15 Mar 2012

Secret emails reveal Iran advised Syria on counter-revolt

A series of leaked emails reveals how President Bashar al-Assad took advice from Iran on countering a revolt against his regime while his wife spends tens of thousands on luxury shopping sprees.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma vote during a referendum on a new constitution at a polling station in Damascus (Reuters)

The emails, obtained from the private accounts of the ruler and his family by Syrian opposition members and published by The Guardian, also appear to indicate the ruler’s disdain for political reform, with President Assad reportedly dismissing “the rubbish laws of parties, elections media…”

They suggest that Assad and his family were urged to quit Syria in January by the daughter of the Emir of Qatar, and that he was briefed in detail about the “illegal” presence of western journalists in the Baba Amr district of Homs, urging him to “tighten the security grip” on the city in November.

Coming on the first anniversary of the uprising against President Assad’s rule, which is believed to have claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people, they would appear to reveal how his wife seemed to be preoccupied with buying designer lamps, shoes, jewellery and furniture as government forces continued with their ferocious onslaught on citizens.

In one email communicated ahead of a key speech delivered by President Assad in December, his media consultant prepared a list of themes for the president to include, based on “consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador”.

The correspondence advised President Assad to use “powerful and violent” language and to show his appreciation for support from “friendly states”.

Plea to step down

In another email, Mayassa al-Thani, daughter of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, wrote to President Assad’s wife, Asma, on 30 January, saying: “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 that this is a good opportunity to leave and re-start a normal life.”

Others show that President Assad sidestepped US sanctions against him by using a third party with a US address to make purchases from iTunes, and that he sent his wife YouTube clips from America’s Got Talent of things he found funny.

Yet they also reveal the ruling couple’s attempts to stand firm with one another in the face of rising opposition against his forces’ brutality.

In one email, Ms Assad said: “If we are strong together, we will overcome this together…I love you…”

The Guardian said that it had made extensive efforts to check the emails against established facts.

They were revealed as campaigners from around the world urged Russia to back the UN Security Council and help bring an end to the crisis in Syria. A coalition of 200 non-governmental organisations from 27 countries has demanded that the UN Security Council unites and passes a resolution calling on the Syrian government to stop shelling civilian neighourhooods.