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Tue Mar 6, 2012, 07:46 PM

The curious case of Mrs. Assad

Last week’s sham vote on a new Syrian constitution fooled nobody. As President Assad’s troops continued the bloodshed in Homs, the Syrian leader and his dutiful wife beamed at the cameras before casting their votes. While global condemnation rightly greeted Assad’s attempts at deception, little attention has been paid to another Syrian contradiction. The country’s First Lady, Asma Assad, was born and bred in London. How exactly did she end up at the side of a ruthless dictator?

By any measure, Asma Assad enjoyed all the benefits of a Western middle-class education and upbringing. The 36-year-old was born in London to a retired diplomat and a consultant cardiologist at a prestigious West End hospital. The family home was an inconspicuous terraced house in Acton, West London — the same part of the world where I grew up.

Asma attended the same local Church of England school as some of my childhood friends, where presumably she was exposed to the same values and influences as any other ’80s child in West London. Known as ‘Emma’ throughout her formative years, Asma completed her schooling at a private school on Harley Street before graduating in computer science from King’s College in 1996. A lucrative career beckoned. Like so many other ambitious graduates of the time, Asma jumped on the finance and banking bandwagon, working first with Deutsche Bank before joining JP Morgan in 1998, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Two years later, she was married to the newly appointed President of Syria.

Incredibly, Asma must now look on as her husband orders the bombardment and wanton destruction of Homs, the very city that her family calls home. Indeed, Asma’s father is reported to be “horrified” at his son-in-law’s savage actions, which have naturally left him fearful for both his daughter and the country of his birth. So how did it come to this? It seems almost unfathomable that a wholesome product of Western liberal society should become an onlooker to wholesale human rights abuse.


Asma al-Assad, a dictator’s wife

As pictures of the Syrian regime’s relentless shelling of Homs are aired on screen, Asma al-Assad asks "This is the 21st century, where in the world could this happen?" This online video (see below) would lead us to believe the First Lady is denouncing the brutal and bloody crackdown in Syria. But the alleged CNN news clip is in fact a fake and an edited version of a 2009 interview with the wife of President Bashar al-Assad, in which she condemns the atrocities committed by the Israeli military in the Gaza strip.

The video montage was made as a critical response to Asma al-Assad’s silence over the brutal assault government forces have waged against the people of Syria. Up until a year ago, the British born First Lady was a darling of the Western media; she represented a symbol of modernity in a country that had for a long time remained isolated from the rest of the world.

But this was before her husband sought to quell the Syrian uprising with ruthless slaughter. She has now been dubbed the “Marie Antoinette of Damascus” and opponents see her as an accomplice to the crimes committed by the Syrian regime. Last months, activists set up a fake official website; a statement on the hoax site read “I am the wife of a vicious war criminal”.

The outrage felt by Syrian activists is fueled by the fact Asma al-Assad’s family hails from Homs, and she appears indifferent to the plight of the people living there; the city has been under attack by the Syrian army for months now.


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