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Thursday, September 5, 2013

On Assad’s Social Media Accounts, an Effort to Project Calm

Video posted to the Syrian presidency’s official YouTube account highlights Bashar al-Assad’s role as commander-in-chief of the Syrian military.

As Neil MacFarquhar and Ben Hubbard have reported, Bashar al-Assad has followed a strict “business-as-usual” policy since the start of the Syrian uprising two and a half years ago, behaving in his daily life as if nothing unusual is happening in the country his family has ruled for more than four decades.

Mr. Assad is believed to report for work each morning to a private office in a wooded glen near his family’s home in an upscale neighborhood of the capital, Damascus, and his wife, Asma, has busied herself with charitable functions and ceremonial public duties. The president maintains that his country is not at war with itself but is instead locked in a battle with “terrorists” aligned with Al Qaeda. The Syrian government’s stranglehold on the country’s media keeps alternative views out of the public eye.

Mr. Assad has also sought to project an air of normalcy on social media, though the terrain has been largely dominated by the rebel brigades and activist groups that oppose him. His official YouTube channel offers more than 30 videos, the oldest dating back seven months, that highlight his role as commander in chief of the Syrian military and archive various sit-down interviews.

One featured video, “Al-Assad, Officer and Commander,” posted Aug. 2, shows the president in combat fatigues and aviator sunglasses, greeting his troops and reviewing maps as missile batteries and tanks fire into the air, set to urgent, fully orchestrated music with a choir singing “Syria, Syria, Syria.”

A video posted to the official YouTube account in May shows images of women celebrating and young men firing rockets to celebrate what it calls the “honor and pride” inherent to the “resistance” to Israel and by extension the United States. The Assad family has styled itself as the exemplar of that role in the Middle East.

The Assad government’s celebrates its “resistance” to Israel in this video posted to the official YouTube account of the Syrian presidency.

On Instagram, the government highlights the less martial and more mundane side of Mr. Assad’s presidential duties. It also serves up generous helpings of his photogenic wife, Asma, a former investment banker raised in Britain, where Mr. Assad studied ophthalmology.

The images portray a model couple. Mr. Assad, in a sober business suit, conducts affairs of state â€" greeting soldiers, meeting with political and religious leaders or speaking at a lectern â€" while his fashionable and unveiled wife poses with an endless stream of students, chats with an elderly disabled woman on Mother’s Day and plays with children.

There is little in the images that might betray the grinding conflict that has laid waste to much of the country. But occasionally, a note of disharmony slips in. Beneath one image of Ms. Assad ladling out food to the poor at a soup kitchen, the caption reads, “Numerous mobile kitchens have been set up by community-based groups to prepare meals for internally displaced families.” Why and how so many Syrians have become internally displaced is left unsaid.

A version of this post was also published in the “Crisis in Syria” section.