Assad email leak puts some Arabic news organizations in tricky spot

Arab media revels in Assad’s correspondence, but some networks decide not to go all out

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Bashar and Asma Assad (photo credit: AP/SANA)
Bashar and Asma Assad (photo credit: AP/SANA)

A series of personal email correspondence from Syrian President Bashar Assad published by the Guardian this week has been widely circulated in the Arab media, causing shock and surprise.

The British daily decided to publish the contents of over 3,000 documents sent and received by Assad on the first anniversary of the Syrian revolution. The documents date from June 2011 to early February 2012 and were intercepted by the Supreme Council of the Revolution, an opposition group.

The emails reveal a savvy Assad, well aware of developments on the ground. They prove that he was receiving political advice from the political adviser in the Iranian embassy in Damascus. Assad had also known about the presence of European journalists in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs while he was bombing it, the emails reveal.

Some of the published emails were meant to embarrass, such as those showing Asma Assad, the President’s wife, spending thousands of dollars on designer candlesticks and chandeliers from Paris. Another, circulated widely by the Arab press, claims that Assad had forwarded an email containing the photo of a “nearly naked woman.”

“The photo has raised speculations regarding his marriage with Asma Assad,” wrote one Arabic version of a Reuters report on the embarrassing photo.

The emails reveal a savvy Assad, well aware of developments on the ground.

Although the official Syrian press did not report the leak, some international Arab media outlets decided to respect the dictator’s privacy and not publish the most personal content revealed in the letters.

Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based news channel, published hundreds of scanned versions of the original Arabic emails. The channel reported that it had received thousands of Assad’s emails from Syrian activists, but decided not to publish the personal ones.

“Al-Arabiya has decided to only publish [letters] of public interest relating to the greater Syrian matter and information clarifying the work of the Syrian presidential palace, but to remove hundreds of letters of embarrassing nature.”

The letters revealed in Al-Arabiya expose the name of Khaled Ahmad, apparently a Syrian adviser to Assad previously unknown to the public. Ahmed reported to Assad “from the ground,” mostly from the city of Homs, giving Assad security advise regarding various Syrian cities.

“It seems Assad prefers his female advisers to his male ones,” commented Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera in an Arabic adaptation of a Guardian story on Hadeel Ali, Assad’s US-based advisor.

Despite the obvious embarrassment to the Syrian regime, the email leak seems inconsequential to the political and military developments in Syria. In the Arab media of coverage on Sunday, Assad’s quirky letters are markedly absent from both the news and opinion pages.

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