x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Emails reveal Assad's guilty inner circle

The emails sent by members of the Assad inner circle identify supporters who are complicit in the regime's crimes. More pressure should be brought to bear.

The cache of leaked emails from members of Bashar Al Assad's inner circle, reported last week by The Guardian, left the world tittering over Syria's ruling family's shopping habits, musical tastes and connections with Iran.

But the more than 3,000 emails, from a period between last June and early February, also reveal the enormous gulf between Syria's president and "his" people. The coterie of loyalists and sycophants around the Assads are, we have long known, mainly from the family's own Alawite sect. But what snaps clearly into focus with these emails is how far the whole inner elite is separated from the 22.5 million Syrians whom they are subjecting to bloodshed and economic decline.

Consider two advisers who figure prominently in the emails: Hadeel Al Ali and Sheherazad Jaafari, young women with US experience who work as media advisers for Mr Al Assad. Ms Jaafari is the daughter of Syria's ambassador to the UN; Ms Al Ali is a US-educated Alawite. The emails show them advising Mr Al Assad ("the dude", as Ms Al Ali refers to him) on ways to manipulate western media.

Such people, no less than the military officers at the top of Mr Al Assad's carefully separated security services, have kept this regime in place, leaving the family free to concentrate on ordering fondue sets online while artillery units pound dissident cities.

The regime is not yet obviously teetering, although car bombs at government sites in Damascus yesterday may signal the opening of a new, worrying phase in the uprising. But it is not too soon to consider what should happen, eventually, to those trusted officers, and to those well-placed media spokespeople and political advisers.

As we have suggested before, international exposure and scrutiny of the several hundred people just below the family in the Assad hierarchy is a promising tool that the world can use to end the slaughter by dislodging the president.

As these intimate supporters of a hopelessly discredited regime come to realise that their role will leave them shunned and shamed around the world, if not imprisoned or worse, then their consciences may yet emerge from hibernation.

If that leads them to change sides now, or at least abandon the regime, they may not earn forgiveness but they will at least have ended their complicity in Syria's ordeal.