As Syria’s crackdown on dissent rages on, the nation’s leaders remain disturbingly insulated from the turmoil. We’ve been afforded a glimpse into the lavish inner circle of the Assad regime thanks to a store of 3,000 emails obtained this month by The Guardian. According to the emails, while rebels are crushed by the government’s security forces, the ruling party has been purchasing Louboutins and Lil Wayne MP3s. While much ink has been spilled about the tyranny of Bashar Assad, the correspondence is an interesting glimpse on the life of Asma Assad, the dictator’s wife. She’s a London-born, well-educated former banker who certainly has a political influence on her husband. But now, the 36-year-old First Lady must strike a tenuous balance between her cosmopolitan past and family-loyal present.
- Born in London in 1975, and grew up in a modest neighborhood in Acton, a sleepy district in the west London suburbs.
- Her parents are of Sunni Syrian heritage, originally hailing from Homs.
- Her father Fawaz Akhras is a prominent cardiologist at Cromwell Hospital in London.
- Known as “Emma” during her U.K. upbringing.
- Studied computer science at King’s College in London, and worked as an investment banker for JP Morgan in New York, Paris and London.
- Met Bashar Assad in the early 1990s while on a family vacation to Syria.
- Dated Assad while he was studying ophthalmology in London beginning in 1992.
- Carried on a secret romance with him while he returned to Syria to be groomed for the country’s presidency after his brother, heir apparent Basil, was killed in a car crash.
- Married Bashar Assad in 2000 after he was installed as Syria’s president and moved to Syria.
- The couple has two sons, Hafez and Karim, and a daughter, Zein, ranging in age from 7 to 11.
- Has hid behind the alias of her purported secretary, Alia Kayali, to skirt sanctions and purchase goods from European merchants.
- Considers Christian Louboutin to be a “personal friend.” The French shoemaker supposedly owns an 11th-century castle in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
- Spent the early months of her marriage traveling around Syria in jeans to get to know the people and their concerns.
- Was profiled in a contentious Vogue article in February 2011, labeled a “Rose in the Desert.” The article was criticized for its fawning portrayal of the Assad regime and was later pulled from Vogue‘s website.
- Has remained largely out of the public spotlight along with her husband since the crackdown began in March 2011.
“As for listening – I am the REAL dictator, he has no choice.” –Joking about her relationship with her husband in an email to a friend, discussing how much attention spouses often pay to each other (email quoted in The Telegraph, December 2011)
“At the end of the day I’m the same person as I was before I married the president, and I’ll be the same person hopefully going forward.” – Assad’s response when asked how she’s changed since becoming First Lady (NBC Nightly News, May 2007)
“I don’t have a problem with frankness or honesty, in fact to me its like oxygen – I need it to survive. Life is not fair my friend – but ultimately there is a reality we all need to deal with!!!” – discussing the Arab world’s problems in an email exchange with Al Mayassa Al Thani, daughter of the Emir of Qatar (email to Al Mayassa Al Thani, December 2011)
“If we are strong together, we will overcome this together…I love you…” – A short personal message sent to her husband expressing her affection (email to Bashar Assad, December 2011)
“I like things I can touch. I like to get out and meet people and do things. As a banker, you have to be so focused on the job at hand that you lose the experience of the world around you. My husband gave me back something I had lost.” – explaining her eagerness to break with the business world (Vogue, February 2011)
“Mrs. Assad sees her role as changing how the outside world sees Syria and how the next generation of Syrians see the world.” – Ann Curry, NBC Nightly News (NBC News, May 2007)
“Certainly the Assad family doesn’t like her, to put it mildly … She was constantly under watch, her telephone, she was very careful.” – Gaia Servadio, writer and historian (Reuters, March 2012)
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment.” – Joan Juliet Buck, writer (Vogue, February 2011)
“They have stolen Syrian money. She is squandering it here in London. She and her father are accomplices to this crime. They learned nothing from the democracy here in the UK.” – Fawaz, a Syrian opposition activist in London (Reuters, March 2012)