The photograph of president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma voting is a chilling reminder of Syria’s lack of democracy
The stand-out elements of this photograph of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma are, firstly, her frozen expression and posture, concentratedly static, like a performer sprayed silver in a Paris park. Secondly, the way the couple are looking in different directions gives them a wary, hunted aspect – they could be looking for applause or a sniper, but they have no idea where it’ll come from.
It would be chilling enough if this were simply a sleekly dressed, anonymous couple, having a panic attack in a polling booth. The context amplifies the misguidedness to the level of surrealism. The Assads are voting in a constitutional referendum that is meant to pave the way for multi-party elections within three months. The idea of a leader ceding power so politely when he is prepared to quell any challenge with an unremitting bombardment, killing thousands of his own people: it's unthinkable. Meanwhile his Ealing-born wife stands behind him, dressed as the Banality of Evil for a cliche fancy dress party.
Almost exactly a year ago, Muammar Gaddafi stood in his ochre turban, declaring that his people didn't really hate him, they just thought they did because someone had "given them pills". This is distinctively odder: where Gaddafi at least had a siege mentality, Assad looks at the world and thinks it still believes him.
from Zoe Williams