- Wife of Britain’s UN Ambassador co-creates video to put pressure on Asma
- ‘As a woman, wife and mother, she cannot hide behind her husband’
- Petition launched for Asma to ‘stop being a bystander’
PUBLISHED: 07:39 EST, 18 April 2012 | UPDATED: 09:20 EST, 18 April 2012
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s British-born wife has been urged to ‘stop being a bystander’ and order her husband to stop the violence in a video released by the wives of two ambassadors.
The four-minute clip, posted on YouTube, alternates pictures of the stylish 36-year-old Asma Assad with horrific scenes of Syria’s conflict and its victims.
Graphic photographs of children killed or tortured in the more than year-long conflict in which more than 9,000 people have died also flash up.
Scroll down to see the video…
Graphic: The four-minute clip, posted on YouTube, alternates pictures of the stylish 36-year-old Asma Assad with horrific scenes of Syria’s conflict and its victims
Huberta von Voss-Wittig, wife of Germany’s UN Ambassador Peter Wittig, and Sheila Lyall Grant, wife of Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, created the video to put pressure on Asma.
They said in a letter accompanying the clip that ‘as a woman, wife, mother, champion of women’s equality, and formerly vocal female Arab leader, she cannot hide behind her husband’.
They also ask viewers to sign an online petition to Asma asking that she take a risk and ‘stand up for peace … for the sake of your people.’
The duo said: ‘Her public voice is needed’. And they noted that many female victims of the ongoing violence have taken the risk to speak out and stand up for their freedom.
Image: A letter accompanying the video says that Assad ‘cannot hide behind her husband’
‘We are asking Asma Assad to take a risk, too, and to say openly: Stop the bloodshed, stop it right now,’ they added.
In the video, subtitles flash up saying ‘Some women care for style… and some care for their people,’ in a reference to her frequent shopping trips to Europe.
WHO IS THE BRITISH-BORN WIFE OF SYRIA’S PRESIDENT?
Asma Assad, 36, grew up in Acton, West London where she was known as ‘Emma’.
She is the daughter of consultant cardiologist Fawaz Akhras and retired diplomat Sahar Otri, both Sunni Muslims.
They moved from Syria to London in the Fifties so that her father, who is now based at the Cromwell Hospital and in Harley Street, could get the best possible education and medical training.
Asma, who holds dual citizenship, British and Syrian, was educated at a Church of England school in Ealing before attending a private girls’ day school – Queen’s College, Harley Street.
From Queen’s, where she achieved four A-levels, Asma went to King’s College London to read Computer Science and take a diploma in French Literature.
She graduated with a First and, after six months of travelling, joined Deutsche Bank as an analyst in hedge-fund management.
She then moved to the investment bank JP Morgan and worked in Paris and New York, as well as London. On family holidays back in Syria, she met Bashar.
Then he, too, came to London to study ophthalmology, though he had to leave early to return to Syria after his elder brother Basil, who had been the heir, died in a car crash.
Asma started seeing him in secret, resigning from JP Morgan just a month before the wedding without being able to explain the real reason.
With her father, she has set up several London-based charities such as the Syria Heritage.
Vogue has described her as ‘the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies’ and has topped French Elle’s ‘most stylish woman in politics’ list.
In Damascus, Bashar and Asma now live in a flat with plate-glass windows and their three boys go to a Montessori school.
Asma speaks four languages and her connections with France have led her to persuade the Louvre to help her open Syrian cultural attractions.
‘Stand up for peace, Asma. Speak out now. For the sake of your people. Stop your husband,’ it demands. ‘Stop being a bystander. No one cares about your image. We care about your action.’
It includes a file clip of Asma, a former investment banker, telling an audience: ‘We should all be able to live in peace, stability and with our dignities.’ The video then asks: ‘What happened to you, Asma?’
Before the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the Assads often were spotted driving and riding bicycles in Damascus with their three children.
They live in an apartment in an upscale district of the capital, as opposed to a palatial mansion like other Arab leaders.
Asma played a key role in shoring up the image of the authoritarian regime, which the Assad family has controlled for four decades.
She was the subject of flattering profiles in Vogue and other fashion magazines. In 2009, The Sun introduced its readers to the ‘sexy Brit’ who was ‘bringing Syria in from the cold’.
