Asma al-Assad (born 11 August 1975, née Asma Akhras) is a British-Syrian. 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.
She grew up in Acton where she went to Twyford Church of England High Schooland her friends called her Emma. Afterwards, she moved on to a private girls’ school, Queen’s College. Finally, she graduated from Kings College London in 1996 with a first-class bachelor of science degree in computer science and a diploma in French literature.
Syrian civil war
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 government, she appeared with him and two of their children at a pro-government rally.
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 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 that took place 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 18 March 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.”
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“. 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 and additional critical articles.