Vogue Highlights the Design of Dictators

One of the most electrifying outcomes of the recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa has been the shattering of myths about Arabs and Muslims that have for too long been fed to the West: that the women are voiceless, passive creatures apathetic about their country’s political processes.

Of course now the truth is out, and the whole world has witnessed the opposite: A deep yearning for democracy actually permeates the Arab world, and women are front and center of the protests. People from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Libya have shown us they are willing to die for freedom.

But Vogue has no interest in that. The iconic fashion publication has made it clear that when is comes to the Middle East, they are more interested in the choice of designers of dictators, or more specifically their wives, as the recent profile of Syria’s First Lady Asma al-Assad proves.

The Wall Street Journal points out that the magazine, whose characterization of Asma (aptly titled “The Dictator’s Wife Wears Louboutins”) concentrates on her couture and Chanel accessories, clearly missed the memo that tyrants are no longer trending in the Middle East:

The Assad family—first Hafez and now his son Bashar—has ruled Syria since 1970. In that time, they’ve killed 20,000 Syrians to put down an uprising in Hama, provoked civil war in Lebanon and then occupied the country to “keep peace,” built a secret nuclear-weapons facility modeled on North Korea’s and established Damascus as a hub for terrorists from Hezbollah to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. All part of keeping their countrymen under foot for 40 years.

But what disturbed me most aside from the fact that Vogue would even think about running a piece like this at a time when the rest of the region is literally bleeding to death to break free from the stranglehold of dictators like Syria’s, is that the publication chose to focus on Asma al-Assad’s closet over the story of Tal al-Molouhi.

Tal is a 19-year-old high school student and blogger who was arrested in 2009 but sentenced just last month under charges of “espionage.” The New York Times reports that the teenage blogger was “brought into court chained and blindfolded” and sentenced to five years in jail without any evidence or details on why she was being charged. The Times states that al-Molouhi wrote articles about how she “yearned for a role in shaping the future of Syria.”

For such a high-profile publication such Vogue to let this story go and choose instead to run a piece on the Syrian First Lady’s designer shoes is, frankly, disturbing.

Who is the publication trying to fool? And more importantly, why, when the world is finally seeing the real faces of the Arab world, the real desire for freedom, would Vogue bother running a piece that just promotes a farce?

As blogger Wendy Brandes points out in her piece, Syria may be in Vogue, but a teenage Syrian blogger is in jail.

Clearly, Vogue missed the real story here. And that’s the one people are interested in hearing now when it comes to the Middle East.

Cross-posted from Anushay’s Point.

Photo from Flickr user Ammar Abd Rabbo through Creative Commons.


  1. Jan Dymond says:

    OMG….my first reply to one of the many wonderful and provocative articles/blogs/ that Ms sends me regularly via email stuff…..and I need to make it a "beg to differ" one. Sorry….

    But here's where I am with Vogue and all that. They did an article about a topical part of our global world in a way that would be given attention by their audience. That makes perfect sense to me……they presented a political figure……again……in a paradigm that their audience might find interesting…..which is still better then that audience or part thereof not having a blue where Syria even is on the World Map, don't you think?

    Now, if this article had been a piece in the Globe and Mail, or Chatelaine or whatever…..I would be fit to be tied…..I'd be all over it with ya, gf. There, the audience are 'seekers of news and information'…..and that angle of all things Middle East offers neither.

  2. Jan Dymond says:

    But it's in Vogue, for heaven's sake….something you leaf through in the doctors waiting room to keep your mind off wondering what the last tests will say…..something you buy in an airport because reading makes you airsick but you still want something to occupy your mind for a while…..if that makes sense. I wouldn't expect anything more or less in Vogue. I do not consider them to be a source of the sensibility and conscience that you have demonstrated in your writing.

    Maybe a step forward could be…..if they posted a url for Ms at the end of those photo descriptions……but then that would mean we would have to publish theirs too…..hummmmmmm……but isn't that a great way to respect the right of choice?

    I do agree with everything you said in the way of facts, but the anger and frustration you express is….I believe…..misguided…..

    ……I don't give a fig what Vogue sifts between it's ads……however, I really wish they didn't have an audience, ya know??


  3. Although Vogue published an article that Ms. deemed insensitive to the pro-democracy movement in the Arab World, you have to understand it is Vogue. Vogue is interested in style, design, and the clothing worn by rich, powerful people. It could care less about their politics! If Vogue were around during the French Revolution, it would be discussing the outfits worn by Marie Antoinette; it would not publish articles about the plight of the average Frenchman who had nothing to eat. Vogue would probably not have published her well-known comment about the poor: "Let them eat cake." Vogue could care less about politics or human suffering. That's just not that magazine's style! It's only concerned about style, even if worn by insulated dictator's or their wives.

  4. Daisykicker says:

    Vogue's article is a perfect example of what is wrong with our society. We would rather think about mundane and mindless material things because they are easier to stomach than the blood and grit that comprises the real world. It breeds complacency and apathy, which is what those in power want. Heaven forbid if the people of our nation were to all wake up out of their comfortable bubbles because we might actually have a real revolution. Vogue could have used the opportunity inform people about a very real and pertinent issue, instead they chose to focus on something utterly meaningless, which is sadly probably what their audience wants. I am disappointed, but not in the least bit surprised. Wake up people of the United States, wake up!

  5. anushayspoint says:

    I've been getting this, "But it's Vogue, what do you expect?" comment a lot. I know it may come as a surprise, but Vogue actually publishes very political and feminist articles, analyzing complex social movements and much more in between its countless ads and fashion spreads. That's why I called them out. That's why the Wall Street Journal also called them out. Anna Wintour is no airhead editor. She exercised extremely poor judgment in this case. If In Touch, Us Weekly or even Bazaar ran a piece like this, I would let it go. But there's a reason Vogue is an iconic publication, and it didn't get that status by running fashion fluff.

  6. Rose Orozco says:

    Vogue represents fashion, new trend. Fashion and trend helps people stay in tune with the present and look towards the future. Fashion is very much in tune with change and welcomes change. As a reader I am very much interested in both. For politics I read Ms. Magazine, for fashion and new trends, I look at Vogue. Both politics and trend help me stay in the present and look towards the future. As an individual I don't want to stay in the past with politics or fashion. As a woman I want to be represented with the color red in fashion. Because red is a primary color in color theory and Red is equal to Blue. And as a woman I want to be in a primary position.

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