Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons

Is it justified to strip the Syrian President’s wife of her British citizenship?

In the wake of the sarin gas attacks that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out on citizens in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province in Syria, killing at least 80 people, there have been calls from MPs to have the British citizenship of his wife, Asma al-Assad, removed. In the days following her husband’s attacks, the 41-year-old First Lady of Syria, who was born in Acton, West London, showed support for his actions on various social media accounts including Facebook and Instagram. The content of the posts included accusing the West of lying to its people, denying her husband’s use of chemical weapons in Syria and praising supporters of her husband’s regime and calling them ‘martyrs.’

Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, said in an interview that, ‘Mrs. Assad, being a dual citizen [of the UK and Syria] has been using her social media platform in support of this murderous regime and is a propagandist of his actions.’ Liberal Democrat affairs spokesman Tom Brake agreed with Zahawi, and declared that Asma al-Assad should ‘either stop using her position to defend barbaric acts or be stripped of her citizenship.’ In Syria it is estimated that half the population of the country have had to flee their homes and more than 400,000 citizens have died as a result of the regime of Asma al-Assad’s husband.

Asma al-Assad studied at King’s College London and is a former banker at J.P. Morgan, and her parents continue to live in London. She is by birth a British citizen, yet in 2012 she was placed under UK and EU sanctions which banned her from travelling to Europe and freezing any assets she has there. The only EU country she can now travel to is the UK because of her citizenship. It is within the rights of the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd to strip Assad of her British citizenship if the act is conducive to the good of British citizens. Assad could therefore remain a citizen of Syria, where she currently lives with her husband and their three children.

Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons, © 2003, some rights reserved.

Last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that, since becoming Home Secretary in 2010, Theresa May stripped 33 individuals of their British citizenship on the grounds of terror-related actions. Asma-al Assad’s recent social media posts show her support of her husband’s horrific regime of terror, specifically his sarin gas attacks earlier in April of which the effects on the men, women and children in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun were horrific. Support of her husband’s brutal and bloody regime of terror is a very strong reason to ban Assad from returning to the UK, where the elected government co-exists peacefully with its citizens.

President Assad’s rule in Syria could not possibly be more different. Does Asma al-Assad deserve a British citizenship given that she supports a barbaric and murderous regime, which is reviled by British politics? Does she deserve to have British citizenship when she could potentially be a threat to UK security? Although she has not carried out any attacks herself, Asma al-Assad has not spoken against her husband’s actions; on the contrary, she has made it very clear that she supports them.

Official records show that Asma al-Assad’s British passport will expire in 2020 and an increasing number of members of the Liberal Democrat party have asked for it not to be renewed and well as asking for a debate in the House of Commons to discuss the issue. However, the Home Office has not yet commented on whether they will take action against the Syrian First Lady. In a statement released by the Home Office, a spokesperson said that, ‘The Government takes its duty to protect the British public exceptionally seriously. We cannot discuss individual cases but the Home Secretary can deprive individuals of their citizenship where it is in the public interest to do so.’

Arguably, a British citizen should be patriotic towards, and supportive of, the United Kingdom. Yet, Asma al-Assad has made her views of the Western world clear. For example, in a 2016 interview she stated, ‘It is actually the West dividing our children in this conflict according to the political beliefs of their parents.’ For a woman born in Britain, her views towards her homeland are less than favourable. It is one thing to not be particularly patriotic towards the country in which you were born, and that itself is not a crime. But it is entirely another matter to pose a threat of terrorism to your home country, and that is what Asma al-Assad is coming dangerously close to doing.

There are arguably people who are far more deserving of a British citizenship than the unsympathetic, and potentially dangerous Asma al-Assad. She is a woman with much power and influence in the world stage, as the First Lady of Syria. She could undoubtedly use her position in a positive manner, to improve the lives of the impoverished and suffering citizens of Syria. The descriptions of the effects of the sarin gas attacks on the town were horrific, with reports of citizens including young children experiencing seizures and foaming at the mouth. Yet instead she is using it to further her husband’s murderous administration. If there were ever an example of ‘guilty by association,’ Asma’s lack of condemnation of her husband’s actions, and indeed virtual support of them, show that she would be the epitome of the oft-said phrase.

The main issue is the weighing up of the safety of all British citizens versus the birthright of one British citizen, Asma al-Assad. But given that in a 2016 interview she told Russia 24 that ‘I’ve been here [in Syria] since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all,’ it would be of little disadvantage to her to strip her of her citizenship but would be a major advantage concerning the safety and security of the British people.

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