Asma al-Assad

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Asma al-Assad
أسماء الأسد
Assad in 2003
First Lady of Syria
Assumed role
13 December 2000
PresidentBashar al-Assad
Preceded byAnisa Makhlouf
Personal details
Asma Fawaz Akhras

(1975-08-11) 11 August 1975 (age 48)
London, England
  • Syrian
  • British
(m. 2000)
Alma materKing's College London (BSc)

Asma Fawaz al-Assad (Arabic: أسماء فواز الأسد; née Akhras; born 11 August 1975) is the First Lady of Syria. Born and raised in London to Syrian parents, she is married to the 19th and current President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.[1][2]

Assad graduated from King's College London in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in computer science and French literature. She had a career in investment banking and was set to begin an MBA at Harvard University when she married Bashar al-Assad in December 2000. She resigned from her job in investment banking following the couple's 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 which was halted due to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War.[3]

Along with her husband Bashar, Asma is considered to be one of the "main economic players" in Syria and controls large parts of Syrian business sectors, banking, telecommunications, real estate and maritime industries.[4] As a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, a conflict which began in March 2011, 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 material and financial assistance, for her to obtain certain products, and curtailing her ability to travel within the EU.[5][6][7] In the UK, she is currently part of a preliminary inquiry within the War Crimes unit of the Metropolitan Police with allegations involving the "systematic approach to the torture and murder of civilians, including with the use of chemical weapons" and incitement of terrorist acts.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Assad was born Asma Fawaz Akhras on 11 August 1975 in London to Fawaz Akhras, a cardiologist at the Cromwell Hospital, and his wife Sahar Akhras (née Otri), a retired diplomat who served as First Secretary at the Syrian Embassy in London.[9][10] Her parents are Sunni Muslims and of Syrian origin, from the city of Homs.[9][11]

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 where she studied alongside Ringo Star's daughter[12].[13] She graduated from King's College London[14][15] in 1996 with a first-class honours Bachelor of Science degree in computer science.[16]

Finance career[edit]

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.[9][10] In 1998, she joined the investment banking division of J.P. Morgan where she worked on a team that specialised in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.[17][18] She credits her banking experience with giving her "analytical thinking" and an ability to "[understand] the business side of running a company."[19]

She was about to pursue an MBA at Harvard University when, on holiday at her aunt's in Damascus in 2000, she was reacquainted with Bashar al-Assad, a family friend.[20]

First Lady[edit]

Assad and the First Lady of Brazil, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, looking at the statue of Iku-Shamagan in the National Museum of Damascus, 3 December 2003

After Hafez al-Assad's death in June 2000, Bashar took over the presidency.[19] 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.[9] 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.[21]

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.[22] She went on to create a collection of organisations that functioned under the charity sector of the government, referred to as the Syria 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."[23][additional citation(s) needed]

Public life[edit]

Asma and Bashar al-Assad during a trip to Moscow, Russia 27 January 2005

Described by media analysts as an important part of the public relations effort of the Syrian government in her tenure as First Lady, Assad was credited with taking progressive positions on women's rights and education.[18][24][25] 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 Syria Trust for Development until the programme was suspended as the country descended into civil war.[26][27] 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.[10]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

A serious blow has been dealt to her public image since the Syrian Civil War intensified in early 2012, as the First Lady was criticised for remaining silent throughout the beginning of the Syrian uprising.[10][28] 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.[24][29][30] 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." The communiqué also described her continued support for charities and rural development activities and related that she comforts the "victims of the violence."[31][28][32]

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.[33][34][35] Assad herself remains able to travel to the UK because of her British citizenship.[36]

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.[37][38]

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.[39][40] She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on 18 March 2013, refuting the rumours.[41][42] 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."[43]

