Posted by Joshua on Monday, March 26th, 2012
Asma, the EU, and Damocles
By Cicero, for Syria Comment, 3. 23. 2012
The EU has issued the 13th round of sanctions against Syria since the eruption of violence in the country almost one year ago. The latest target the First Lady of Syria, Asma Al Assad by freezing her assets and banning her from travel in EU countries.
This is a senseless act against a person who is not part of the Syrian government, about of whom The French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevallier, said a mere year ago, “She managed to get people to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides”.
British -born, and educated, she moved to Syria in 2000 the year her husband assumed the presidency. Those who know her describe her first few years in Syria as traveling incognito throughout the country, visiting the poorest villages, trying to identify what defined Syria and how she in her new role as First Lady, could make a positive impact.
She saw Syria’s strength in its diversity of religion and ethnicity, but was dismayed by the dominant role the government played in the lives of its citizens.
Through a large network of National NGOs like Masar, Shabab, and Firdos, she worked to empower Syrians to take ownership of their future as well as to boost entrepreneurship. She focused her efforts on the young and the poor. With the aim of sustaining economically healthy and independent communities in the rural areas, she promoted micro credit, and in 2007 Syria became the first country in the region to introduce legislation that provided secure regulation for the micro-finance sector. In 2008 the First Lady was awarded the Gold Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic for her commitment to inclusive economic growth and sustainable development in the Arab World.
Through another national NGO, Rawafed, the First Lady encouraged Syrian youth to participate in contemporary cultural activities. The last project she embarked upon before the recent unrest was to bring together the public and private sectors, along with the NGOs and international partners to launch a cultural initiative that promised to transform Syria’s museums and its heritage sites into world-class venues.
And in response to the violence and the tragic loss of life, she has for the past year engaged multiple community and NGO groups in an effort to foster a program of reconciliation in the affected areas. And she continues to visit and support the NGOs working in the poorest parts of the country.
Focusing on her alleged recent purchases of fashion and luxury items distracts from the great work she has done, and continues to do today. Even if the e-mail leaks are true, one has to note that in all of the First lady’s public appearances since the break out of violence she was proper in dress and demeanor. Ironically, however, her sense of style, grace and understated elegance were seen by many both inside and outside the Arab World as the embodiment of the modern Arab woman: smart and stylish.
Syria is a complicated country, with a rich cultural heritage that is the result of the intermingling of the many religions and ethnicities, customs, beliefs, habits, ideas and values left behind by all the civilizations that have passed through and made Syria their home over thousands of years. It is at the nexus of the most heated schism our world faces today, between Iran, and Saudi Arabia, between Christianity and Islam, between East and West, and between Arabs and Israelis.
The European diplomats in Brussels are intervening in the affairs of Syria, standing side by side with the autocratic leaders of the Gulf. It would do them well to read the parable of “The Sword of Damocles”. A sense of peril always hangs over the heads of those who wield power, but particularly in the Middle East, where nationhood is so contested. Sanctions, in general, will not help bring peace to Syria. They hurt the most vulnerable and least guilty of oppression hardest. Placing sanctions on Asma al-Assad, who tried to improve Syria for both the poor and women, is also misplaced.