A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The "Asad E-Mails"

The Guardian has published excerpts of what the Syrian opposition claims to be e-mails of Bashar al-Asad, his wife Asma, and other senior officials. The picture painted is one that tracks with the traditional stereotype of the out-of touch despot: Nero fiddling while Rome burns, Marie Antoinette saying "They have no bread? Let them eat cake!"; Imelda Marcos buying warehouses of shoes. Of course, of those three examples, historians have real doubts about the first two ever having happened, and there may be cause for caution in this case as well.

Genuine or a clever forgery, it's still fascinating. The document texts are here. The Guardian explains what it has done to verify the genuineness of the e-mails here. The Asads exchange country music lyrics and discuss getting the latest Harry Potter movie (do the Asads cheer for Lord Voldemort?); Asma shops and shops and shops, including for, yes, shoes. And complains about paying VAT. All while the country burns. Asad even lampoons the "reforms" he is publicly promising.

I linked above to The Guardian's statement of why it believes the e-mails to be genuine, and they are a serious newspaper, not a tabloid. Still, major media have been hoaxed in the past (the Hitler Diaries, the Howard Hughes Memoirs), and one has to wonder if Bashar al-Asad really signs himself as "Sam." And at the moment, disinformation is flowing on both sides in this conflict.

So do read the e-mails, either as a sign of the out-of-touch aloofness of the besieged tyrant, or just gossip, or perhaps a brilliant hoax. Make your own judgment; I'm suspending mine for the moment.

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