Asma Al-Assad is the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power since July 2000. For a time, Asma was seen in a positive light, as she took a big role in the Syrian government to push social and economic development. She was even once featured in a flattering Vogue article.
The 41-year-old Asma’s public image crumbled in 2011, when the Syrian Civil War broke out. She was silent at first and began slowing down public appearances in 2012. Still, the Syrian government maintains an Instagram page that continues to post positive images of Asma. She also has her own Instagram page, which she used to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump’s missile attack on an air field near Homs on April 6.
“The presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic affirms that what America has done is an irresponsible act that only reflects a short-sightedness, a narrow horizon, a political and military blindness to reality, and a naive pursuit of a frenzied false propaganda campaign that fueled the regime’s arrogance,” she wrote in Arabic, notes News.Com.AU.
Asma was most recently seen publicly in an English-language interview with Russia 24, a state-backed station in Russia. In the interview, she thanked Russia for its “noble efforts” to support the Assad regime.
Here’s what you need to know about Asma Al-Assad.
1. She Was Born in the U.K. & Is Still a Citizen
Asma was born Asma Akhras in 1975 in London. Her parents are both Sunni Muslims from Homs, the city located near the air base President Donald Trump-directed missiles hit on April 6. Her father, Fawaz Akhras, is a cardiologist and her mother, Sahar Akhras, is a retired First Secretary of Syria’s London embassy.
The Express reported in May 2016 that Asma’s parents still live in London. At the time, it was reported that the Syrian opposition obtained emails showing Fawaz Akhras continuing to give his daughter and son-in-law advice, even suggesting they launch an English-language propaganda channel.
Since she is still a U.K. citizen, the European Union was not able to ban her from traveling there in 2012, when it approved of sanctions on Asma and other members of the Assad family. According to the U.K. Mirror, the EU travel ban covered Asma, Assad’s sister and mother, his sister-in-law and eight other members of his family.
Asma was raised in West Acton, London and attended Twyford Church of England high school and Queen’s College London school. In 1996, she graduated from King’s College with degrees in Computer Science and French Literature. She’s fluent in French, Spanish, Arabic and English.
2. After College, She Worked for Deutsche Bank & J.P. Morgan
After graduating college, Asma went into banking. She first worked at Deutsche Bank Group as an economics analyst in hedge funds, working in Europe and East Asia. Two years after she graduated, she was hired by J.P. Morgan, working as an investment banker in London and New York.
While Asma was starting her career, she was already dating Assad. According to the U.K. Mirror, she met Assad while on family vacations to Syria. In 1994, Assad went to London to study medicine and they began dating. A month before their wedding in 2000, he quit her job with explanation. At the time of her marriage, he was 35 and she was 25.
The Telegraph notes that she also gave up an opportunity to earn an MBA from Harvard when she married Assad.
Assad was already the President of Syria when they married in December 2000. He became president in July 2000, after his father, Hafez al-Assad, died the month before. Assad’s older brother, Bassel, was considered the heir apparent to lead Syria. However, he died in a car crash in 1994 at age 31 and Assad took over the role of heir apparent, being groomed to take over after his father’s death.
3. Asma & Assad Have 2 Sons & a Daughter
Asma and Assad are the parents of three children. They named their first son Hafez, after Assad’s father, and was born in 2001. Their daughter Zein was born in 2003 and son Karim in 2004.
In July 2012, The Telegraph reported that photos of the Assad family’s private life surfaced. One images showed Assad and Asma celebrating the second birthday of one of their children.
The series of photos were believed to be from Asma’s private collection and were believed to have been taken five to seven years before they were released. At the time they came out, there were rumors that Asma and her children fled to Moscow, but Russia denied these claims.
Before the Syrian Civil War broke out, Assad was trying to project an image of being a modern ruler to the world. He tried to present himself as a cultured leader, even though he never faced an opponent in an election until 2014.
“Both wanted to maintain as normal a life as possible for their children, even though the parents are the first couple of Syria,” author David Lesch, who met with the Assads before the war, told the Telegraph.
“They spent most of their time living in a fairly modest three-storey Damascene home that has neighbours right next door on either side of the house,” Lesch explained. “They made sure that each of them, if at all possible, spent quality time with the children every day. And they had a hidden office retreat in Damascus, where I have met both Asma and Bashar separately, where they often bring the children while they are working so they can spend time with them.”
4. Vogue Famously Dubbed Asma ‘A Rose in the Desert’ in a Poorly-Timed 2011 Profile
The same month the Syrian Civil War broke out and Assad began his brutal campaign against the opposition, Vogue published a poorly-timed profile on Asma and the Assad family called “A Rose in the Desert.” It was later removed from the website. The article, written by Joan Juliet Buck, is still available online thanks to the Internet Archive.
The profile ran over 3,000 words and opened by referring to Asma as “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” It also featured several photos of the Assads at home. Buck even included an anecdote about Asma meeting Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the United Nations in 2009. The piece also said Asma runs her house on “wildly democratic principals.”
In June 2012, the New York Times reported that the Vogue profile was part of a PR campaign by the Assads. The Times reported that public relations firm Brown Lloyd James was paid $5,000 to act as a liaison between Asma and Vogue.
Vogue editor Anna Wintour was initially quiet about the removal of Buck’s profile. In June 2012, Wintour sent a statement to the Times that read:
Like many at that time, we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society. Subsequent to our interview, as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue. The escalating atrocities in Syria are unconscionable and we deplore the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.
After the fallout from the story, Buck spoke about the experience of writing the story and has been critical of the Assads. In a Newsweek piece in July 2012, Buck wrote that she didn’t even want to do the piece. After the profile, Buck’s Vogue contract was not renewed. She recently told the New York Times that she felt “tainted, like a leper” after the fallout.
“I wish I had not taken the assignment, but when you’re under contract to a magazine – you accept the assignment and then you do them,” Buck told The Guardian in March 2017.
5. Asma Told Russian TV in October 2016 That She Was Offered Asylum Outside Syria, but Didn’t Accept
In October 2016, Asma gave a rare English-language interview with Russia 24, a state-supported station in Russia, one of the few supporters of the Assad regime. According to the Guardian, Asma said she was offered a chance to leave Syria, but has never thought about doing so.
“I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all,” Asma said. “Yes, I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria or rather to run from Syria. These offers included guarantees of safety and protection for my children and even financial security. It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after. It was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president.”
In the interview, Asma denounced the sanctions imposed on Syria by Western countries, claiming that they hurt ordinary citizens. She also said that the Western media isn’t covering the suffering of people in countries still held by the Assad regime.
“There is not a family in Syria that has not lost a loved one,” she told Russia 24. “Today parents are attending the funerals of their children rather than their weddings.”
Aside from that interview, the most recent photos of Asma are available on the Assad regime’s Instagram page. There, you don’t find images of the horrors of war, but of Asma and Assad greeting children, hugging adults and even smiling. She also has her own Instagram page.