Mahir al-Assad, the brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad, allowed photographers to capture his daughters during Army Day celebrations Aug. 1, in a rare move raising questions among Syria watchers. This was the first time a professional photographer was allowed to take a photograph of his daughters and publish it.
According to some observers, Mahir allowed Sham and Bushra to be photographed riding horses in order to gain emotional support from the people of Syria. They argue that Mahir wants to project the image of a “compassionate father” who deserves mercy in spite of the crimes he's committed against his countrymen.
Al Arabiya reported that many think Mahir is a “bloody father” responsible for the pain of “Syrian mothers whose sons were killed, displaced or lost in the land of refuge.”
Some believe that the Assad family tends to bring the children of the family into the spotlight whenever it feels insecure about public opinion. The Syrian president earlier allowed releasing the photographs of his son, Hafez, as an apparent promise to his voters that an “heir preparing” was ready to takeover.
No matter what the motives are, the move is extremely rare. Photographing girls and women in Syria can be tricky. Photographer Ed Kashi, who did a project in Syria for the November 2009 National Geographic article “Reinventing Syria,” advised photographers to be careful while using their camera in a country once known as the “center of the Islamic Empire.”
Kashi said that Syrian people were open in the absence of authorities. “I’ve learned that photographing women is tricky in some places—particularly if you’re a man—so you must be quick and stealthy or you must be deliberate and ask permission,” he wrote.