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.


Anushay Hossain began her feminist career as an intern at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) where she worked on microfinance for women and girls in her native country, Bangladesh. A University of Virginia graduate, Anushay joined the Feminist Majority Foundation's Nobel Peace Prize nominated Campaign for Afghan Women before completing her MA in Gender and Development at the University of Sussex. She spent a year at the United Nations Development Fund for Women's (UNIFEM UK) London office before returning to Washington, DC where she invests the majority of her work analyzing the impact of US foreign policy on the health and rights of women and girls around the world.