Asma al-Assad

Asma al-Assad
أسماء الأسد

Asma al-Assad in 2003
First Lady of Syria
Assumed office
December 2000
Preceded by Anisa Makhlouf
Personal details
Born Asma Akhras[1][2]
(1975-08-11) 11 August 1975
London, England
Nationality British, Syrian
Spouse(s) Bashar al-Assad (m. 2000)
Relations Fawaz Akhras (father)
Children 3
Alma mater King's College London (B.Sc)
Religion Islam (Sunni)

Asma al-Assad (Arabic: أسماء الأسد, Levantine pronunciation: [ʔasˈmaːʔ elˈʔasad]; née Akhras, Arabic: أسماء فواز الأخرس: [ˈʔasma fawˈwaːz elˈʔaxras]; born 11 August 1975) is a British-born Syrian former investment banker and the current First Lady of Syria. She is married to the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.[3][4]

She was born in London to Syrian 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 investment banking and was about to begin a MBA at Harvard University before she married Bashar al-Assad in December 2000.

She quit her job following the 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 under Bashar's governance that was halted with the onset of the Syrian Civil War.[5]

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 where she is a citizen.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Early life and education

Assad was born Asma 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.[1] Her parents are Sunni Muslims and of Syrian origin, hailing from the city of Homs.[1][12]

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.[13] She graduated from King's College London in 1996 with a first-class honours Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and a diploma in French literature.[14] She speaks English, Arabic, French, and Spanish.[1]

Finance career

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.[1][2] 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.[15][16] She credits her banking experience with giving her "analytical thinking" and an ability to "[understand] the business side of running a company".[17]

She was about to pursue a MBA at Harvard University when, on holiday at her aunt's in Damascus in 2000, she remet Bashar al-Assad, a family friend.[18]

First Lady

Assad and the First Lady of Brazil, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, in the National Museum of Damascus, 3 December 2003

After Hafez al-Assad's death in June 2000, Bashar took over the presidency.[17] 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.[1] 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.[19]

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.[20] She went on to create a collection of organisations that functioned under the charity sector of the government, referred to as the Syrian 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".[21]

Public image

Asma and Bashar al-Assad during a trip to Moscow, 27 May 2005.

Because of her reformative work, she was described by media analysts as an important part of the public relations effort of the Syrian government in her tenure as First Lady and was credited with taking progressive positions on women's rights and education.[16][22][23] 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 Syrian Trust for Development until the programme was suspended as the country descended into civil war.[24][25] 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.[2]

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 criticised for remaining silent throughout the beginning of the Syrian uprising.[2][26] 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.[22][27][28] 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".[29][26][30]

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.[31][32] Assad herself remains able to travel to the UK because of her British citizenship but is barred from entering the rest of the EU.[33]

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.[34][35]

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.[36][37] She made a public appearance at the Damascus Opera House for an event called "Mother's Rally" on 18 March 2013, refuting the rumours.[38][39] 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".[40]

As of November 2016, her public Instagram page continues to be updated with photos of her engaged in community service activities.[41]

A Rose in the Desert

In March 2011, Vogue published "A Rose in the Desert," a flattering profile of Assad by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck. The article was later removed from Vogue's website without editorial comment that spring.[2][42][43] 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".[44] Buck has since written another article for The Daily Beast giving an extremely critical account of Assad.[45]

Personal life

Asma and Bashar al-Assad have three children. Their first child, a son named Hafez after Hafez al-Assad, was born in 2001, and followed by their daughter Zein in 2003, and their second son Karim in 2004.[1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 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. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 November 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Golovnina, Maria (19 March 2012). "Asma al Assad, a "desert rose" crushed by Syria's strife". Reuters. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
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  5. 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.
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  8. "Syria: Asma al-Assad hit with EU sanctions". The Daily Telegraph. 23 March 2012.
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  13. "President Assad's wife banned from travelling to Europe... but not Britain". The Mirror. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
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  15. "The First Lady". Embassy of Syria, Washington, D.C. Archived from the original on 21 May 2012.
  16. 1 2 Bennet, James (10 July 2005). "The Enigma of Damascus". The New York Times.
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  18. Buck, Joan Juliet (12 August 2012). "At home with the Assads: an eerie memoir of Syria's first family before the slaughter began". Daily Telegraph.
  19. Jones, L. (2001). "The European press views the Middle East". The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 20 (2): 33.
  20. Bevan, B. (2005). "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's trial by fire". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 24 (5): 85–86.
  21. "World's 50 most influential Arabs" (47). Middle East 411. May 2010.
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  23. "Will Asma al-Assad take a stand or stand by her man?". CNN. 25 December 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
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  25. Russell, George (8 October 2012). "UN-sponsored group in Syria included Assad kin cited as corrupt by US, documents show". Fox News. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
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  28. Fletcher, Martin (30 January 2012). "Has Syria's Princess Diana become its Marie Antoinette?". The Australian. (subscription required (help)).
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  30. "Asma al-Assad and the tricky role of the autocrat's wife". BBC. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
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  34. "UN ambassador wives in peace plea to Syria's Asma Assad". BBC News. 16 April 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  35. International letter and petition to Asma al-Assad (Youtube video by Huberta von Voss Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, 16 April 2012)
  36. "Hunt for Assad is on amid claims of wife Asma's exit to Russia". The Independent (London, UK). 20 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  37. "Free Syrian Army move HQ from Turkey to Syria". France 24. 23 September 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  38. Syria: Asma al-Assad makes rare public appearance
  39. Fantz, Ashley (18 March 2013). "Surrounded by children, Syria's First Lady makes rare appearance". CNN.
  40. "Asma al-Assad denies leaving Syria". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  41. "Assad's wife turns to Instagram to boost image". Radio Free Europe. September 2013.
  42. Cook, John (28 February 2011). "Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady". The Atlantic. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  43. 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.
  44. Allen, Nick (11 June 2012). "Syria: Vogue's Anna Wintour disowns Asma al-Assad". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
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