Asma Assada, the wife of the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, was described by the fashion magazine Vogue as a "rose in the desert." In 2008, she was even awarded the Gold Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic in recognition of her leading role and continued "humanitarian efforts" for the economic growth in the Arab world in general, and Syria in particular.
The West apparently needed to see a revolution and young Syrian people savagely killed in streets by Syria's army to understand that Bashar Al-Assad is a cruel dictator and that Asma is no rose, but a heartless first lady. Vogue had to see cutting off food, water and electricity to the the Syrian population, to remove from its website the article where Asma describes how loving Bashar is, playing with their three children at home.
As long as the Syrian government was sponsoring the killing of Israelis it was fine. Asma, the Syrian "Marie Antoinette," was considered a "reformer," as some media in the West labeled her. All the anti-Israel commentators were so happy to honor the Syrian first lady, who showed her deep concern about Gaza and the Palestinians. So concerned was the ruling couple, that Bashar Al-Assad recently attacked a Palestinian refugee camp near the Syrian port city of Latakia, causing an undisclosed number of victims and obliging 10,000 refugees to flee.
Finally, when the Syrian population itself rose up, the international community reluctantly had to admit that Asma was no "element of light in a country full of shadow zones," as Paris Match wrote, but rather the condescending wife of a tyrant. For the last decade, she has just used her position to promote herself, while offering an alluring façade to her husband's regime. In the meantime, she enjoyed a stylish life, buying expensive, labeled dresses (she apparently loves French designed Christian Louboutin shoes and Chanel sunglasses), without wondering where her money came from.
The British newspaper, The Independent, recently revealed that last month, Asma invited a group of aid workers to discuss the security situation with her, but she "appeared utterly unmoved when she heard about the plight of protesters." "'We told her about the killing of protesters," said [one volunteer who was present], who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "We told her about the security forces attacking demonstrators. About them taking wounded people from cars and preventing people from getting to hospital ... There was no reaction. She didn't react at all. It was just like I was telling a normal story, something that happens every day,'" reported the Independent.
Asma, British Citizen
Few months ago, Yasmin Albhai-Brown, a columnist for the Independent, wrote that "behind every murderous man, there's a loyal wife." This is apparently true also of Asma. She was raised in Acton, west London, in an upper-middle-class family with no siblings. Asma holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Diploma in French Literature. The British Daily Mail wrote that those who knew her back in England say that, given that she spent the first 25 years of her life in London, Asma, who holds double Syrian and British nationalities, back in London used to be known as "Emma" and have liberal western values.
Asma's father, Fawaz Akhras, is a cardiologist and one of the founders of the British Syrian Society. Her mother, Sahar Otri, is a retired diplomat. Both of her parents are Sunni Muslim. Akhras, works at the Cromwell Hospital in London and is known for his polite manners, for being a discreet person and for promoting Syria's interests in Britain. The British paper The Guardian wrote that Akhras plays "a role as gatekeeper for Assad," picking British journalists who wished to interview the president and provide favorable publicity. He is apparently close to the Syrian ambassador to Britain, the economist Sami Khiyami; and together they serve on the advisory board of the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews University. One hopes they will soon be removed from the Board.
The Guardian mentions that Akhras is familiar figure on the Arab diplomatic circuit in London, and that those who have had to chance to talk to him would notice that his personal views are pure Ba'athist propaganda straight from Damascus. According to the British paper, Akhras became close to Assad when the dictator went to Britain to study. "Akhras received a request from Bashar al-Assad asking for help in studying ophthalmology in the UK, which he did at the Western Eye Hospital, a unit attached to St Mary's hospital, Paddington," The Guardian reports.
In 2000, Asma and Bashar Al-Assad married. It was just the beginning of his presidency. As reported in the Saudi-owned TV channel Al-Arabiya's website, a marriage with a Sunni wife was perceived "an encouraging sign of reconciliation from a member of the ruling Alawite sect [which is closer to Shis Islam. Author's note] that his rule would not rely on sectarianism." At the time, Akhras told the editor-in-chief of Al-Arabiya that he was critical of the regime of Hafez Al Assad, but that he believed that with Bashar, Syria was on the verge of witnessing a new era.
Assad's Family Selling Property in London
A rumor is circulation in the British media that Asma, fearing that the regime might soon collapse, might be hiding in London with her three children. If that were true, it would be a bit embarrassing for the British authorities -- the reason, according to the British paper The Telegraph, that her alleged presence in London has not been made public. The rumor, however, started to circulate in May, and since then Asma allegedly has come back to Syria.
The Telegraph, however, reports that the get cash, the Assads are selling flats and houses in London, and that these include a £10 million townhouse in Mayfair, "as they prepare for defeat." "The selling off of the property suggests the Assads are liquidating their assets in the chance the regime is forced from power in Syria," writes the Telegraph. The family would have also sold off properties in the United States, London, Spain and France, with the clan wanting to "liquidate their overseas homes as quickly as possible."
It seems that Asma may have to forget French-designed dresses and that for a while she will be hiding, rather than looking to be on the covers of fashion magazine. In the meantime, according to media, she stays in Damascus keeping silent, while looking with at her husband crack down on innocent civilians.