By 2020, observers noted that Assad had begun to extend her influence within the Syrian government. Her charity Syria Trust for Development had become active again, and she began to move members of said body into more influential positions. After the previously powerful Makhlouf family was ousted from the President's inner circle, leaving a political void, First Lady Assad was able to lobby for the election of activists from the charity and development sector during the 2020 Syrian parliamentary election. Nine activists consequently won seats in the Syrian parliament, all of whom were connected to her "Syrian Trust and Development" charity. As a result, she has gained a political foothold in the parliament, indicating that "she is likely to continue to play a key role in the Syrian political arena."[44] Tensions with Rami Makhlouf led him to accuse Asma of stealing "Alawite money" and he later warned her husband Assad of potential discontent amongst the Alawite elites.[45]

In March 2021, the War Crimes unit of London's Metropolitan Police opened an investigation into allegations that Assad incited and encouraged terrorist acts during the war.[8] It was reported that Asma pursued talks with powerful Alawite figures to portray herself as a more amenable alternative in case of Bashar al-Assad's resignation.[46] Commenting on her future ambitions to expand her political clout, Ayman Abdelnour, a former regime insider and President of Syrian Christians for Peace organization, described her trajectory:

"At first, she wasn't treated as part of the family.. She is from Homs, and a Sunni, and her Arabic wasn't good, so she wasn't allowed to speak to the media in case she makes mistakes. They didn't even let her have the title first lady. But after 2013 she backed her husband fully. Her position matched whatever he was doing militarily: bombings, killings and torturing."[46]

"A Rose in the Desert" controversy and retraction[edit]

In February 2011, Vogue published "A Rose in the Desert", a flattering profile of Assad by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck.[47] The article was later removed from Vogue's website without editorial comment that spring.[10][48][49] 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."[50] The New York Times reported that the Assad "family paid the Washington public relations firm Brown Lloyd James $5,000 a month to act as a liaison between Vogue and the first lady, according to the firm."[51]

In July 2012, Buck wrote another article for The Daily Beast giving an extremely critical account of Assad.[52] In another article in The Telegraph published in August 2012, Juliet Buck harshly criticised Asma al-Assad for being compliant in the regime's war-crimes and described her as the "First Lady of Hell".[53][54] Stating that the title "A Rose in the Desert" was not her choice, Buck commented on her Vogue article:

"I didn’t want to write the piece. But I always finished what I started. I handed it in on 14 January, the day President Ben Ali fled Tunisia. 'The Arab Spring is spreading,’ I told American Vogue on 21 January. 'You might want to hold the piece.’ They didn’t think the Arab Spring was going anywhere, and the piece was needed for the March 'Power Issue’... On 25 February, as Libyan protesters demanded an end to Gaddafi, my piece on Asma al-Assad went online at They had excruciatingly titled it 'A Rose in the Desert’."[53]

Personal life[edit]

Assad with husband Bashar al-Assad

Assad and her husband have three children. Their first child, a son named Hafez, named after Hafez al-Assad, was born in 2001, followed by their daughter Zein in 2003, and their second son Karim in 2004.[9] In January 2013, Bashar stated in an interview that Asma was pregnant;[55][56] however, there were no later reports of them having a fourth child.[citation needed]

Assad enjoys theatre, opera and visiting the cinema.[57]

On 8 August 2018, it was announced that she had begun treatment for early stage breast cancer.[58] On 4 August 2019, Assad publicly stated that she has fully recovered and is officially cancer free.[59]

On 8 March 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria, Assad and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19, according to the presidential office. They were reported to be in good health with "minor symptoms."[60] On 30 March, it was announced that both had recovered and tested negative for the disease.[61]


