring and tireless leader and advocate, the First Lady’s address will certainly be the highlight of our event.’’
The Web site was enthusiastic about Mrs. Assad’s role in Syrian national life and the connection between her work and that of her husband’s regime: ‘‘In her role as Syria’s first lady, Her Excellency Asma al-Assad applies her experience, energy and influence to her country’s social and cultural development. Her role reflects the significant economic, political and social change that is happening in Syria today. Asma al-Assad’s work supports that of President Bashar al-Assad by fostering the emergence of a robust, independent and self-sustaining civil society.’’