She is 40 now, and has spent nearly half her life as one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, first as the First Lady, then Senator, secretary of state and now Democratic nominee for the White House. And in full media glare.
But Huma Abedin, an American of Indian and Pakistani descent whose emails may have immersed her boss in renewed controversy, is still described as “mysterious”, as she was in the first news profiles of her as a Clintonworld power-player.
In between came and went a highly publicised marriage to an ambitious New York politician, Anthony Weiner, who has turned himself into a caricature of his last name misspelt, through repeated episodes of texting explicit images of himself.
Abedin remained “mysterious” through all this, as she was described in a gushy profile in the New York Observer in 2007, while an aide to Senator Clinton; she was also called “mythical”.
Ten years later, in 2016, Abedin was introduced in a Newsweek article as the “mysterious Clinton confidante whose emails might change history”.
That’s an incredibly long run for a mystery.
Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1976 to Indian-descent father, Syed Zainul Abedin, who was from Delhi and went to Aligarh Muslim University, and Pakistan-descent mother, Saleha Mahmood Abedin. The family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, when Abedin was 2.
She was 18 when she returned to the US to study at George Washington University. Two years later, she joined the White House as an intern in the East Wing, the residential section, around the same time another intern, Monica Lewinsky, took her place in the West Wing, the executive section, and history.
Abedin was a junior member of Hillary Clinton’s staff and got closer once the Clintons left the White House, and others in the team moved on.
By 2007, Abedin was fully in charge of Clinton’s schedule.
She had by now acquired a reputation of her own as well. She was always well-turned out, liked designer bags and outfits, which, people noticed, she rarely repeated. Oscar de La Renta was a personal friend, who, he told Observer, “loved” Abedin.
And the young woman was also smart. “I’d call Huma one in a million,” Clinton’s press secretary, Philippe Reines, told the Observer then, “but that would mean there are 5,999 others in the world just like her, and there simply aren’t. She is truly one of a kind, one in a billion. We are all in awe of her poise, grace, judgment, intellect and her seemingly endless reserve of kindness, patience and energy.”
When Clinton ran first for president in 2008, Abedin was by her side as the nominee’s “body woman”, a personal aide who carries everything from chewing gum to the boss’s cellphone, and travelling chief of staff.
And she followed Clinton to the state department as her deputy chief of staff, an assignment that would bring her into the harsh glare of public limelight, turning her into a target with her boss.
Some Republicans accused her, without evidence, of links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Abedin would soon find herself embroiled in nearly every controversy as her boss — the emails, the Clinton Foundation — and she was summoned to testify before a committee of the House of Representatives investigating the killing for four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2011.
Abedin, who has called been a “surrogate daughter” of the Clintons, has been unflinchingly loyal to them, as have they been to her during her troubles about her husband.
There have been reports that some advisers want Clinton to distance herself from her aide after the renewed email controversy. But Abidin appears safe for now.