Assad emails: The ‘Ming’ vase
From: Soulieman Marouf [XXXXXXXXXXXX]
Subject: Re: abd
Date: 17 June 2011 22:45:00 BST
To: [email protected]
He bought it. Got 15% discount. Delivery 10 weeks.
Today you should be receiving an Armani light. It was picked up by [XXXXXXXXXXXX]
Also I have spoken to [XXXXXXXXXXXX]. He found the five boxes for XXXXXXXXXXXX in damascus.
Please give him your instructions that they are for lattakia
If you need anything else please let me know
On 17 Jun 2011, at 16:52, AK <[email protected]> wrote:
Pls can abdulla see if this available at harrods to order – they have a sale at the moment.
Item: MING CON LUCE VASE
Specifications: Murano white frosted glass equipped with a 20w dichroic bulb 30dia x 109h
As the international community struggled to absorb the bloodiest episode yet in Syria‘s brutal crackdown in Homs, Bashar al-Assad was in Damascus composing a private email to his wife, according to a cache of what appear to be emails from the Syrian first couple obtained by the Guardian.
It was 5 February 2012, and the previous day the president’s artillery had pounded the restive city as never before, killing several hundred civilians and blowing up a makeshift hospital, according to opposition activists. In the capital, government forces reportedly took the lives of about a dozen mourners at a funeral. The UN security council was drawing up plans to act against the dictatorship.
But Assad’s email, using the pseudonym Sam, reflected none of the bloody turmoil or diplomatic jeopardy facing his country. In a bizarre message apparently from the Syrian leader, he sent his wife the lyrics of a country and western song by the US singer Blake Shelton, and the audio file downloaded from iTunes.
Laden with self-pity, the communication appeared to exemplify the cocooned life of denial that Assad, his family and inner circle were leading while the country erupted around them. The first verse reads: “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.”
The note was one of dozens revealed in a cache of what Syrian activists claim are emails from the inboxes of Assad and his wife, Asma, that expose how Assad’s coterie continued to enjoy a gilded lifestyle insulated from the slaughter around them.
The emails appear to show how tens of thousands of dollars were spent in internet shopping sprees on handmade furniture from Chelsea boutiques. Tens of thousands more were lavished on gold and gem-encrusted jewellery, chandeliers, expensive curtains and paintings to be shipped to the Middle East. While the country was rocked by Assad’s crackdown on dissent, his inner circle was concerned about the possibility of getting hold of a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, or a new chocolate fondue set.
The details of the Assads’ high living are likely to infuriate many Syrians who have had to negotiate shortages and other hardships in conflict-hit areas of the country. Anger over the wealth and profligacy of leaders’ families has been a feature of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
On 19 July 2011, Asma al-Assad could be found placing orders with her cousin Amal for jewellery made by a small Paris workshop. She requested four necklaces: “1 turquoise with yellow gold diamonds and a small pave on side” as well as a cornaline, “full black onyx” and “amethyst with white gold diamonds” of similar design. Amal replied that she would “launch” the order in mid-August with a view to getting it done “by mid-September”. On 23 July 2011 Asma said she didn’t mind the delay and added self-deprecatingly: “I am absolutely clueless when it comes to fine jewellery!” She signed off as “aaa” with: “Kisses to you both, and don’t worry, we are well!”
Others items that caught the fancy of Syria’s first lady included a vase priced £2,650. On 17 June 2011 she sent details to the family’s London-based fixer Soulieman Marouf, and added: “Pls can abdulla see if this available at Harrods to order – they have a sale at the moment.” Marouf replied with good news: “He bought it. Got 15% discount. Delivery 10 weeks.” He added: “Today you should be receiving an Armani light … If you need anything else please let me know.”
The emails suggest a woman preoccupied with shopping – but also with an eye for a bargain. She was eager to claw back VAT on luxury items shipped to Damascus, it emerges, and complained when a consignment of table lamps went missing in China. Emails sent from her personal account also concern the fate of a bespoke table, after it arrived with two “right” panels instead of a right and a left one. More than 50 emails to and from the UK deal with shopping.
Some of Asma al-Assad’s prospective purchases arouse polite comment from her friends. On 3 February 2012, she was browsing the internet for luxury shoes, according to an email titled “Christian Louboutin shoes coming shortly”.
