| Asma al-Assad |
(First Lady of Syria)
11 August 1975
|Alma mater||Queen's College London, King's College London|
|Parents|| • Fawaz Akhras|
• Sahar Otri
As a result of the ongoing terrorist insurgency in Syria, economic sanctions have been imposed on Asma al-Assad, making it illegal in the European Union (EU) to provide her with certain material assistance, for her to obtain certain products, and curtailing her ability to travel within the EU, excluding the United Kingdom where she is a citizen.
Asma al-Assad was born Asma Akhras on 11 August 1975 in London to Fawaz Akhras, a cardiologist at the Cromwell Hospital, and his wife Sahar Akhras, a retired diplomat who was First Secretary at the Syrian Embassy in London. Her parents are Sunni Muslims and of Syrian origin, hailing from the city of Homs. She grew up in Acton, London, where she went to Twyford Church of England High School and later a private girls' school, Queen's College, London.
Asma graduated from King's College London in 1996 with a first-class honours Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and a diploma in French literature. She speaks English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. She joined Deutsche Bank as an analyst in hedge-fund management and then moved to investment bank JP Morgan, working in Paris, New York and London. She quit her investment banking job following the wedding and remained in Syria, where their three children were born. As First Lady she played a major role in implementing governmental organisations involved with social and economic development throughout the country as part of a reform initiative under Bashar's governance which was halted due to the rebel uprising in Syria.
After Hafez al-Assad's death in June 2000, Bashar took over the presidency. Asma moved to Syria in November 2000 and married Bashar in December of that year. The marriage surprised many since there had been no media reports of their dating and courtship prior to the wedding. Many interpreted the union as a reconciliation and sign of progression towards a reformative government as Asma grew up in the United Kingdom and represents the Sunni majority unlike the Alawite Bashar.
After the wedding, Asma travelled throughout Syria to 100 villages in 13 of the 14 Syrian governorates to speak with Syrians and learn where she should direct her future policies. She went on to create a collection of organisations that functioned under the charity sector of the government, referred to as the Syrian Trust for Development; the organisations include FIRDOS (rural micro-credit), SHABAB (business skills for youth), BASMA (helping children with cancer), RAWAFED (cultural development), the Syrian Organisation for the Disabled, and the Syrian Development Research Centre, aimed to target rural communities, economic development, disabled citizens, cultural development, and children's and women's development, respectively. Most well-known were the MASSAR centers she created, locations that functioned as community centers for children to learn active citizenship. Due to this work, she earned a spot as one of the Middle East 411 Magazine's "World's Most Influential Arabs".
Because of her reformative work, she was described by media analysts as an important part of the public relations effort of the Syrian government in her tenure as First Lady and was credited with taking progressive positions on women's rights and education. The United Nations Development Programme spent US$18 million to help organise a complex set of reform initiatives showing the Syrian government was working toward a more modern and progressive form of government, a key part of which was helping to create "a reformer's aura" for Assad, highlighting her participation in the Syrian Trust for Development until the programme was suspended as the country descended into civil war. As a Sunni Muslim by birth, Assad's leading role was also important for the view of the Syrian government and President among the Sunni majority of Syria. Much of her modern day image involves public questioning about her role in Syria's governance alongside her husband, particularly in contrast to the programs she implemented within the country before the conflict; media reports include questions such as, "What are the chances that some of the thousands who have been killed, wounded, or imprisoned during the current unrest were involved in Massar, the organisation that she founded in 2005 to involve young people in active citizenship?" The following remark addresses such claims:
- She is said to be in favour of economic and technological reform, but there is very little information regarding her modes and areas of influence, or the extent to which she attempts to promote her ideas in the face of the opposition of other family members. Unlike Bashar’s mother, who rarely appeared in public, Asma has played a relatively prominent public role. However, there is no sign that Asma is involved in any of the wider consultations that Bashar holds with his advisors, belongs to any cliques within the regime, or has had any influence on non-domestic issues (such as Lebanon or the peace process with Israel (author=Shmuel Bar)
Since the terrorist uprising intensified in early 2012, the First Lady has been criticised for remaining silent. She issued her first official statement to the international media since the insurrection began in February 2012, nearly a year after the first serious protests. Also in February 2012, she sent an email to The Times stating:
- "The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role."
On 23 March 2012, the European Union froze her assets and placed a travel ban on her and President Bashar al-Assad's other close family members as part of escalating sanctions against the Syrian government. Asma al-Assad herself remains able to travel to the UK because of her British citizenship but is banned from entering the rest of the EU.
On 16 April 2012, Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, the wives of the German and British ambassadors to the United Nations, released a four-minute video asking Asma al-Assad to stand up for peace and urge her husband to end the bloodshed in her country.
She had not been seen in public regularly since the July 2012 bombing of the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate, leading to press speculation that she had fled the capital or the country. She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on 18 March 2013, refuting the rumours. She made another public appearance in October 2013 and again refuted rumours of her departure, stating:
- "I was here yesterday, I'm here today and I will be here tomorrow."
As of November 2016, her public Instagram page continues to be updated with photos of her engaged in community service activities.
"A Rose in the Desert"
In February 2011, Vogue magazine published "A Rose in the Desert," a flattering profile of Asma al-Assad by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck. The article was later removed from the magazine's website without editorial comment that spring. Responding to media inquiries about the disappearance of Asma's profile, Vogue's editor stated that "as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue". Buck has since written another article for The Daily Beast giving an extremely critical account of Asma al-Assad.
Asma and Bashar al-Assad have three children. Their first child, a son named Hafez after his grandfather Hafez al-Assad, was born in 2001, and followed by their daughter Zein in 2003, and their second son Karim in 2004.
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|Asma al-Assad||13 December 2000|
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- "How did shy middle class Emma from Acton end up married to Syria's tyrant? Amazing story of Asma Al-Assad"
- "Assad's British wife targeted by EU as Annan pursues talks on ceasefire" Saturday, 24 March 2012, The Scotsman
- International letter and petition to Asma al-Assad (Youtube video by Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, 16 April 2012)
- Syria: Asma al-Assad makes rare public appearance
- "The First Lady of Syria, the Lady of Jasmine, after her chemotherapy session"