x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Assad emails: callous exchanges in time of Syrian uprising

Amid the slaughter in Homs, President Bashar Al Assad and his wife Asma appear insulated by reality.

Syrians wave national flags and portraits of President Bashar Al Assad in support of the regime on the first anniversary of the anti-regime revolt in Damascus.
Syrians wave national flags and portraits of President Bashar Al Assad in support of the regime on the first anniversary of the anti-regime revolt in Damascus.

LONDON // Amid the slaughter in Homs, President Bashar Al Assad shared a YouTube video with one of his advisers lampooning Arab League monitors visiting the city, portraying them as the incompetent "Fat Controller" from the Thomas the Tank Engine books.

In another message allegedly hacked from the president's personal email account, Mr Al Assad mocks his own proposals for electoral reform, while his wife, Asma, appears to receive an offer of sanctuary in Qatar as the couple are urged to go into exile by a daughter of the emir.

The British-born Asma seems to have responded to the crisis by scouring the internet for Harry Potter DVDs; spent more than €12,000 (Dh57,000) on candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from France; asked her cousin to get four necklaces made in a Paris workshop; and instructed an aide to order a fondue set from the Amazon website.

A Dubai-based company, Al Shahba, which also has a registered office in London, is named in the emails as a conduit for Syrian government business and for Mrs Al Assad's purchases, Britain's The Guardian reported quoting a cache of 3,000 personal emails said to have been sent by and to Syria's first couple.

Supplied to the newspaper by members of the Supreme Council of the Revolution, the hacked emails, dated between June and last month, apparently show the president getting advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising.

Another shows that, as the siege at Homs got underway in earnest last month, he was sending Asma an email quoting a verse from country and western singer Blake Shelton's song God Gave Me You.

"The documents, which emerge on the first anniversary of the rebellion that has seen more than 8,000 Syrian civilian killed, paint a portrait of a first family remarkably insulated from the mounting crisis and continuing to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle," said The Guardian.

"The Guardian has made extensive efforts to authenticate the emails by checking their contents against established facts and contacting 10 individuals whose correspondence appears in the cache. These checks suggest the messages are genuine, but it has not been possible to verify every one" it said.

"The president's disregard for the Arab League is illustrated in the video he shared with Hadeel Al Ali, his media adviser, in December as the organisation's monitors arrived in the country.

"Check out this video on YouTube," Mr Al Assad says in his covering email. The animated video depicts a monitor as the Fat Controller who is unable to detect a tank disguised as a car in Homs, where a crumbling building is made of biscuits.

Ms Al Ali responds in an email: "Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!! This is amazing!"

In a separate email, Ms Al Ali tells the president that she has had "consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador".

On the basis of this, she recommends Mr Al Assad should use "powerful and violent" language in an upcoming speech and suggests the regime "leak more information related to our military capability" to try to convince rebels they will be crushed by military might.

In an email to his wife, Mr Al Assad is also dismissive of the constitutional reforms he said he was introducing.

Responding to a message from Asma saying she would meet him at 5pm, he says: "This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media."

His wife also features in a lengthy exchange of emails with Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, a daughter of the emir of Qatar.

In one at the end of January, she suggests to Mrs Al Assad that the presidential couple leave Syria and hints they could be offered exile in Qatar.

"Just been following the latest developments in Syria," says the email. "In all honesty, looking at the tide of history and the escalation of recent events, we've seen two results - leaders stepping down and getting political asylum or leaders being brutally attacked.

"I honestly think this is a good opportunity to leave and restart a normal life. I only pray that you will convince the president to take this an opportunity to exit without having to face charges. The region needs to stabilise, but not more than you need peace of mind. I am sure you have many places to turn to, including Doha."

There has been no response to the leaks by the Syrian government.