Amal Alamuddin, who married George Clooney on Saturday, is smart, beautiful and, by all accounts, a cracker-jack human rights attorney. Clooney, by contrast, is a 50-something (former) bachelor with a history of commitment issues. So why has much of the press focused on her “landing” him and not the other way around? Those in the international circles in which they travel say Clooney is lucky to have her.
Born to Lebanese Druze parents in 1978 during the height of the Lebanese Civil War, she and her family left for London when she was 2 years old. Her mother, Baria Alamuddin, is an award-winning journalist and foreign editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, while her father is a retired professor from American University of Beirut.
Alamuddin studied law at both NYU’s Law School and at Oxford, where she earned her degree in 2000. While at NYU, she was a student law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and later clerked for three years at the International Court of Justice.
She has since become an accomplished and feisty human rights lawyer. In London, she has practiced at the Doughty Street Chambers firm and represented the likes of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She has worked in the Office of the Prosecutor at the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
She has also been an appointed to several U.N. panels, where she has acted as an adviser to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan on Syria and was counsel on the 2013 inquiry into the use of U.S. armed drones in counter-terrorism operations in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
This year, after the latest Israel-Gaza war, she was reportedly invited to join the U.N.’s commission investigating possible war crimes in Gaza, but turned down the appointment.
“I am honored to have received the offer, but given existing commitments—including eight ongoing cases—unfortunately could not accept this role,” she said in a statement at the time. “I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavors.”
She was named London’s hottest barrister by hit legal blog Your Barrister Boyfriend, which declared her to be “both breathtakingly beautiful and formidably successful.” As a “source close to Clooney” reportedly told People magazine this year, Alamuddin is “on his level”—if not a cut above.
That might be understating things a bit. With her experience in human rights and connections around the world, the Clooney-Alamuddin pair could be especially formidable. Clooney, who is respected as much for his political savvy as for his Hollywood superstardom, has been active in humanitarian campaigns abroad, most notably in Darfur and South Sudan, and wrote about the plight of newly independent South Sudan for The Daily Beast. He also launched a monitoring program directed at the border of northern and southern Sudan “to keep an eye on” Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese dictator charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The program, Satellite Sentinel Project, is designed to document and deter atrocities against civilians.
Alamuddin has been at the center of controversies in her career, too. In addition to defending Assange, she also defended Abdullah al Senussi, Muammar Qaddafi’s spy chief of four decades before the International Criminal Court. While she was criticized for defending a man charged with crimes against humanity, she seemed to be defending the reputation of the ICC as well as upholding the principle that everyone deserves a defense attorney.
“A scary precedent has been set,” she told the Observer back in May. “The ICC made its decision despite the fact that Libya did not allow us a single visit to Senussi.”
“The whole point of the ICC is to be there when national systems can’t do the job,” she added. “Instead, it is giving a flawed, dangerous process the stamp of approval.”
Alamuddin is such a well-respected lawyer that, shortly after the couple announced their engagement, Josephine Tovey wrote in The Age that it should be Clooney who “should be thanking his lucky stars, having snagged one of Britain’s most eligible bachelorettes.”
“If our world was one that valued achievements in education, politics and human rights as much as it did celebrity, headlines around the world would have this week screamed: ‘Sorry boys—Amal is taken,’” she wrote.