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“This is the 21st century,” she said in the interview. “Where in the world could this happen? As a mother and as a human being, we need to make sure that these atrocities stop.”

Before the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the Assads often were spotted driving around town, even photographed in Damascus riding bicycles with their three children: Hafez, 10; Zein, 8, and Kareem, 7. They live in an apartment in the upscale Abu Rummaneh district of Damascus, as opposed to a palatial mansion like other Arab leaders.

Fawning headlines, fluffy profiles

In the years after her husband ascended to the presidency, Mrs. Assad played a key role in shoring up the image of the regime, gathering fawning headlines from feature writers and fluffy profiles in fashion magazines.

“From chic, chic and still chic,” gushed France’s Elle magazine in 2008, which went on to name her the world’s most stylish woman. In 2009, Britain’s top-selling tabloid, the Sun, introduced its readers to the “sexy Brit” who was “bringing Syria in from the cold.”

One profile in particular, a big spread in Vogue magazine, has come back to haunt her. Published only a month before the start of Syria’s crackdown, the article rehashed the main staples of her lofty image:

It cited her “killer IQ,” her charity work and the notion that, like Disney’s Princess Jasmine, Mr. Assad liked to slip out in incognito to meet her people.

But the article, which has since been pulled from Vogue’s website, has been ridiculed as sinister in retrospect.

The Assad household, the article said, is run on “wildly democratic principles.” In the article, Mr. Assad explains why he studied ophthalmology as his chosen field of medicine. The reason, he said, is “there is very little blood.”

Mrs. Assad has been mostly out of sight in the year since her husband’s regime came under fire. Although she has been largely silent, she appears to be standing by her man.

She showed up briefly at a regime rally in January, smiling with her children as her husband said the “conspiracy” against Syria was in its final stage. On Feb. 26, dressed in a conservative black dress, she accompanied her husband to a polling station during a referendum on a new constitution.