Syria’s Bashar al-Assad says his wife is pregnant

January 28, 2013

Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, second from right, meets the Spanish royal family in this 2010 photo. Her husband., President Bashar al-Assad is second from left. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is embroiled in a now two-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands, gave a cheery interview to unnamed "visitors," as reported by a sympathetic newspaper, in which he offhandedly revealed that his wife is pregnant. Asma al-Assad, the 37-year-old, British-born young mother of three (now four?), was warmly profiled in Vogue's February 2011 issue for her style and flair; shortly after, she was placed under severe economic sanctions by the European Union for her role in state abuses.

Bashar al-Assad let the news slip in a recent talk with mysteriously anonymous "visitors," who relayed his comments to the Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper, an aggressive outlet often described as aligned with such anti-Western movements as Hezbollah. He mostly spent the interview insisting, against all evidence, that his regime was sure of imminent victory in the country's civil war and that the resistance came purely from foreign-funded extremists. The article also strained to show Assad as coolly confident, including by apparently confirming rumors of his wife's pregnancy:

On the personal level, the man seems calm and in control. His confidence level stands out. Also, there’s the news of the pregnancy of his wife Asmaa, which could not be dealt with as a simple personal matter between a couple.

Past rumors have suggested that Assad became pregnant in June. According to the Jordan-based al-Bawaba news site, a Syrian outlet named Akhbar Shabab Soriya (Syria Youth News) reported in November that she was five months pregnant. If any of this is true, it would suggest that she is due in March.

June 2012 would have been a difficult time for the Assad family to add a new member. That month, the violence became so bad – and cooperation from the Syrian authorities so frustratingly poor – that the United Nations formally withdrew its monitoring mission from the country. A Turkish jet also went down near the border, sparking fears of an all-out war. The next month, rebels took responsibility for a massive explosion in the capital city's national security building, which killed top-level officials.

I struggled to find another example of a military leader who had done this during a civil war or national uprising like Syria's. And the examples of what happens to such leadership families when their side loses this sort of conflict can be disquieting. The Russian Czar's family was mostly killed after the 1917 revolution. The leaders of Soviet-era states such as Romania and East Germany were banished along with their wives. Hosni Mubarak's children have faced criminal accusations; Moammar Gaddafi's have either been killed, imprisoned, or scattered to remote and warily sympathetic states such as Niger.

If the story about his wife's pregnancy is true, maybe Bashar al-Assad really does believe what he says about his popularity and impending victory.

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Max Fisher | January 28, 2013