But as Syria’s conflict worsened, the first lady has become an object of contempt for many, an image fueled by a trove of emails published in February by the Guardian purporting to be from the private accounts of Bashar and Asma Assad.
They revealed the first lady shopping online for crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin stilettos, expensive jewelry, custom-made furniture and other luxury goods as violence swept the country.
Emergence of the video came as Syrian forces today assaulted an opposition stronghold with a steady rain of mortar shells even though the foreign minister promised the regime would respect a week-old cease-fire and withdraw troops from urban centres in line with an international peace initiative.
A troop pullback is a key provision of special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end 13 months of bloodshed in Syria, but the regime has ignored last week’s deadline of getting tanks and troops off the streets.
Instead, Syrian soldiers continued to pound rebellious areas with artillery after an initial lull at the start the truce a week ago, raising growing international concerns that Annan’s plan will fail.
In the latest violence, regime forces fired mortar shells at the central city of Homs, sending thick gray smoke into the air as loud booms rang across residential areas.
Despite persistent violence in Homs and other cities, the international community is reluctant to declare the cease-fire dead, in part because it is seen as the only way to end bloodshed triggered by an uprising against Assad.
Despair: It features several clips of Asma Assad, with her husband and with her family
As part of Annan’s road map, a halt to fighting is to be followed by political talks between Assad and Syria’s opposition.
Other options, such as foreign military intervention, arming Assad’s opponents and economic sanctions, have either been discarded or offer no quick solution.
A deadlocked international community would be hard put to offer an alternative if it were to acknowledge the collapse of the cease-fire.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem insisted this morning that Syria is keeping its commitments.
Syria will ‘continue to cooperate’ with Annan’s efforts, the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Moallem as saying after he met with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.
Syria will ‘honour and implement Annan’s six-point proposal, fulfill its cease-fire, troop withdrawal and other relevant commitments and begin cooperation with the U.N. monitoring team,’ Moallem said according to the statement.
Comments: Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah (left) was interviewed by Julian Assange (right) via a video link
China, Russia and Iran have been Syria’s staunchest allies. UN Security Council members Russia and China have twice shielded the Assad regime from international condemnation, but also demanded that Syria comply with the Annan plan.
After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Moallem last week that Syria could do better, his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, urged his Syrian visitor Wednesday to make the Annan plan work.
Yang said he hoped Syria would ‘actively cooperate in putting in place the cease-fire monitoring mechanism, and sincerely embark on a process of inclusive political dialogue and reform to bring about a just, peaceful, and appropriate resolution to the Syrian question’.
Yang’s remarks were more pointed than in past, an indication that Beijing is looking for progress toward a reduction of violence that might dilute some of the criticism China has come under for blocking UN action on Syria.
Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was intensifying efforts to get a large contingent of observers on the ground to salvage the truce.
He said a team of 250 monitors, as originally envisioned, might not be sufficient for the job. He has also asked the European Union for planes and helicopters to make the mission more effective.
An advance team of half a dozen observers has been in Syria since the weekend. On Tuesday, the team went on its first field trip to the southern city of Daraa where the activists reported protracted fighting between rebel gunmen and Syrian soldiers.
On Wednesday, an explosion was heard in the city, followed by a gunbattle, said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, an activist group based in Britain.
The developments come the day after militant Lebanese group Hezbollah said it would be ‘more than happy’ to act as a mediator in a bid to help resolve the conflict.
The invitation was made by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader during an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
The interview, for Russia’s RT cable TV channel, was Nasrallah’s first in six years.
In it, he said his group ‘would be more than happy to mediate’ in a bid to reach a political solution to end the bloodshed, the BBC reported.
Despite Hezbollah backing Assad since the conflict started, Sheikh Nasrallah – who has led the Lebanese Shia Islamist group since the early 1990s – claimed the opposition were unwilling to negotiate.
According to the BBC he said in the interview: ‘We contacted the opposition early on but they refused any dialogue with the regime.
‘We’ll be more than happy to mediate, but we are asking others to make their effort to create a political solution.’
The interview, which was recorded several weeks ago, was conducted by videolink from a secret UK location, because Assange remains in the UK fighting extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.
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