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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Asma Al Assad diagnosed with breast cancer  

Syrian First Lady is pictured smiling next to her husband in a hospital room

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad sitting next to his wife Asma Al Assad with an IV in her left arm in what appears to be a hospital room, in Syria. AP
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad sitting next to his wife Asma Al Assad with an IV in her left arm in what appears to be a hospital room, in Syria. AP

Syria’s First Lady Asmaa Al Assad has begun treatment for cancer, state media reported on Wednesday.

A statement released by the Syrian Presidency said “the first lady begun the first stage treatment for a malignant tumour of the breast which was discovered early”.

Mrs Al Assad, 42, is seen in a photograph published by the Presidency’s Twitter account, smiling and sitting next to her husband President Bashar Al Assad in what appears to be a hospital room.

Public announcements disclosing personal matters of political elites are uncommon in the Arab world.

The presidency did not specify where the first lady was being treated, but the word "military" was printed on a blanket visible in the picture, indicating she was likely in a government-run military hospital.

While the pair were tipped as potential reformers when Al Assad took office in 2000, the changes never appeared. In the early days of the Syrian war after 2011, many suggested Ms Al Assad was ignorant of the decisions her husband was taking. In a video in 2012, the British and German ambassadors to the UN appealed to her to speak out against the violence.

The idea she doesn’t know the extent of brutal war has now largely been discounted.

In a now infamous interview with Vogue magazine in February 2012 – as the government had begun cracking down on the months-old uprising – Ms Al Assad was described as “a rose in the desert” and "wildly democratic."

Just six months later, the writer of the Vogue story, Joan Juliet Buck, would describe Ms Al Assad again in a story for The Telegraph. In her account of the meeting and Syria’s subsequent plunge into devastating war, Ms Buck said she now saw Ms Al Assad as the “first lady of hell.”

Born in 1975, the British-born former investment banker styled herself as a progressive rights advocate and was seen as the modern side of the Assad dynasty.

While she has been largely out of the public eye throughout the early years of the conflict, recently she has been regally pictured undertaking heavily staged charity work that received significant coverage in government-run media.

Ms Al Assad was born and raised in London to Syrian parents before moving back to Syria after meeting the president.

She married Al Assad in 2000 and the pair have three children.