The European Union added the First Lady of Syria to the growing list of those in the government of the Syrian Arab Republic whose travels will be restricted and assets frozen. The move is among many intended to force President Bashar al-Assad to put an end to a year-long domestic conflict that has taken the lives of an estimated 8,000-10,000 Syrians, mostly unarmed civilians.
Should Asma al-Assad be punished for her husband’s decisions? What role has she played in President Bashar al-Assad’s year-long bloody Syria crackdown? The latest sanctions, announced last week, include a ban on Asma Al-Assad’s travel to Europe and a freeze of her financial assets in European banks. Also placed on last week’s sanctions list are the president’s mother and sister and eight government officials, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Focusing on her alleged recent purchases of fashion and luxury items distracts from the great work she has done – a supporter calling himself Cicero
A supporter of the Syrian First Lady wrote an impassioned defense of Asma al-Assad that was posted on the Syria Comment blog of Joshua Landis, the director of the Middle Eastern Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma. The author identified himself as Cicero and titled his article “Asma, the EU and Damocles.” Here are excerpts:
“This is a senseless act against a person who is not part of the Syrian government…
“Those who know her describe her first few years in Syria as traveling incognito throughout the country, visiting the poorest villages, trying to identify what defined Syria and how she in her new role as First Lady, could make a positive impact …
“She saw Syria’s strength in its diversity of religion and ethnicity, but was dismayed by the dominant role the government played in the lives of its citizens….
“And in response to the violence and the tragic loss of life, she has for the past year engaged multiple community and NGO groups in an effort to foster a program of reconciliation in the affected areas. And she continues to visit and support the NGOs working in the poorest parts of the country.
“Focusing on her alleged recent purchases of fashion and luxury items distracts from the great work she has done, and continues to do today. Even if the e-mail leaks are true, one has to note that in all of the First lady’s public appearances since the break out of violence she was proper in dress and demeanor…
“… Sanctions, in general, will not help bring peace to Syria. They hurt the most vulnerable and least guilty of oppression hardest. Placing sanctions on Asma al-Assad, who tried to improve Syria for both the poor and women, is also misplaced.”
The First Lady’s good relations, bad relations
In the beginning of her husband’s presidency, Asma al-Assad was an international media favorite. Vogue magazine famously called her The Rose in the Desert last year, but as the Arab Spring turned to winter in Syria, the editors pulled the article from their online edition. However, Max Fisher of the Atlantic magazine recovered a portion of the article for those who missed the original.
Asma al-Aassad’s shopping adventures as revealed by Al Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper based on e-mails attributed to the regime’s inner circle illustrate the First Lady’s stylish tastes during the devastation of government actions against cities where rebels are active.
Middle East Voices reporter Cecily Hilleary reported on some of the Guardian revelations, including the First Lady’s apparent interest in “a pair of $6,000 red-soled designer shoes adorned with crystals and thorny spikes of the sort that typically can be seen on medieval war clubs.”
The Washington Post published an account of one e-mail in which the First Lady appears to have ordered €35,000 ($46,300) worth of furniture and candlesticks from a Paris boutique.
‘…should put an end to the equivocation in media, referring to Mr. Al Assad and his wife as London-raised or UK-educated, as if that meant they couldn’t possibly be capable of the massacres.’ The National in Abu Dhabi
Sanctions against Syria’s leadership have a history. The E.U. has now gone through 13 rounds of sanctions against Syrian leaders. Previous E.U. sanctions were placed on the president, his brother Maher, who heads the Republican Guard, the two others who head two of the government’s intelligence services, and seven officers of the military. Sanctions have also been placed on Syrian oil exports to Europe and on various other government-controlled operations including the national telecommunications company. Similar sanctions had been announced in the past by Turkey, the United States and the Arab League.
Revelations gleaned from the allegedly intercepted e-mails, prompted the Christian Science Monitor to claim that they now portray the president’s wife as “an object of contempt for many, a Marie Antoinette figure.”
An editorial in The National in Abu Dhabi said the Guardian’s trove of online exchanges, “should put an end to the equivocation in media, referring to Mr. Al Assad and his wife as ‘London-raised’ or ‘UK-educated’, as if that meant they couldn’t possibly be capable of the massacres.”
The fall-out of the Syria crisis has also reached the First Lady’s father, Dr. Fawaz Akhras, who is a consultant cardiologist in London, where Asma grew up. The Guardian newspaper reports that he is being pressured by some members of The British-Syrian Society which he founded to resign as co-chair.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.