Profile: Asma Assad

British born Asma Assad, 36, reportedly called ‘Emma’ by her friends, was brought up in West Acton, London.

The daughter of a Harley Street consultant, Sahar Al-Akhras, her parents are believed to be Sunni Muslims of Syrian origin from Homs. Her mother, Fawaz Al-Akhras served as first secretary at the Syrian embassy in London.

Mrs Assad attended Twyford Church of England high school in Acton before enrolling at Queen’s College London school, an independent girls’ school.

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Now fluent in four languages, she studied at King’s College London university, graduating in 1996 with a first class honours degree in Computer Science and a Diploma in French Literature.

After university she spent six months travelling, both in the Far East and in Europe.

In 1997 she started working for Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (now Deutsche Bank) as an analyst. In 1998, she joined the investment banking division of JP Morgan, working in London, Paris and New York.

Her career in banking came to an abrupt end two years later when in December 2000, she returned to Syria and married President Bashar Al-Assad whom she had met in the UK.

President Al-Assad had moved to the UK in 1992 to study ophthalmology. It was reportedly during this time that the pair developed a relationship.

The couple have three children, Hafez, 10, Zein, 8, and Kareem, 7.

Mrs Assad has played a relatively prominent public role in Syria. In 2001 she established the country’s first rural development NGO and she has since been vocal about improving the lives of Syria’s women and children.

In 2008 she received the Arab First Lady Award from the Arab Woman Participation Studies Centre.

In the same year she received the Gold Medal of the Presidency of The Italian Republic for her humanitarian work.

Mrs Assad received the prize during the Pio Manzu International Conference where she delivered a keynote speech on poverty.

Mrs Assad has an honorary degree in archaeology from La Sapienza university in Rome.

Her interest in fashion has also been highly publicised. Vogue magazine published a profile of Mrs Assad in its Spring 2011 issue entitled ‘A rose in the desert’.

In thousands of personal emails apparently intercepted by the Syrian opposition and published in newspapers earlier this month Mrs Assad demonstrated a love of expensive furniture, fine jewellery and Christian Louboutin shoes.

In one email she was reported to have ordered 35,000 euro (£29,260) worth of furniture and candlesticks from a Paris boutique.

Mrs Assad has been hosted by prominent politicians and royals including the Queen and former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In 2002, while on a state visit to the UK with her husband, she visited her former school, Queens College London, to meet her old teachers and tour the computing department.

In February this year Mrs Assad broke her silence about the uprising in Syria with an email sent via an intermediary to The Times. It stated: “The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role.”

“The First Lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with and rural development as well as supporting the President as needed.”