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A portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen during a rally in support of him in front of the Syria central bank in Damascus

In a spectacular revelation coinciding with the first anniversary of the conflict in Syria the British Guardian reports that it has gained possession of over 3,000 e-mails that provide a glimpse into the life and thinking of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle. Among the gems, Assad’s apparent affinity for U.S. country music.

Said to have been intercepted by a Syrian opposition group between June 2011 and February 2012 before being obtained by the Guardian, the e-mails paint a picture of a Syrian elite either in denial of or detached from the realities of a gruesome conflict that since March 15, 2011, has claimed more than 8,000 lives.

Much of the world sees the events in Syria as an anti-government uprising, while Assad’s government blames the bloodshed on “armed terrorist groups.”

Asma and Bashar Assad during better times in Paris, December 2010 (AFP photo).

Revealing a strikingly human side of a man perceived by many as a ruthless dictator, one of the intercepted documents points to an iTunes purchase by Assad of “God Gave Me You,” a hit by U.S. country singer Blake Shelton. Assad apparently sent the track to his British-born wife, Asma.

Probably more striking, however, is the Assad family’s reported preoccupation with luxury items at a time when thousands of Syrians are facing hunger and other hardships as a result of the conflict. Some of the e-mails reveal how Asma Assad spent tens of thousands of dollars during online shopping sprees on handmade furniture, gold, gem-encrusted jewelry, chandeliers, expensive curtains and paintings to be shipped to the Middle East. Apparently, she even instructed an aide to order a fondue set from Amazon.

Of course, politics too, according to many of the intercepted documents, made it into the fray. In some exchanges Assad lampooned Arab League observers for what was being portrayed as their cluelessness in attempting to locate the regime’s heavy armor in one of Syria’s restive cities. Other e-mails seem to reveal Assad’s flippant attitude towards reform through which, to the outside world, he has pledged to diffuse the crisis. In one e-mail he speaks of “rubbish laws, elections, media.”

Visibly absent in the e-mails are any indications of remorse or regret Assad would feel for the bloodletting that has been draining Syria over the past year. Unless, of course, they are expressed in some of the lyrics of the Blake Shelton song he downloaded: “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….

Cecily Hilleary

Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.

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