Asma al-Assad

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Asma al-Assad
أسماء الأسد
Asma al-Assad.jpg
Asma al-Assad in 2003.
First Lady of Syria
Assumed office
December 2000
Preceded by Anisa Makhlouf
Personal details
Born Asma Akhras
(1975-08-11) 11 August 1975 (age 39)
London, England, UK
Nationality Syrian, British[1]
Spouse(s) Bashar al-Assad (m. 2000)
Relations Fawaz Akhras
Children 3
Alma mater King's College London
Religion Islam

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.[2][3] 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 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.[4][5][6][7][8][9]


Early life and education[edit]

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.[10][11] She grew up in Acton where she went to a local Church of England school and her friends called her Emma.[12] Afterwards, she moved on to a private girls' school, Queen's College. Finally, 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.[13] She speaks English, Arabic, French and Spanish.[10]

Brief finance career[edit]

After graduating, she started work as an economics analyst at Deutsche Bank Group in the hedge fund management division with clients in Europe and East Asia.[10][1] 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.[14][15]

First Lady[edit]

Asma Akhras met Bashar al-Assad, the future president of Syria, while he was studying ophthalmology in London.[10] 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.

Assad and the former first lady of Brazil, Marisa Leticia, in the National Museum of Syria

Style and public image[edit]

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.[15][16][17] 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.[18][19]Additionally, her stylish designer outfits garnered media attention including fashion slideshows on The Huffington Post and Elle.[16][20][21] 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.[1][citation needed]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

A serious blow was dealt to her public image since the Syrian Civil War[1] intensified in early 2012 amid reports of her extravagant personal shopping.[16] 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".[22] The Daily Telegraph reported that in January 2012, despite worldwide condemnation of her husband's government, she appeared with him and two of their children at a pro-government rally.[23]

Bashar and Asma al-Assad during a trip to Moscow.

The first lady was criticized for remaining silent throughout the beginning of the Syrian uprising.[1] She issued her first official statement to international media since the insurrection began in February 2012, nearly a year after the first serious protests.[16][24][25] 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.[26] Also in early February, she sent an email to the The Times declaring her support for her husband and related that she "comforts" the "victims of the violence".[23][27]

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.[28][29] 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.[30]

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.[31][32]

She had not been seen in public regularly since the July 2012 bombing of the Military Intelligence Directorate that took place in Damascus, leading to press speculation and government denials that she had fled the country or the capital city of Damascus.[33][34] She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on 18 March 2013, refuting the rumours.[35][36] She made another public appearance in October 2013 and further dispelled the rumours of her fleeing the country by saying "I was here yesterday, I'm here today and I will be here tomorrow."[37]

Vogue article[edit]

In March 2011, Vogue published a flattering profile of Syria's 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.[1][38][39] 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".[40] 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.[41] 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.[40][42] 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".[41] Separately, Buck's original profile of Assad was satirized in The Philadelphia Inquirer[43] and additional critical articles.[44][45][46][47]

Personal life[edit]

