- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
The Guardian appears to have come across a major scoop: a cache of 3,000 emails written by Syrian regime insiders, including President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. The e-mails were reportedly leaked to a Syrian opposition group by "a mole in the president’s inner circle," and many of them were verified to the Guardian by a number of people whose emails appear in the cache. The emails also include information — family photographs, Assad’s identity card, and a family member’s birth certificate — that would be difficult to fake.
The emails paint a picture of a Syrian leadership that is more bumbling and oblivious than villainous: On the day after the Syrian military began shelling the city of Homs, for example, Bashar sent Asma a video of country crooner Blake Shelton’s song God Gave Me You. A look at the president’s iTunes purchases also shows that he purchased the iPad game Real Racing 2 in February and is a fan of American singer Chris Brown.
The Assads also apparently communicate in an informal English rather than Arabic. In one email, Asma, to express her detail that Assad said he would be home at 5 p.m., writes: "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…"
The e-mails also provide hints of Iranian involvement in the efforts to suppress the uprising that has threatened Assad’s rule for the past year. At one point, a media advisor provides Assad with a long memo ahead of a speech in December, saying that the points covered had been cased on consultations with "the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador." The same memo urges Assad to employ "powerful and violent" language to attack foreign influence on Syrian affairs.
But it’s the pervasive sense that the Assads are out of touch that shines through in the e-mails, beyond anything else. Perhaps Vogue had it right all along: Asma is apparently an Internet shopaholic, buying enough luxury items to stock a Tom Wolfe novel: Necklaces of amethyst, diamond, and onyx; a Ming Luce vase; and roughly $15,000 worth of candlesticks, tables, and chandeliers — all while the country was falling apart around her.
But while the Assads may be out of touch, it appears that at least some in their inner circle understands the gravity of the situation. In response to one e-mail from Asma about a pair of $4,000 Christian Louboutin heels, one friend replied: "I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately."