Asma al-Assad, wife of President Bashar al-Assad and First Lady of Syria, was once called a "rose in the desert." The London-born beauty was supposed to hail the liberal reformation of the Middle Eastern country. Now, Asma al-Assad has become a hate figure for many Syrian citizens as the country cracks under civil war and brutal government violence.
Amongst a recent cache of 3,000 leaked personal emails belonging to President Assad, correspondence from Asma al-Assad reveals an unsettling side of Syria's First Lady, who had formerly been described by Vogue magazine as "a rose in the desert."
In an email written on Dec. 14, published by London's Telegraph newspaper, Mrs. Assad joked, "I am the REAL dictator, he has no choice." On Jan. 10, she praised a speech delivered by her husband that conveyed a sense of being "very strong, no more messing around." The 36-year-old displayed no qualms about the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on innocent civilians. According to the Canberra Times, the death toll currently stands at 8,000 lives lost.
All the while, Mrs. Assad's emails convey only selfish concern. "If we are strong together, we will overcome this together...I love you..." she wrote to her husband on Dec. 28, according to Reuters.
President Assad has even joked with his wife about reforms he himself has put forward to quell protests, reported Reuters. In one email he called such reforms "rubbish." He also interchanged the words "elections" and "erections" to manufacture crude joke.
Asma al-Assad had once represented a strong, liberal-minded woman who wanted to liberate the Syrian people. The British-educated, former investment banker had purportedly supported democracy, literacy and human rights; yet, "that image crumbled when her husband responded to an anti-government rebellion with extreme violence a year ago. Asma had clearly decided to stand by her man despite international revulsion at his actions," reported Reuters' Maria Golovnina.
While a bloody civil war breaks out on the Syrian streets beneath her, Asma al-Assad enjoys gourmet food, crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin shoes and Chanel dresses. Emails revealed her penchant for British designer John Lewis, Parisian jewelry, Venetian glass from Harrods and furniture from Dubai. She also had time to discuss plans for overseas holidays with friends amidst the ongoing turmoil.
Sanctions have prevented her from online shopping. A major concern displayed in the emails was how to get around these international sanctions. "I am absolutely clueless when it comes to fine jewellery," she wrote in an email to her cousin while awaiting a delivery of gold, onyx and diamond-encrusted necklaces being designed for her in Paris, reported the Daily Mail.
Asma al-Assad was once viewed as the glamorous, confident counterpart to the president. Syrian peoples hoped she would open Syria through art and charity, according to Retuers. "People tend to see Syria as artifacts and history," she told Vogue in 2011. "For us it's about the accumulation of cultures, traditions, values, customs. It's the difference between hardware and software: the artifacts are the hardware, but the software makes all the difference-the customs and the spirit of openness. We have to make sure that we don't lose that. . . . " With an apologetic grin, she added, "You have to excuse me, but I'm a banker-that brand essence."
After growing up and studying in London, Asma studied computer science at King's College London and secured a job with JP Morgan before meeting Bashar. "I was always very serious at work, and suddenly I started to take weekends (off), or disappear, and people just couldn't figure it out," she told Vogue for the magazine's March 2011 issue. "What do you say - 'I am dating the son of a president?'" They married in 2000 and that is when her life of luxury began.
Aside from plentiful spending, a chic wardrobe and highbrow status, Asma al-Assad even hobnobbed with Hollywood's A-listers, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The couples once dined together in Syira. "Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!" she joked to Vogue.
Bashar al-Assad was elected in 2000 with 97 percent of the vote after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad. Bashar's father ruled Syria with an iron fist and many hoped the rise of his son would mean reformation for the oppressed country. Many thought that Asma hinted further optimism, as a Western-raised woman and the daughter of a Sunni Muslim Syrian doctor.
But Asma al-Assad has disappointed the Syrian people.
"When he came to power, people said, 'Okay ... let's give him a chance and see what he's going to do,'" Ghassan Ibrahim, Global Arab Network's London-based editor, told Reuters. "What happened is that he made corruption even more organized, Mafia appeared, poverty grew sharply ... (But) she is standing by the criminal and she supports him."
Asma's profile in Vogue was considered quite controversial and the interview was removed from Vogue.com. However, The Atlantic uncovered the article in its entirety on a fansite dedicated to the First Lady of Syria. Click here to read the Vogue article, entitled "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert." View images of Asma al-Assad's glamorous life as Syria's First Lady in the following slideshow.