Asma and Bashar al-Assad have three children: Hafez, Zein, and Kareem.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Golovnina, Maria (19 March 2012). "Asma al Assad, a "desert rose" crushed by Syria's strife". Reuters. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Assad's British wife targeted by EU as Annan pursues talks on ceasefire" Saturday, 24 March 2012, The Scotsman
  3. ^ Ramdani, Nabila (10 May 2011). "Is Asma Assad in London?". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Blair, David (16 March 2012). "Bashar al Assad's wife 'could face two year prison term' for sanctions busting after shopping spree". The Daily Telegraph. 
  5. ^ "Syria crisis: EU sanctions on Asma al-Assad". BBC News. 23 March 2012. 
  6. ^ "Syria: Asma al-Assad hit with EU sanctions". The Daily Telegraph. 23 March 2012. 
  7. ^ "Assad's wife to face EU sanctions". The Guardian. 20 March 2012. 
  8. ^ "EU Targets Bashar al-Assad's Wife With New Sanctions". The Wall Street Journal. 24 March 2012. 
  9. ^ "Syria's Stylish First Lady's Shopping Sprees Now Hit By Sanctions". ABC News. 23 March 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Bar, Shmuel (2006). "Bashar's Syria: The Regime and its Strategic Worldview". Comparative Strategy 25: 380. doi:10.1080/01495930601105412. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Bar'el, Zvi (27 April 2011). "In Syria, the army's loyalty to Assad runs deep". Haaretz. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "The road to Damascus (all the way from Acton)". BBC News. 31 October 2001. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Harvey, Oliver (3 July 2009). "Sexy Brit bringing Syria in from the cold". The Sun. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  14. ^ "The First Lady". Embassy of Syria, Washington, D.C. 
  15. ^ a b Bennet, James (10 July 2005). "The Enigma of Damascus". New York Times online. 
  16. ^ a b c d Agence France-Presse (14 January 2012). "Syria's First Lady Asma al-Assad Falling from Grace". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 14 February 2012. ([1])
  17. ^ "Will Asma al-Assad take a stand or stand by her man?". 25 December 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  18. ^ George Russell (20 September 2012). "Before Assad unleashed violence, UN showcased wife Asma as a 'champion' of reform". FoxNews. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
  19. ^ George Russel (8 October 2012). "UN-sponsored group in Syria included Assad kin cited as corrupt by US, documents show". FoxNews. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  20. ^ "Asma Al Assad: Syria's First Lady And All-Natural Beauty (SLIDESHOW)". The Huffington Post. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2012. 
  21. ^ "Best Dressed 2008: Women of State". Elle(French). December 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2012. 
  22. ^ "Syrian first lady's caring image unlikely to recover", The Independent, 16 March 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2012
  23. ^ a b "Syria's First Lady Asma al-Assad breaks her silence". The Telegraph. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012. 
  24. ^ "Asma al-Assad, the glamorous face of Syria's dictatorship". National Post. 13 January 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ Fletcher, Martin (30 January 2012). "Has Syria's Princess Diana become its Marie Antoinette?". The Australian. The Times. 
  26. ^ Agence France-Presse (8 February 2012). "First lady breaks silence to support President Assad". The Age. 
  27. ^ "Asma al-Assad and the tricky role of the autocrat's wife". BBC. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012. 
  28. ^ "Syria crisis: EU to put sanctions on Asma al-Assad". BBC News. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2012. [2]
  29. ^ Council Implementing Decision 2012/172/CFSP of 23 March 2012 implementing Decision 2011/782/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria 24 March 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  30. ^ "Assad's relatives face asset freeze and travel ban as EU steps up sanctions". The Guardian. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2012. 
  31. ^ "UN ambassador wives in peace plea to Syria's Asma Assad". BBC News. 16 April 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  32. ^ International letter and petition to Asma al-Assad (Youtube video by Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, 16 April 2012)
  33. ^ "Hunt for Assad is on amid claims of wife Asma's exit to Russia". The Independent (London, UK). 20 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "Free Syrian Army move HQ from Turkey to Syria". France 24. 23 September 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  35. ^ Syria: Asma al-Assad makes rare public appearance
  36. ^ Surrounded by children, Syria's first lady makes rare appearance
  37. ^ "Asma al-Assad denies leaving Syria". Retrieved 30 Nov 2013. 
  38. ^ Cook, John (28 February 2011). "Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady". The Atlantic. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  39. ^ Cook, John (20 May 2011). "Memory Hole: Vogue Disappears Adoring Profile of Syrian Butcher's Wife". Gawker. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  40. ^ a b Allen, Nick (11 June 2012). "Syria: Vogue's Anna Wintour disowns Asma al-Assad". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  41. ^ a b "Syria's Fake First Family". The Daily Beast. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  42. ^ "Syria's Assads Turned to West For Glossy P.R.". The New York Times. 10 June 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2012. 
  43. ^ "The Puff Piece and Its Perils". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2012. 
  44. ^ "So You Married an Evil Despot: An Etiquette Guide for Asma al-Assad". Jezebel.Com. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  45. ^ "Asma and Bashar al-Assad -- a match made in hell". Fox News. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  46. ^ "Let Them Eat Kebabs - Why Asma Al Assad is the perfect dictator’s wife for the twenty-first century". New Republic. 25 April 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  47. ^ "The Only Remaining Online Copy of Vogue's Asma al-Assad Profile". The Atlantic. 3 January 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 

External links[edit]