As thousands cower under the howling rockets and bursting shells unleashed by the Syrian regime, opposition leaders have released thousands of emails exchanged between the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, a British-born and educated beauty who has long been held to be a shining example of modern womanhood, featured many times in fashion magazines and the like.
Some of the emails show Asma making jokes at the expense of the people of Homs, who have been under siege and sustained attack for some time. Several Western journalists have been killed while covering the assault, which current reports describe as brutal and indiscriminate. In another email, Asma claims to be the real power behind the regime, saying that Bashar al-Assad has no choice but to listen to her. Evidently, her advice has not been merciful.
Not long before the Arab Spring revolts that erupted last year, the first ladies of the Arab world were regularly praised as trail-blazing feminists who commanded great influence and power. Of 22 Arab states, 15 first ladies signed up for a feminist organization called the Arab Women Organization. In 2009, Helen Smith of The Guardian described the group as “founded with the express purpose of empowering women ” and lavishes praise on its members.
The list of member states is eye-opening: Jordan, the Emirates, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Syria, Oman, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Yemen are all members. All but a couple of these states have faced unrest over the last year, and nearly half open civil war or regime change.
One of the things feminists often claim is that if women ran the world, there would be no more war, conflict, hunger, etc. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history knows this to be ridiculous; female heads of state have been every bit as warmongering as their male counterparts, if not more so. From Queen Isabella and Elizabeth I to Empress Dowager Cixi, female leaders have been associated with bloodshed and chaos. Now, if we are to take her word for it, we have Asma Assad to add to the list.
One thing Westerners tend not to understand about the Arab world is that although the people themselves tend to be deeply conservative and traditional, their elites and leaders are far less so. This is beginning to become more the case in the US, but the divide is far more stark in places such as Egypt and Syria. Many of the leaders and their wives were educated in the liberal Western tradition when anti-traditionalism was at its peak, while opposition leaders are more likely to have gone to school in madrassas to study classical Arabic and the Koran. The Arab people see these first ladies traveling around in limousines bedecked with priceless jewels and wearing the latest fashions while mouthing platitudes about women’s rights and “progress.” In the meanwhile, young Arab men can’t find work and many of their would-be wives are stuck at home with little chance of starting a family of their own.
We aren’t there yet, but we’re getting closer by the day. If our feminists can’t see their role in creating the kind of social decay that eventually leads to regime change, it’s only because it isn’t in their nature to concern themselves with these matters. As for the Arab elites who let their wives rule, we have only to read the newspaper to see what eventually happens to men who grow soft and seek counsel in the bedchamber.