Syrian presidency on Instagram
'The First Lady joins volunteers from Melody of Life group in preparing the Iftar meal' reads the caption. But users have their own ideas (Instagram)

A publicity offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has backfired after photographs posted on his personal Instagram account attracted a bitter response.

In an apparent bid to boost his image, Assad opened the account in July, posting photographs of himself and his wife Asma greeting well-wishers, giving gifts to children and visiting the injured.

Initial comments included fulsomepraise for Assad, including declarations such as "Long live to you proud people of Syria! Long live Bashar!" and descriptions of the First Lady as a "beautiful soul".

However, such tributes appeared to have become buried by a deluge of negative posts, which branded Assad a "monster" and his wife, a former banker who grew up in Acton, west London, a "devil" and "gold digger".

It is the First Lady who attracts the most vitriol.

Among the most angry reactions were the following:

  • Beneath a photo of Asma kneeling with schoolchildren, one user, olisyah, was moved to write: "I love ur designer clothes and shoes ... paid for by the blood of your people! Seriously, u make Marie Antoinette look like an angel compared to you!"
  • An image showing Asma receiving a kiss from a wellwisher was accompanied by the remark, "Kissing the devil."
  • A photograph of Asma presenting a child with a doll bore the comment, posted by out4bling: "Here kid sorry about your parents dying but I'm sure this doll will make it all better, it can be ur new mommy."
  • On a photo of Asma attending a student graduation ceremony, sumiaktae93 wrote: "Aww... what a touching picture. You clearly care deeply about the students of Syria. So what was all that business when your forces bombed Aleppo university? Murder."

Assad's site, which bears the words "Welcome to the official Instagram account for the Presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic", has more than 30,000 followers.

His office has previously sought to promote the president's image via social media sites including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, presenting him as a hardworking family man and man of the people.

The US state department has denounced Assad's Instagram account as "repulsive" and "nothing more than a despicable PR stunt".

More than 100,000 people have died since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011.