  1. ^ "Assad's British wife targeted by EU as Annan pursues talks on ceasefire". The Scotsman. 24 March 2012. Retrieved 21 September 2023.
  2. ^ Ramdani, Nabila (10 May 2011). "Is Asma Assad in London?". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  3. ^ Ruiz de Elvira, L.; Zintl, T. (2014). "The end of the Ba'athist social contract in Bashar al-Assad's Syria: reading sociopolitical transformations through charities and broader benevolent activism". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 46 (2): 329–349. doi:10.1017/S0020743814000130. S2CID 146585947.
  4. ^ "Changes to Syria's Business Elite Concentrates Wealth in Hands of Presidential Couple". The Syria Report. 15 November 2022. Archived from the original on 2 December 2022.
  5. ^ Waterfield, Bruno (23 March 2012). "Syria: Asma al-Assad hit with EU sanctions". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 27 December 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  6. ^ Robinson, Frances; Norman, Laurence (24 March 2012). "EU Targets Bashar al-Assad's Wife With New Sanctions". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  7. ^ Marquardt, Alexander (23 March 2012). "Syria's Stylish First Lady's Shopping Sprees Now Hit By Sanctions". ABC News. Archived from the original on 11 January 2020. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  8. ^ a b Chowdhury, Sadiya (14 March 2021). "Met's War Crimes Unit examining allegations against Asma al Assad, wife of Syrian president". Sky News. Archived from the original on 15 March 2021. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e Bar, Shmuel (2006). "Bashar's Syria: The Regime and its Strategic Worldview" (PDF). Comparative Strategy. 25 (5): 353–445. doi:10.1080/01495930601105412. ISSN 0149-5933. S2CID 154739379. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 November 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e Golovnina, Maria (19 March 2012). "Asma al Assad, a "desert rose" crushed by Syria's strife". Reuters. Archived from the original on 23 September 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  11. ^ Bar'el, Zvi (27 April 2011). "In Syria, the army's loyalty to Assad runs deep". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  12. ^ A Kloosterman, Karin (13 November 2023). "Meet the Queen of Captagon". Green Prophet. Retrieved 8 January 2024.
  13. ^ "President Assad's wife banned from travelling to Europe... but not Britain". The Mirror. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 October 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  14. ^ Callaghan, Louise (13 March 2021). "Asma al-Assad: Syria's first lady faces war crimes prosecution in UK". The Times. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Asma al-Assad: from Syria's 'desert rose' to 'first lady of hell'". The Guardian. 22 October 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Banker, princess, warlord: the many lives of Asma Assad". The Economist. 10 March 2021. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  17. ^ "The First Lady". Embassy of Syria, Washington, D.C. Archived from the original on 21 May 2012.
  18. ^ a b Bennet, James (10 July 2005). "The Enigma of Damascus". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 March 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  19. ^ a b Buck, Joan Juliet (30 July 2012). "My Vogue interview with Syria's First Lady". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2015. {{cite magazine}}: Unknown parameter |agency= ignored (help)
  20. ^ Buck, Joan Juliet (12 August 2012). "At home with the Assads: an eerie memoir of Syria's first family before the slaughter began". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 30 January 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  21. ^ Jones, L. (2001). "The European press views the Middle East". The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 20 (2): 33.
  22. ^ Bevan, B. (2005). "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's trial by fire". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 24 (5): 85–86.
  23. ^ "World's 50 most influential Arabs". No. 47. Middle East 411. May 2010.
  24. ^ a b "Syria's First Lady Asma al‑Assad Falling from Grace". Al Arabiya. Agence France-Presse. 14 January 2012. Archived from the original on 9 February 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Will Asma al-Assad take a stand or stand by her man?". CNN. 25 December 2011. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  26. ^ Russell, George (20 September 2012). "Before Assad unleashed violence, UN showcased wife Asma as a 'champion' of reform". Fox News. Archived from the original on 22 September 2012. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  27. ^ Russell, George (8 October 2012). "UN-sponsored group in Syria included Assad kin cited as corrupt by US, documents show". Fox News. Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  28. ^ a b "Syria's First Lady Asma al-Assad breaks her silence". The Telegraph. 7 February 2012. Archived from the original on 15 November 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  29. ^ "Asma al-Assad, the glamorous face of Syria's dictatorship". National Post. 13 January 2012. Archived from the original on 16 January 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  30. ^ Fletcher, Martin (30 January 2012). "Has Syria's Princess Diana become its Marie Antoinette?". The Australian. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  31. ^ "First lady breaks silence to support President Assad". The Age. Agence France-Presse. 8 February 2012. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2012.
