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Monday, June 3, 2013

Mrs Assad - first lady of Syria

President Assad's wife, Asma al-Assad was born in London to a Syrian cardiologist Fawaz Akhras and his diplomat wife Sahar Otri.   Mrs Assard hasn't made any comment about the suffering and murder that has surrounded her for two years and her silence is deafening.

She only left Britain in 2000 to marry Bashar Assad when he took over from his father, dictator Hafez al-Assad, who ruled his country with a rod of iron since 1970.

Bashar al-Assad met his wife at a London university where he was studying opthamology in 1994. When his older brother, the heir to the presidency, was killed in car accident, he was brought home and groomed for power.

There are now approximately 94,000 lives lost and at least 5 million people destitute and homeless.  By her refusal to release a public statement to the contrary, we must assume that Mrs Assad supports her husband's refusal to yield.  She made a public appearance at the opera in April and life goes on pretty much the same for her and other elite, pro-government Syrians.

In Malki, it's business as usual for the wealthy people who live in the million dollar apartments and drive the latest model BMWs.  They continue to live the good life and employ many servants.  Security guards keep watch in and around the apartments and on the streets. A few kilometres away, fierce street-to-street battles are ongoing and the distant thud of artillery fire can be heard.

Bashar al-Assad celebrating the second birthday of one of their children with his wife Asma Assad

But there's a subtle difference, even if it doesn't impact on their lifestyle. Inside the luxury supermarket in the mall, the owner says he isn't selling as much imported gourmet food these days because many of his wealthy customers have left the country.  Sales in the shops are strictly cash only as credit card networks have boycotted transactions in Syria. Dining out at expensive restaurants now costs more, a sure sign of growing inflation.

UNICEF says the children of Syria are paying a terrible price for the war, yet Mrs Assad still remains mute.  We've seen disturbing footage of children huddled together in bombed out buildings who tell reporters they are not getting enough to eat.

Syria's central bank governor Adeeb Mayaleh insists that the government has plenty of foreign currency available to guarantee imports and enough cash to pay public employees' wages in advance each month.  He said that Iran and Russia were about to agree to more funds.

According to a Reuters report on April 28, a wealthy Christian whose family owns a car dealership was kidnapped and accused of supporting Assad.  He was hung upside down, beaten and fuel was injected into his veins.  He was released after a $20,000 ransom was paid, but died a few days later.

The violence is taking a terrible toll on the city of Damascus.  The beautiful 7th century Umayyad mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, is empty.  Tourists have long gone and the imam was recently murdered.  Heavy fighting has ruined the holy site and toppled its minaret.

As far as Europe is concerned, Mrs. Assad is persona non grata because of her extravagant shopping history.  On 23 March 2012, the European Union froze her assets and placed a travel ban on her and President Assad's close family members. 

As a British citizen, she is still able to travel to Britain but the Home Office is in the early stages of examining the possibility of revoking her British citizenship.  A law was drawn up initially aimed at terrorists with dual nationality and so far, has not been used.  It's hoped that a way can be found to frustrate Mrs Assad's travel into and out of the UK.

There is still no end to the bloodshed in sight and last week, the government seemed emboldened by recent victories over the rebels. The Washington Post on Thursday published a leaked document that said Moscow had supplied Assad with 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 20 million rounds of ammunition just for the month of April.   

And so it goes.