Protesters in a Galilee town tread on a poster of Assad as HItler. Photocredit: Freedom House
The cache of emails between President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his coterie, uncovered by The Guardian, continues to provide insight into the regime that is presiding over a country in chaos. The latest is that Fawaz Akhras, the 66-year-old father of Assad’s wife, Asma, used a private email channel to advise the president and his wife about how to spin the suppression of the uprising. Akhras is a Harley Street cardiologist, reported The Guardian.
What did he say? Akhras offerred, over a nine-month period, “detailed political and media handling advice as well as moral support.” He advised Assad to respond to a Channel 4 film showing civilians being tortured by calling it British propaganda. He suggested that the troubled democracies of the Arab Spring should be brought into the frame, as well as Western response to the Occupy movements, and to the length of time it took for the West to intervene in Libya. Akhras had until recently been seen as a “modernising influence” on Assad. He was unavailable for comment when The Guardian tried to contact him.
What else is there? The Guardianalso revealed Assad’s music taste – New Order, Right Said Fred and the American singer Chris Brown feature. More significantly, perhaps, was a song by Blake Shelton, a US country star singing “God Gave Me You”, which contains these lyrics: “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 / But you stay here right beside me / Watch as the storm goes through.” He also apparently ordereed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. And a biography of Steve Jobs. So, thinks Periscope, can we infer from this that he views himself as a genius evil supremo, like Jobs or Voldemort? Perhaps.
How do we interpret Assad? “Some men are born evil, some achieve evil, and some have evil thrust upon them,” said Theodore Dalrymple in The Daily Telegraph. al-Assad is in the third category – but that “hardly matters.” The emails published by the Guardian are “entirely plausible.” Though “physiognomy” is not an exact science, when you look at Assad “you see a weak man” – a “pettifogger rather than a brute.” But the weak can often be very dangerous. Assad wasn’t meant to be a dictator – that should have been his “vicious brother”, who died in a car crash. Assad just wanted to be an opthalmologist. By all accounts, when training, he was quiet and careful; it’s possible that when he returned to Syria “he harboured genuinely reformist ideas.” Having accepted the “poisoned chalice” of leadership, he must drink it to the dregs. But the shallowness of the psychobabble lyrics that he chose, and of the emails between him and his wife – “Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!! This is amazing!” – are sadly symptomatic of endemic shallowness across the world. We must not be complacent about this.
How do the Syrians see it? Reuters reported that it only reinforced their image of him as an insulated tyrant, “fiddling in his palace” whilst his country burns. The newswire quoted an opposition supporter, who said of Assad and his circle: “Those who are in a fog will stay in the fog. They have no heart and this won’t affect them.”