Asma al-Assad (36) is the glamorous First Lady of Syria, a Londoner from a privileged background who graduated from King’s College and worked in international finance at JP Morgan before marrying the wealthy and westernised eye surgeon whose father was the then President of Syria. She must have known at the time that her new father-in-law conducted the (original) Hama massacre back in 1982 when an estimated 20,000 died in a single night.
Despite that, the latest unrest in Syria has taken Asma by surprise. Due to bothersome international sanctions against her adopted country, she is unable to get the (northern) summer collection of the jewel-encrusted Louboutin shoes she is so attached to. It is also reasonable to assume that she has by now emptied her last musical tin of Fortnum & Masons English Digestive biscuits. Worse, the once dubbed ‘English Rose of the Desert’ is today whispered to rank alongside Elena Ceaușescu, or Lady Macbeth, perhaps even one of the “tricoteuses” of the French revolution who knitted in their front-row seats through the daily performance of another trendy Madame – the guillotine.
She cannot fly home to Daddy (a Harley St. cardiologist) and conduct some remedial retail therapy at Harrods because, even with her UK passport, there are EU travel sanctions against her as a member of the al-Assad family. This also deprives her of the habitual shopping trips to Paris where (as famously hacked from her email server) it was straight to her favourite shoe shop (crystal-dusted stilettos €4,700) then a browse in a Left-Bank art gallery (‘Butterflies’ by Nick Jeffrey, €POA) or a whim followed to René Lalique’s on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees for another Ming Con Luce vase (€3,285). Bespoke furniture sometimes awaited her approval at an exclusive craft shop in an 8th arrondissement backstreet where nothing is priced under five figures, then away for cocktails at Harry’s Bar before dinner at Train Bleu where spiced lamb kebabs are speared at the steely flash of her Platinum American Express card.
Her Damascene palace must seem more like the Bastille these days. She continues to use the internet in spite of the regular hacking – she and hubby share funny (sometimes naughty) links on their iPad’s – but her online aliases are exposed so rapidly that most foreign shops are obliged to cancel her orders under fear of prosecution for breaching the embargo. She is said to still binge on iTunes (e.g. the singularly un-Islamic, ‘Sexy and I Know It’ – LMFAO, was one of hundreds in February alone) but even that hole should soon be soundly plugged. So what’s a girl to do?
Well, incredibly and incongruously, Asma could choose to become the saviour of Syria.
The world is overdue for another Evita. Asma’s spousal persuasion could carry her family to an exile in luxury where their children may be spared the rumours until their childhood has passed happily. Her maternal heart must know the truth when she looks at the unavoidable images of dead Syrian children on her iPad, then tucks her own children Hafez (11), Zein (9) and Karim (8) into bed for a safe and peaceful night’s sleep. She knows that one of those children will, like their father, face the same bloody battles on their ascendancy, so she could attempt to break the cycle of generational slaughter that awaits them. She could point out to her doctor-husband that his son will have to become a murderer in order to rule the iniquitously sectarian country. She could remind him of what happened to his friend Muammar Gadhafi – and what befell that man’s children.She could cite his Hippocratic Oath; gift him a copy of Aristophanes’s ‘Lysistrata’ (with tongue in cheek) and guide him to see that his leadership has become as untenable as the whole world now knows it to be. She could ask whether he loves her enough to leave his cursed and tainted inheritance.
Once again Aphrodite has fallen for Ares but this time the myth can be shattered and the beautiful woman can avoid mourning over the dead body of her lover. She is equipped with intuition and intelligence. She was brought up as a liberated woman, wearing Levis and Converse, not the hijab and ṣandal. And she has the influence – intimate and powerful influence – to change the course of Syria’s future while saving her family at the same time.
The fact is that a rose growing in desert sand is an anachronism and not even the evolving ecology of the Arab renaissance can alter that. To paraphrase her poetic countryman Thomas Gray, she is the flower wasting her sweetness on the desert air.
Can you swap the 6” heels for some walking shoes Asma?