A July 2010 cover of Syria Today, an English-language magazine published in Damascus, highlighted "great escapes" in Syria and boasted an interview with the UN high commissioner for refugees. Before the Syrian uprising began, Syria grappled with an influx of refugees, a tide that has now, of course, reversed.
A March 2009 piece in The New York Times declared Syria’s isolation “over,” noting that “only a year ago, this country’s government was being vilified as a dangerous pariah.”
The caption to this 2009 Reuters photo described an influx of "high end tourists and Arab capital pouring in to build hotels and resorts."
A travel piece published by The New York Times in January 2010 noted that “a new wave of visitors is rediscovering this ancient trading center,” even quoting a 20-year-old interior design student as saying: “In a few years, this city will be swarming with tourists, and, hopefully, even more American visitors.”
A July 2008 piece in Time magazine declared “Syria is back in style” after President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, first lady Asma, were invited to Paris for a state dinner following meetings of the Mediterranean Summit. The piece, while not entirely glowing, noted that “Syria wants to come even further out of the cold.”
One of many pieces praising first lady Asma al-Assad for her looks, fashion sense, or “Western-ness,” this July 2009 article from the UK’s Sun called her a “Sexy Brit bringing Syria in from the cold,” focusing more on her style than her supposed extension of “an olive branch to the West.”
Just one month before the Syrian uprising began, Vogue famously profiled first lady Asma al-Assad in a piece titled “A Rose in the Desert.” It sparked backlash from all over the world. The magazine scrubbed the piece from its website and the journalist (eventually) apologized.
President Assad’s second visit to Paris in the span of a year was highlighted in a November 2009 CNN report that covered the topics discussed during a “one-hour lunch” with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In 2008, tourists in Damascus took pictures at the Shrine of John the Baptist at the Umayyad Mosque.
In April 2010, Sen. John Kerry met with President Bashar al-Assad amid the appointment of a new United States ambassador to Syria, the first since 2005. At the time, Kerry said that the US and Syria have “a mutual interest in having a very frank exchange on any differences that may exist, but also on the many, many agreements that we have about the possibilities of peace in this region.”
In June 2010, the State Department sent a “tech delegation” of government officials and high-level employees of tech companies in an effort to “win Syrian allies.” The trip was particularly notable for the controversy it provoked when two young State Department officials tweeted about challenging a Syrian communications minister to a cake-eating contest.
Following a report of first lady Asma al-Assad inviting the Obamas to Syria, the Huffington Post noticed that readers were “commenting more on Asma's beauty and less on what an Obama/Assad meeting would mean for the Middle East,” thus inspiring a slideshow of the Huffington Post’s “favorite Asma looks.”
Only two years ago Syria's star in the West was on the rise, a far cry from the country torn by violence and condemned by the international community today. Travel articles touted it as a hot tourist destination, foreign affairs publications hailed the end of Syrian isolation and Syria's first lady was a media darling. Here are 12 snapshots of how it used to be just a short time ago.