Chris Brown Has a Big Fan in Bashar al-Assad: Syrian Leader's E-Mails Paint Portrait of Man Detached From Reality

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s so-called “private” e-mail has been hacked. It was an account he used unofficially, outside his capacity as President of Syria, for friends, family and close confidantes — even sharing it with his wife. In the account, it was hoped, would be a treasure trove of information on Assad’s psychology and, perhaps, evidence of him ordering those now-infamous massacres of innocents in various Syrian cities, including Homs.

However, this is not the case. Rather, the e-mails tell the tale of a man — and his spouse — living in a dream world, a world in which they continue to pretend that the walls are not caving in around them and that there is no blood upon their hands.

Innocuously called sam@alshabbab.com, the account’s e-mails chart events familiar to anyone in modern society. Internet shopping, iTunes receipts, links forwarded to friends, friendly hints from friends about life and career; so far so very harmless.

Yet, when looked at closely a totally different picture unfolds. The “advice” comes not from “Bob” or “Jim,” but from Iran and close political advisers. One advisor suggests Assad should use “powerful and violent language” to show appreciation of support received from “friendly states,” aka Iranian leadership. Iran, the line suggests, seems to be pushing Assad towards cracking down hard on the protests and cloaking it in angry rhetoric.

Another adviser suggests that blaming Al-Qaeda for a twin car bomb in Damascus would be unwise, as "This claim will [indemnify] the U.S. administration and Syrian opposition." The same adviser informs the president that they need to take control of public squares between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. to stop protesters gathering. The phrase “taking control” means military action will occur and consequent bloodshed will ensue.

Beyond politics, Assad, it seems, routinely shares links with his aides and friends. One link showed a montage re-enactment of the siege of Homs, using toy cars. The sender was the architect of the siege itself. It is another sinister trait in a man that was once hailed as a great reformer of Syria by Western nations.

Far more worryingly, Assad’s wife, Asma, is shown blithely carrying and spending on, as if life is entirely normal in Syria. She shops online — even buying candles, chandeliers, and tables from Paris — spending many thousands of dollars on clothes and jewelry, all this at a time many Syrians cannot afford bread to feed their own families. Sanctions do not seem to stop Assad’s music collecting either: an unnamed third-party with an American IP address allows him to shop for his favorite music on iTunes, circumventing tough U.S. sanctions. Apparently he likes Chris Brown.

Yet, other than showcasing catastrophic lack of judgment and taste, as well as opaque advice and political insensitivity — what do these e-mails show us?

Concretely, they tell us nothing; other than he rebuffed an indirect offer of Qatari exile.

We all know that Assad receives help and advice from Iran. That’s an open secret. Equally, we know that he lives in a world populated by advisers that tell him exactly what he wants to hear — as well with a wife that is spending Syria’s GDP on French chandeliers.

Where — we all shout — are the e-mails ordering the massacre of civilians in droves? Where are the orders to torture the civilians, doctors, aid-workers, NGO volunteers that get caught up on the violence? Where, after all, is the smoking gun?

There is none. It’s just a story of a man and his wife, divorced from reality and the consequences of their mutual actions. Sadly the only news for the Syrian people is that the despot who rules and oppresses them listens to Chris Brown as he watches Syria burn. 

Photo Credit: Oh.M.Gee

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Will Birch

Specialising in Maghreb affairs, William has lived and traveled throughout the MENA region.

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