UN wives urge Asma Assad to stand up for peace

In YouTube clip, wives of the British and German UN envoys ask Syrian first lady to speak up, stop the violence

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma (photo credit: AP/Michel Spingler/File)
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma (photo credit: AP/Michel Spingler/File)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations released a video Tuesday urging the wife of Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop being a bystander and speak out to demand that her husband stop the violence now.

The video asks viewers to sign an online petition to Asma Assad asking that she take a risk and “stand up for peace … for the sake of your people.”

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, said in a letter accompanying the video that as a woman, wife, mother, champion of women’s equality, and formerly vocal female Arab leader, “she cannot hide behind her husband.”

“Her public voice is needed,” they said, noting that many female victims of the ongoing violence have taken the risk to speak out and stand up for their freedom.

“We are asking Asma Assad to take a risk, too, and to say openly: Stop the bloodshed, stop it right now,” Voss-Wittig and Lyall Grant said.

The video alternates pictures of the stylish 36-year-old British-born Asma with scenes of Syria’s conflict and its victims, including graphic pictures of children who have been killed or injured in the more than year-long conflict in which more than 9,000 people have died according to the United Nations.

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, Britain’s top-selling tabloid 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 London’s Guardian newspaper purported 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.

The four-minute video — a “Dear Asma” letter — starts out saying “some women are for style” against a photo of the beautifully coiffed first lady wearing designer sunglasses, “and some women care for their people” against a photo of a woman cradling a child surrounded by many other youngsters.

It says “some women have forgotten what they preached about peace” followed by a clip of Asma telling a group of young people “we should all be able to live in peace, stability and with our dignity.”

“One day, our children will ask us what we have done to stop this bloodshed. What will your answer be Asma?,” the video asks.

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