|Asma al-Assad in 2003.|
|First Lady of Syria|
|Preceded by||Anisa Makhlouf|
11 August 1975
London, England, UK
|Spouse(s)||Bashar al-Assad (m. 2000)|
|Alma mater||King's College London|
Asma al-Assad (Arabic: أسماء الأسد, Levantine pronunciation: [ˈʔasma lˈʔasad] or [ʔasˈmaːʔ elˈʔasad]) (born 11 August 1975, née Asma Akhras) (Arabic: أسماء فواز الأخرس, [ˈʔasma fawˈwaːz elˈʔaxras]), is the British-Syrian First Lady of Syria. She was born to Syrian-born parents, raised and educated in the United Kingdom, and graduated from King's College London in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in computer science and French literature. She briefly pursued a career in international investment banking before moving to Syria to marry President Bashar al-Assad in December 2000.
As of 2013[update] Asma al-Assad is subject to economic sanctions relating to high-level Syrian government officials, making it illegal in the European Union to provide her with certain material assistance or for her to obtain certain products, and curtailing her ability to travel within the EU excluding the United Kingdom.
Early life and education
Asma Akhras was born on 11 August 1975 in London to Fawaz Akhras, a consultant cardiologist at the Cromwell Hospital, London, and his wife Sahar Akhras (née Otri), a retired diplomat. Her parents are Sunni Muslims and of Syrian origin, hailing from the city of Homs. She grew up in Acton where she went to a local Church of England school and her friends called her Emma, before moving on to a private girls' school, Queen's College. She graduated from King's College London in 1996 with a first-class bachelor of science degree in computer science and a diploma in French literature.
Brief finance career
After graduating, she started work at Deutsche Bank Group in the hedge fund management division with clients in Europe and East Asia. In 1998 she joined the investment banking division of J.P. Morgan where she worked on a team that specialized in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
Asma Akhras met Bashar al-Assad, the future president of Syria, while he was studying ophthalmology in London. After Syrian President 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.
She was described by analysts and in media as an important part of the public relations effort of the Syrian government early in her tenure as first lady and she was credited with taking progressive positions on women's rights and education. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 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 the program was helping to create "a reformer’s aura" for Asma al-Assad, highlighting her participation in anti-poverty and social programs and her role as founder and chair of a national umbrella charity called the Syrian Trust for Development until the program was suspended as the country descended into civil war. Additionally, her stylish designer outfits garnered media attention including fashion slideshows on The Huffington Post and Elle. As a Sunni Muslim by birth, Asma al-Assad's leading role was also important for the view of the Syrian government and president, an Alawite, among the Sunni majority of Syria.
A serious blow was dealt to her public image since the Syrian civil war intensified in early 2012 amid reports of her extravagant personal shopping. A new picture emerged in western media "of a woman closer in spirit to Imelda Marcos than the moderating counselor to her husband's excesses that she was once seen as being". The Daily Telegraph reported that in January 2012, despite worldwide condemnation of her husband's regime, she appeared with him and two of their children at a pro-regime rally. Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, public relations firms such as Bell Pottinger Private had been employed to help improve the Syrian first lady's image.
The first lady was criticized for remaining silent throughout the beginning of the Syrian uprising. She issued her first official statement to international media since the insurrection began in February 2012, nearly a year after the first serious protests. She sent an e-mail 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." The communique also described her continued support for charities and rural development activities. Also in early February, she sent an email to The Times declaring her support for her husband and related that she "comforts" the "victims of the violence".
On 23 March 2012, the European Union froze her assets and placed a travel ban on her and President 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 nationality but she is barred 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 Military Intelligence Directorate in Damascus, leading to press speculation and government denials that she had fled the country or the capital city of Damascus. She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on March 18, 2013, refuting the rumors. She made another public appearance in October 2013 and further dispelled the rumors of her fleeing the country by saying "I was here yesterday, I'm here today and I will be here tomorrow." Asma appeared alongside her husband on 3 June 2014 to cast her vote in the 2014 presidential election.
In March 2011, Vogue published a flattering profile of the first lady titled "A Rose in the Desert" authored by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck. The article was later removed from Vogue's website without editorial comment that spring. Responding to media inquiries about the disappearance of Assad'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 [Syria's] priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue". After strong public and media reaction to the article, Buck's contract was not renewed with Vogue although she had been employed by the magazine for over 30 years and had been an editor of French Vogue for seven years. The New York Times later reported that the piece was intended as part of a larger Syrian government-sponsored image campaign coordinated by the public relations firm Brown Lloyd James. Buck has since written another article for Newsweek giving an extremely critical account of Asma al-Assad, concluding that she is the "first lady of hell". Separately, Buck's original profile of Assad was satirized in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Asma and Bashar al-Assad have three children: Hafez, Zein, and Karim.
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- [dead link]
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Asma al-Assad.|
- Syria's first lady wants to make a difference, Interview by Ann Curry, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (9 May 2007)
- The London girl with a plan to save Syria, Margarette Driscoll, The Times (7 December 2008)
- The Mysterious Mrs. Assad, CBC News / The National - Special report from Susan Ormiston (20 February 2012)
- Syrian first lady quiet as thousands die, CNN (21 August 2012), video 3:27
- Article from Vogue March 2011