She wrote to friends sharing details of new shoes on offer, including a pair of crystal-encrusted 16cm high heels costing £3,795. She asked: “Does anything catch your eye – these pieces are not made for general public.” One friend replied dryly: “I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”
Most jarring were the occasions when the world was hearing news of the worst incidents of violence and bloodshed and the Assad family could be found shopping or joking online, often using pseudonyms. An adviser to the Assad inner circle, Lamis Omar, appeared to acknowledge that the first couple risked seeming too detached and sent Assad a link to an article in the US magazine Businessweek that described the president’s “life in a cocoon”.
Emails from the Syrian first lady’s account are typically signed off with “AAA” – corresponding to Asma al-Assad – or “Alia Kayali”, which is the name of the company secretary whose identity activists believe Asma hid behind. In email correspondence with shops in Paris and London, the signoff “Alia” predominates.
In July, “Alia” is found placing an order for about £10,000 worth of candlesticks, tables and chandeliers to be shipped from a Paris designer through a state company in Dubai. In early November, as protests continued, a London art dealer received a message asking about the availability and price of works costing between £5,000 and £35,000 each. In late January “Alia” unpacked a pair of bedside tables shipped from a Chelsea cabinet maker, only to discover a mistake. She complained they had “different finishes and they have different colour draws!?”.
In Britain, suppliers said they were unaware that the woman behind the email account was in fact Syria’s first lady. Tony Carpenter, who runs a bespoke furniture firm in Billingshurst, West Sussex, sold “Alia” a designer Baxter Gilbert table in November. The table cost £6,257. “I had no idea,” Carpenter said. “She gave me a London address. The furniture went to Dubai. I assumed the job was in Dubai.”
Carpenter added: “She was a very charming lady to deal with. I spoke to her once or twice, though it was mostly by email. She paid the bill very promptly.” The table was oval-shaped and marble-topped, he added.
The shopping lists were not always pure luxury and sometimes hinted at the impact of events on the family. On 30 December, while anti-government protesters demonstrated in Aleppo, Hama, Damascus and Deraa, Mrs Assad appears to have sent the president options forBulletBlocker armoured clothing disguised as a blazer, and a link to theVIP Armour website.
Assad himself kept up a flow of personal, loving emails to his wife using the disguised accounts, at times revealing a flippant attitude towards reforms he had promised the country earlier that year.
In July when she emailed that she would be finished at 5pm, her delighted-sounding husband replied: “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 …”
Sometimes he searched the internet for video clips that impressed him, on one occasion sending her a clip from America’s Got Talent of “the best illusion of all time” – a man appearing to saw another man in half and then putting him back together again, to the delight of the judges David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan.
The emails also paint a picture of a relationship under great stress. In late December the Syrian first lady told her husband simply: “If we are strong together, we will overcome this together … I love you…”
Assad’s emails reveal his inner fears and suspicions. On 16 October, as the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called for international action to avoid “full-blown civil war” in Syria, Assad circulated from his iPad an article to a list of undisclosed recipients an article alleging that the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was responsible for “recruiting Arab ‘death squads’ from al-Qaida-affiliated units in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Chechnya to fight against Syrian military and police”.
He sent another rabid article to his wife on 23 July that described Rupert Murdoch as a Jew and an Israeli citizen and “pretty much” Satan.
The emails shed light on the circle of young advisers around Assad who share jokes, TV clips and press cuttings about the crisis with the president on a regular basis and communicate with him informally. Mostly female, they refer to him variously as Sir and “his Excellency”, and on one occasion – in a note not meant for his eyes, but which was forwarded to him – as “the dude”.
Sheherazad Jaafari, the daughter of Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, took the role of strategic media adviser and can be seen organising an hour-long ABC interview with Assad. On another occasion she emailed him a photo showing Nicolas Sarkozy standing on a box next to George W Bush, with the subject line: “Funny!”
Hadeel al-Ali, another media adviser, reported back on the reaction of a group of friends who watched the president’s speech in January. She summed up their feelings about the president as if he were a pop star: “We love him sooooooo much!!! We’re so proud of him and his strength, wisdom, charisma and of course his beauty.”