Leaked Al-Assad Emails Reveal Lavish Lifestyle, Jokes About Reform

From the Syrian dictator’s iTunes habits to mocking Arab League monitors, what the leaked emails expose.

Fotonoticias / Getty Images

Al-Assad and Wife Asma Live in a Gilded Bubble

As protests raged around them and Syria’s military killed thousands of civilians, President Bashar al-Assad and his British-born wife were seemingly living in a diamond-encrusted bubble. The emails—spanning June 2011 to early February 2012, intercepted by members of the opposition, and published in The Guardian—reveal that Asma al-Assad spent tens of thousands of dollars shopping on the Internet, ordering chandeliers, curtains, and art from London boutiques that were shipped to the Middle East. Emails from July document jewelry and more than $10,000 worth of décor ordered from Paris. With the exception of friends and family, suppliers didn’t know they were doing business with the wife of a brutal dictator. Meanwhile, said brutal dictator kept busy online as well, buying music and games for his iPad on iTunes under a disguised account, sidestepping U.S. sanctions against him in doing so. While she delighted in designer shoes and jewels, he got his jollies from watching YouTube clips, including one from America’s Got Talent, which he emailed to his wife along with cheesy song lyrics.

Iran Gave Advice on al-Assad Speech

In preparation for a speech al-Assad delivered in January, an aide sought advice in consultations with “a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador.” Drawing on these exchanges, he encouraged al-Assad to use “powerful and violent” language and to warn both foreign influence and dissenting citizens of the country’s “military capability.”

President, First Lady Monitor Social Media

Given how much time they spent online, it’s no surprise al-Assad and his wife were plugged into the world of social media. Several emails between “ak” (Asma) and “Sam” (Bashar) reveal a plan with one of al-Assad’s aides to delete imposter Twitter accounts, including @firstladyasma, @bashiralassad and @FirstLadySyria. The aide, who identified himself as the “Director of Projects and Initiatives” in the Syrian first lady’s office, wrote an email to Twitter asking that the accounts be deleted because they were “clearly intended to mislead people via impersonation rather than act as spoof/humorous accounts.” An email from another aide indicates the al-Assads were also wary of dissenters on Facebook and tried to delete “offensive” Facebook pages.

Al-Assad Joked With His Wife About Reforms

In most of the emails, al-Assad and his wife communicate in English rather than Arabic, including one in which al-Assad makes a sarcastic remark about several of his promised reforms. In response to casual a message from his wife about returning home from a meeting at 5 p.m., al-Assad responds with flippant enthusiasm: “This is the best reform any country can that you told me where you will be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, and media ...”

Al-Assad Mocked Arab League Monitors

On Dec. 29, after Arab League monitors arrived in Syria in response to activist-released footage of army tanks in Homs, al-Assad shared a YouTube video with his media adviser mocking the monitors’ inability to find the Syrian military’s tanks. “Check out this video on YouTube,” al-Assad wrote, sending a video seemingly produced by an Assad supporter that shows a car toy posing as a tank and a plastic figurine posing as an Arab League monitor. A voiceover describes the scene: “Now, as the Arab monitor comes back to check whether the Syrian regime has complied with the Arab initiatives or not ... He does not know what is going on.” In the adviser’s emailed response (“Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!!”), she declares the video “amazing” and laughs at Burhan Ghalion, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, who reported that the regime hid tanks during the Arab League’s visit.

Emir’s Daughter Offered Assads Exile in Qatar

Not even close friends could convince the Assads to step down. In an email written on Dec. 11 to Asma, the Qatar emir’s daughter, Mayassa al-Thani, gently nudges Asma and Bashar to consider “reflection and coming out of the state of denial.” Asma and Mayassa had emailed regularly throughout 2011, but the exchanges appear to have ceased early in 2012, after Mayassa sent another message offering them exile and referencing the dire fates of other fallen leaders in the Middle East. “Just been following the latest developments in Syria … 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 … I am sure you have many places to turn to, including Doha.”