03
Jun
09

Photo essay: The many faces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Text by Dani Capalbo // Photos by Nick Mendez

From ancient houses of worship to Saladin’s shrine, three labyrinthine khans, and a 13th century library, Damascus suffers no shortage of authentic attractions. But you’ll see nothing more frequently than a panoptic trilogy of faces: President Bashar al-Assad, his late brother Basil al-Assad, and his late father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years.

Photographs of the family – particularly the president – grace shop windows, countless billboards, decals on passing cars, watch faces and the walls of university libraries.

Across the Arab world, Muslim and secular leaders use the image of the great leader as a way to encourage loyalty. But it’s also a way to remind citizens that they’re under watch. It’s a practice popular since the 1950s, when former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser pioneered an anti-colonialist, pan-Arab movement that won him unconditional favor across the region. His face loomed in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. 

Since then, images of other prominent leaders, such as Hezbollah President Hassan Nasrallah, have canvassed the Middle East. Though President Bashar doesn’t enjoy the same multinational treatment, his face takes center stage in Syria. Whether he is portrayed in business suits or military fatigues, casual dress with his wife and family, or with aviator sunglasses and a finger wagging, the goal is to reach disparate socio-economic groups within the country. Because here, image is everything.

Billboards of President Assad, who seized the mantle of power after his father’s death in 2000, appear on almost every street in Damascus.

Billboards of President Assad, who seized the mantle of power after his father’s death in 2000, appear on almost every street in Damascus.

Rear window decals are another common venue for Syrian patriotism. Stickers range from small white Assad silhouettes to this larger pairing with the national flag.

Rear window decals are another common venue for Syrian patriotism. Stickers range from small white Assad silhouettes to this larger pairing with the national flag.

: Not even the filling of ice-cream cones continues without al-Assad’s proxy supervision. This ice cream shop in Damascus’ oldest souq [market] also hung a different portrait above the eating area.

Most buildings and shops display a photo or painting of Syria's president. Not even the filling of ice cream cones continues without Assad’s proxy supervision.

The aroma of coriander and cinnamon thick in the air, the details of Assad’s mustached mug lit by a hanging lightbulb outside a spice shop.

With the aroma of coriander and cinnamon thick in the air, Assad's image is lit by a hanging lightbulb outside a spice shop.

In a meeting room meters away from the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights, hangs an ornate, back-lit portrait.

In a meeting room meters away from the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights hangs an ornate, back-lit portrait.

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3 Responses to “Photo essay: The many faces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”


  1. 1 Sandy Raymond
    June 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Remarkable article………..and the photo essay makes a complete statement within itself. Together they really bring the message home. Great job!

    Sandy

  2. 2 Jeanne Mendez
    June 3, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Nailed it!


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