The Syrian presidential office reported this week that President Bashar al-Assad’s wife has been diagnosed and started treatment for the early stages of breast cancer. The presidential social media accounts publicly stated that, “Asma al-Assad is beginning the first stage of treatment for a malignant tumor in the breast that was discovered at an early stage.” The social media post was paired with a photograph of the Asma al-Assad dressed in casual clothing, seated in a hospital chair being given an intravenous drip via her hand. President Bashar al-Assad sat by her side as the two looked at each other simultaneously smiling. The President’s media team did not elaborate as to the first lady’s condition or her whereabouts. A blanket in the picture with the word “military” printed on it indicates they were at a government-run military medical facility.

Asma al-Assad was born in the United Kingdom in 1975 and was well-off in her upbringing. As a former investment banker, the first lady had fashioned her image as a progressive human rights activist. She was viewed as the modern touch that the Assad regime’s hierarchy lacked in its early stages and, for the most part, has been respected by the country’s citizens. Asma al-Assad  took great effort to avoid public appearances during her initial years as the first lady and electoral wife. Despite that, in the past two years, she has made serious efforts to catch public attention as a face of charity events as well as humanitarian aid events. Her mother is a diplomat and her father is a cardiologist; her and President Assad have a daughter and two sons together.

The Assad regime has faced a great deal of turmoil in the last few years, making enemies of the United States while simultaneously forming an alliance with Russia in the process. The regime faced serious scrutiny during the controversial chemical gas attacks earlier this year which President Assad claimed were staged and that no real concrete evidence was presented. The United States retaliated with targeted missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons production facilities. After that, very little has been heard from the regime or its ally in regards to the United States and the region, perhaps signaling an under the table agreement of sorts.

Featured image: This photo posted Wednesday, Aug 8, 2018, on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, shows the first lady Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, carrying her laptop in one hand and a cup in her left, bandaged, arm. Syria’s presidency said that the first lady has begun treatment for breast cancer. The statement said the “malignant tumor” was discovered in its early stages. Such announcements are uncommon in the Arab world. | Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency via AP