Sunday, April 15, 2012

Asma al-Assad: “A Rose in the Desert” or Syria’s Thorn?

Courtesy of Mohamad Adbo Al-Ibrahim
Her Elegance: The 36 year-old British-born, Syrian bride has exquisite taste. Draped from head to toe in Chanel and Christian Louboutin, she shops online boutiques and art galleries in London for lavish jewelry and extravagant butterfly-featured artwork.

Asma al-Assad has been affectionately named Syria’s ‘Princess Diana’ and was profiled as a “rose in the desert,” as early as last year, by Vogue Magazine. She has also risen to the top of ELLE’s ‘most stylish women in politics’ list. An article published in Mail Online, a UK-based news site, characterizes the first lady as ‘in every sense — the way she dresses, speaks and holds herself — an Englishwoman.’

Her Intelligence: She is a woman that doesn’t fit the traditional image of many Middle-Eastern women of power. She is charming, intellectual, out-going, and resolute. Growing up in London, Asma al-Assad studied computer science and French literature at King's College. She has worked in finance for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and has led organizations that deal, specifically, with high-unemployment and social class differences.

Her Impact: Syria’s first lady was once thought to be "a comprehensible and reasonable individual in an opaque regime," according to American journalist and scholar, Andrew Tabler. While living in the region after Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000, Tabler worked closely with the leader’s wife, and recently wrote a memoir, titled “In the Lion’s Den,” chronicling his moments with the Syrian couple.

Alongside her father, Asma al-Assad has founded charities such as the Syria Heritage Foundation. She has also traveled throughout Syria promoting ‘active citizenship’ and ‘openness’ among her people. Because of her Western upbringing, Tabler and many others were hopeful that, Asma, a seemingly staunch advocate of women’s rights, would help bring reformation to an area that has suffered generations of bloodshed and violence.

Interestingly, it becomes apparent, as you examine her actions and words, that Mrs. al-Assad is well aware of the types of atrocities being committed on her own soil. She jokes as being the “REAL dictator” in her relationship with Bashar al-Assad and consciously married into the 40 year-old, oppressive, authoritarian dynasty back in 2000. She knows: because her father grew up in Homs, an area that has witnessed, first hand, the brutal crackdown of her beloved’s unscrupulous security forces.

Her Legacy: In 2000, Asma came to the region with the intention to usher in change. She was often photographed helping the sick and elderly. She reportedly spoke about a rebounding Syrian history and culture that has made great international contributions over thousands of years.

While Vogue’s “portrait” of Asma al-Assad no longer appears online, a new narrative has been weaved through the actions of her husband’s regime and, more importantly, through her own. The first lady has been a public advocate for human rights, sponsored charities and NGOs, and attempted to infuse a Western democratic model into a region that is deeply entrenched in the type of autocracy that employs deadly military force - engaging in the boorish massacre of thousands of its own people. Could the case be made on behalf of the region’s first lady, that “bad company corrupts good character?”

Nevertheless, the question on the minds of many in Syria and the international community, alike, remains: is Asma al-Assad indeed a “rose in the desert” or has she simply become Syria’s thorn?

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