Asma al-Assad, Suzanne Mubarak, More Dictators’ Wives (PHOTOS)

Asma al-Assad is defending her husband’s brutal crackdown in Syria. See more despots’ first ladies.

Gerard Creles, AFP / Getty images

Gerard Creles, AFP / Getty images

Asma al-Assad

Asma al-Assad might have lived most of her life in England, but she is married to one of the most brutal dictators in the world: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Asma has remained mostly quiet as her husband’s forces continue to decimate the city of Homs, killing hundreds. But she recently waded into the fray, sending an email to journalists defending her husband. She reportedly wrote that her husband is “the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role.” Asma, the daughter of a Syrian cardiologist, moved to Syria after she married Assad in 2000. Known more for being a mom and her personal sense of style, Asma hasn’t let a little thing like political unrest keep her from looking her best. A Vogue profile noted that she is well dressed, often appearing in $700 Louboutins.

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Safia Gaddafi

Safia Farkash married Muammar Gaddafi in the early 1970s. They met when he had appendicitis and she was his nurse. His second wife, Safia gave birth to seven children. The union was a lucrative one for her, garnering her an airline and a reported 20 tons of gold. In the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing tragedy in 1988, it was revealed that she was worth about $30 billion.

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Suzanne Mubarak

Suzanne Mubarak didn’t sit idly by as her husband, Hosni, drove Egypt into the ground and persecuted millions. Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, Suzanne is seen by many as the driving force behind her husband, especially in the later years of his dictatorship, when he seemed aloof and spent more time vacationing. For years, she was feted as an international do-gooder, receiving multiple awards from Johns Hopkins University and a goodwill ambassadorship for the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization. But in May, she was arrested for corruption—essentially for stealing more than $3 million from the people of Egypt. The charges were dropped, but the fairy tale was over.

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Imelda Marcos

Imelda Marcos grew up a poor country girl from the hinterlands of the Philippine archipelago, but she more than made up for her childhood poverty during her husband Ferdinand's 20-year reign as dictator of the Philippines. The unrepentant former beauty queen and her authoritarian husband made off with billions of dollars from the Philippines' coffers and enjoyed lavish estates numbering in the dozens, from the island of Luzon to Manhattan. Imelda is best known, of course, for her collection of footwear: When she and Ferdinand were run out of the country in 1986, she left behind her shoe collection, totaling around 2,700 pairs.

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Grace Mugabe

Grace Mugabe, the first lady of Zimbabwe, may refer to herself as the "mother of the nation," but among locals—when the secret police aren't listening in—she's known as "Dis Grace." Despite ruling over one of the poorest countries in the world with her husband, Robert, Grace Mugabe often goes on shopping binges while staying in swanky foreign hotels and owns luxury property in Hong Kong. (The couple reportedly have plans to evacuate to China if the people of Zimbabwe ever force them out of office.) After WikiLeaks' leaked diplomatic cables revealed that Grace Mugabe "reaped tremendous profits" from the country's violence and abuse-plagued diamond mines, Mrs. Mugabe recently sued a leading Zimbabwean newspaper for $15 million in damages.

Elena Ceauşescu

The wife of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was feted by a state-orchestrated personality cult, but all the proclamations and honorary degrees she amassed couldn't save her from the wrath of the Romanian people. After the Romanian revolution, she and Nicolae were apprehended as they tried to flee the country. They were put through a public show trial, then executed on Christmas Day 1989. The Romanians' wrath was, perhaps, understandable—at Elena's urging, Nicolae banned abortion and mandated that women have a minimum of four, then five children. The policy created a generation of emotionally and physically fractured children who grew up in state-run orphanages. The kids' poor health was treated with mass blood transfusions, which spread AIDS throughout the orphan population.

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Michele Bennett

A rule of thumb for despots' wives who don't want to be hated: If you're first lady of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, don't become one of the richest women in the world. Michele Bennett is the former wife of Jean-Claude Duvalier, better known as " Baby Doc," the dictator of Haiti from 1980 to 1986. Bennett wielded unusual political influence during her reign as first lady and became notorious for her lavish shopping trips. Her marriage to Baby Doc cost $3 million (the fireworks alone were $100,000). Bennett and her husband were run out of the country in 1986 and were divorced several years later. There is no indication that she joined Baby Doc in his recent dramatic return to Haiti.

Jiang Qing

Known as Madame Mao, or the first lady of communism, Jiang Qing was just as politically powerful and feared as her husband. Qing had a successful acting career in her twenties, when she was known as "Lán Píng." After several marriages to directors and businessmen, Qing met Mao at the country's communist headquarters, where there was a protest of the invasion of Japan. Though Mao was already married, the two wed in 1938 and Qing signed a contract stipulating that she would not appear in public because of her husband's other wife. The two had a daughter, and Qing worked for Mao as his personal secretary. Eventually she moved up in the ranks to become the architect of the Cultural Revolution. After Mao died, in 1976, Qing was sentenced to death but, the sentence was later reduced to life in prison. She was diagnosed with throat cancer but refused medication. She was released in 1991 to get medical treatment, but 10 days later she committed suicide.

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Eva Peron

Nearly 60 years after her death, Eva Peron continues to fascinate: Was she the "Standard-Bearer of the Poor," as she was known in Argentina, or "The Woman with the Whip," as her detractors often described her? Eva Peron married Colonel Juan Peron a year before he became president of Argentina, and during the first six years of his reign, she was virtually co-ruler of the country and held a number of important positions, including head of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare of Argentina. Peron considered herself to be the "Mother of Argentina" and even refused to have a hysterectomy when diagnosed with uterine cancer. She died in 1952 at the age of 33, and Peron's undignified fall from power took place only three years later—but many in Argentina look back fondly on the time when the couple reigned. As Cristina Álvarez Rodríguez, director of the government-supported Eva Perón National Historical Research Institute, said in 2002, "In Evita's time, Argentina knew what it was as a country and occupied a position of dignity and respect in the world. Today we are living in a breakdown that makes us rethink who we are."