Asma al-Assad in 2003
|First Lady of Syria|
|Preceded by||Anisa Makhlouf|
11 August 1975
|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 Akhras (Arabic: أسماء فواز الأخرس, [ˈʔasma fawˈwaːz elˈʔaxras]), is a British-Syrian national and the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 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 she married President Bashar al-Assad in December 2000 and remained in Syria following the wedding. As first lady she played a major role in implementing governmental organizations involved with social and economic development throughout the country, part of a reform initiative under Bashar's governance that was halted with the onset of the Syrian Civil War.
As of 2013[update] and as a result of the ongoing Civil War, Assad is subject to economic sanctions relating to high-level Syrian government officials, 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.
Early life and education
Assad was born Asma Akhras on August 11, 1975 in London to Fawaz Akhras, a consultant cardiologist at the Cromwell Hospital, London, and his wife Sahar Akhras (née Otri), a retired diplomat who served as 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, where she went to Twyford Church of England High School and later 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. She speaks English, Arabic, French, and Spanish.
After graduating from King's College London, she started work as an economics analyst 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. She credits her banking experience with giving her "analytical thinking" and an ability to "[understand] the business side of running a company" that inspired her later work in Syria.
She reconnected with Bashar al-Assad, the future president of Syria and a longtime family friend, while he was studying ophthalmology in London, and they remained in touch. After Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's death in June 2000, Bashar took over the presidency, as Hafez's intended heir, Bashar's brother, had died in a car accident in 1994. 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 more reformative government as Asma grew up in the United Kingdom and represents the Sunni majority unlike Bashar. During this time period out of the spotlight after the wedding, Asma travelled throughout Syria to 100 villages in 13 of the 14 governorates to speak with Syrians and learn where she should direct her future policies. She went on to create a collection of organizations that functioned under the charity sector of the government, a new initiative for a traditionally Ba'athist governing structure, referred to as the Syrian Trust for Development; the organizations include FIRDOS (rural micro-credit), SHABAB (business skills for youth), BASMA (children with cancer), RAWAFED (cultural development), the Syrian Organization 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. From this work, she earned a spot as one of the Middle East 411 Magazine's "World's Most Influential Arabs".  Today, the legitimacy of these organizations and their formation is criticized for being part of a reformative public image but not actually creating developmental change the way they were supposedly intended to. Reports have documented stagnancy of action at the executive levels of the organizations and possible corruption.
As seen by her work above, 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 which was helping to create "a reformer's aura" for Assad, highlighting her participation in the Syrian Trust for Development until the program 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, an Alawite, 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 organization that she founded in 2005 to involve young people in active citizenship?"  The following remark addresses such claims:
She is said to be in favor 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 nondomestic issues (such as Lebanon or the peace process with Israel).— Shmuel Bar:380–381
Syrian civil war
A serious blow has been dealt to her public image since the Syrian Civil War intensified in early 2012, as the first lady was criticized for remaining silent throughout the beginning of the Syrian uprising. 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. She issued her first official statement to international media since the insurrection began in February 2012, nearly a year after the first serious protests. Also in early February, 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". The communique also described her continued support for charities and rural development activities  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. 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 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, leading to press speculation and government denials that she had fled the country or the Capital. She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on 18 March 2013, refuting the rumors. As of September 2013, as well, her public Instagram page continued to be updated with photos of Asma engaged in community service activities. 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".
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. 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". 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 Assad.
Asma and Bashar al-Assad have three children: Hafez, Zein, and Karim.
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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)
- 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