  32. ^ "Asma al-Assad and the tricky role of the autocrat's wife". BBC. 8 February 2012. Archived from the original on 28 August 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  33. ^ "Syria crisis: EU sanctions on Asma al-Assad". BBC News. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 7 December 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  34. ^ "Council Implementing Decision 2012/172/CFSP implementing Decision 2011/782/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria". Official Journal of the European Union. Brussels: The Council of the European Union. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 13 June 2022.
  35. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 27 December 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  36. ^ "Assad's relatives face asset freeze and travel ban as EU steps up sanctions". The Guardian. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 28 August 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  37. ^ "UN ambassador wives in peace plea to Syria's Asma Assad". BBC News. 16 April 2012. Archived from the original on 19 April 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  38. ^ International letter and petition to Asma al-Assad Archived 22 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine (Youtube video by Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, 16 April 2012)
  39. ^ "Hunt for Assad is on amid claims of wife Asma's exit to Russia". The Independent (London, UK). 20 July 2012. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  40. ^ "Free Syrian Army move HQ from Turkey to Syria". France 24. 23 September 2012. Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  41. ^ "Syria: Asma al-Assad makes rare public appearance". Archived from the original on 20 March 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  42. ^ Fantz, Ashley (18 March 2013). "Surrounded by children, Syria's First Lady makes rare appearance". CNN. Archived from the original on 18 March 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  43. ^ "Asma al-Assad denies leaving Syria". The Daily Telegraph. 15 October 2013. Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  44. ^ Karam Shaar; Samy Akil (28 January 2021). "Inside Syria's Clapping Chamber: Dynamics of the 2020 Parliamentary Elections". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  45. ^ Vohra, Anchal (15 June 2020). "The War Has Arrived Inside the Assad Family". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 8 December 2022.
  46. ^ a b Chowdhury, Sadiya (14 March 2021). "Met's War Crimes Unit examining allegations against Asma al Assad, wife of Syrian president". Sky News. Archived from the original on 15 March 2021.
  47. ^ Buck, Joan Juliet (25 February 2011). "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert". Vogue. Archived from the original on 25 February 2011.
  48. ^ Cook, John (28 February 2011). "Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 17 August 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  49. ^ Cook, John (20 May 2011). "Memory Hole: Vogue Disappears Adoring Profile of Syrian Butcher's Wife". Gawker. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  50. ^ Allen, Nick (11 June 2012). Written at Los Angeles. "Syria: Vogue's Anna Wintour disowns Asma al-Assad". The Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 6 October 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  51. ^ Carter, Bill; Chozick, Amy (10 June 2012). "Syria's Assads Turned to West for Glossy P.R." The New York Times.
  52. ^ "Syria's Fake First Family". The Daily Beast. 30 July 2012. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  53. ^ a b Juliet Buck, Joan (12 August 2012). "At home with the Assads: an eerie memoir of Syria's first family before the slaughter began". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 13 August 2012.
  54. ^ Adley, Esther (22 October 2016). "Asma al-Assad: from Syria's 'desert rose' to 'first lady of hell'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 16 November 2022.
  55. ^ Fisher, Max (28 January 2013). "Syria's Bashar al-Assad says his wife is pregnant". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  56. ^ Black, Ian (29 January 2013). "Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma 'pregnant with fourth child'". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  57. ^ Beaumont, Peter (16 November 2008). "No longer the pariah President". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  58. ^ "Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad Treated for Breast Cancer: State Media". The New York Times. 8 August 2018. Archived from the original on 8 August 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  59. ^ "Wife of Syria's Assad Says She Is Free of Cancer". Voice of America. Associated Press. 4 August 2019. Archived from the original on 27 August 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  60. ^ "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma test positive for Covid-19". CNN. 8 March 2021. Archived from the original on 9 March 2021. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  61. ^ Written at Damascus. "Syrian president and wife recover from COVID-19". London: Reuters. 30 March 2021. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by First Lady of Syria