As thousands die in Syria, Assad and his wife share sweet nothings on e-mail
by Judith Miller
On the Internet, he was known as "Sam." His wife of 12 years and mother of their three children signed on as "AAA," "Alia," or just "AL."
As Syrian protesters were being killed, tortured and jailed for demanding political reform and Syrian villages were being bombarded, Syrian president Bashar Assad was downloading iTunes and sending his wife video clips and lyrics of country music songs.
Meanwhile, his London-born wife, Asma Assad, was shopping. So many beautiful things to buy; so little time.
A cache of some 3,000 e-mails allegedly sent and received by the Syrian leader and his wife between last June and February, according to the Guardian newspaper of Britain, shows the cocoon of privilege, luxury, and denial in which the Assads have lived since Syria's uprising took root. The Guardian claims to have gotten the messages documenting eight months of presidential plotting and pillow talk from a mole in the president's office.
While the Guardian said it had only been able to confirm the authenticity of some of the e-mails the Syrian opposition has provided, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that she had no reason to doubt their authenticity.
"They really tell an amazing tale. Far from being detached from what his military is doing, Assad seems to take pride in the viciousness of his own security forces. And he seems to make fun of the idea of actually sitting down and talking with his people," Ms. Nuland said. "It really illustrates the character of this guy who – and why he has lost legitimacy not only in the eyes of his people, but in the eyes of the international community."
Some of the messages are jaw-dropping.
While Homs was enduring the worst shelling and bloodiest repression on record, Syria's commander-in-chief was downloading country music from iTunes and sending a Blake Shelton hit to his wife. "I've been a walking heartache. I've made a mess of me. The person that I've been lately. Ain't who I wanna be. But you stay here right beside me. Watch as the storm goes through. And I need you," the first verse goes, followed by the uplifting chorus: "God gave me you for the ups and downs. God gave me you for the days of doubt. For when I think I've lost my way. There are no words here left to say. It's true. God gave me you."
Bashar Assad may love Harry Potter, but the e-mails show he is no fan of Robert Ford, the American ambassador whom the State Department ordered out of Damascus this year.
In October, as the UN high commissioner for human rights was warning of a "full-blown civil war" in Syria, Assad was circulating an article on his iPad alleging that the American envoy was responsible for "recruiting Arab 'death squads' from Al Qaeda-affiliated units in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Chechnya to fight against Syrian military and police."
Nor is he apparently fond of anyone at Fox News or of its owner, News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch. In July, he sent Asma an article by an unhinged writer describing Mr. Murdoch as a "Jew" who is "more powerful" than Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and "pretty much" Satan.
Ditto Fox News itself, especially popular anchors Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, whom the same writer calls "ultra-nationalists" known to "support wars, plan terrorist acts, manipulate populations into strife and racism," and oh yes, "foster fear and panic, even financial ruin."
Though Asma Assad seems not to have sent her husband country music love songs, she seems determined to stand by her man.
In December, Syria's first lady sent her weak-chinned ophthalmologist-turned-dictator spouse a buck-up e-mail: "If we are strong together, we will overcome this together…I love you."
But much of her e-mail correspondence the Guardian obtained suggests that the 36-year old Asma, whom Vogue magazine described in last year's March issue as "glamorous, young, and very chic" and "the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," is more focused on shopping than politics.
At least 50 of her e-mails to the UK involve on-line shopping, including several to friends and relatives asked to place orders during sales for her. The e-mails show that Mrs. Assad – a "thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytical mind," said Vogue -- spent tens of thousands of dollars during these on-line shopping sprees on custom-made furniture from Chelsea boutiques, chandeliers, curtains and paintings, and of course, bling.
And like so many women, Vogue's "Rose in the Desert" apparently loves shoes. Her e-mails include an article heralding the arrival of a new collection of pumps by Christian Louboutin. "Does anything catch your eye?" she asked her friends, noting that a pair of crystal-encrusted 6 inch heels that cost 3,795 pounds a pair were "not made for general public."
Surely they will not be worn by the women of Homs buried in the rubble of houses, schools, and clinics destroyed by her husband's mortar rounds.
She seems unfazed by an e-mail this year from a friend, the daughter of the emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, who advises Asma that it is not too late for her and her husband to leave Syria and start a new life in exile – perhaps in Doha, the Qatari capital.
And in July, when she e-mailed her chinless spouse that she would be able to join him by 5 pm, he replies: "This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be." He will be sure to adopt this practice "instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media" and other measures he proposed when he cared about creating at least the appearance of political reform.
At least he got that much right.
Perhaps when the UN Security Council meets Friday to consider, yet again, whether to denounce Syria for its massacre of up to 10,000 of its citizens, members can read excerpts of the e-mails aloud.