Amid all the carnage it was perhaps inevitable that the media, both Middle Eastern and Western, might be diverted a bit by a scandal, a sort of bread-and-circuses amid the horrors, and The Guardian's publication of the "Asad E-mails," which I blogged about a week ago, provided that diversion. At the time they began to appear I noted the natural fascination with the mundane concerns about music and amusements, shopping and everything but the tribulations of the country, which I compared to the fascination with Nero fiddling while Rome burned, or Imelda Marcos' shoes.
The continuing publications of the E-mails, the validity of which no one officially seems to be credibly denying, has continued to add a frisson of scandal and to make the Asads seem even more callous and out of touch, even with a touch of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."
Up till a few days ago, though, there was no real sex in the scandal, mostly just shoes and iTunes downloads.
Then London's The Telegraph ran an article with the headline, "Bashar al-Assad Email Reveals Near-Naked Woman." That's not The Sun or some other tabloid, mind you, but the stuffy old Telegraph. Various interpretations have turned up: an admirer throwing herself brazenly at the President, a mystery mistress or something scandalous. The unnamed woman E-mailed the photo to Asad with either no message at all, though the same account had previously sent the President the message "Hi," to which he replied "Hi and a half." Speculation appeared all over the place about who she was, and what her relationship was with Asad, including in the Israeli media. The woman has her back to the camera and appears to be wearing only a bra and a thong.
|The "Mystery Woman" Photo|
But the scandal may not really be that scandalous. The website Al-Bawaba, after scrutinizing the photo, concludes that it may be none other than Syria's First Lady Asma, flirting with her husband. They say:
Employing advanced image analysis together with techniques of facial scanning and consultation with skin specialists, the striking conclusion has been drawn that this tall, lanky, small limbed physique, complete with cropped dirty blonde to mousy brown hair, belongs to one and the same Asma al Assad.