Syrian activists have leaked a cache of documents purporting to be the private email of Bashar al-Assad and his coterie, penned during the slaughter of the Syrian opposition. The Guardian is working its way through them, authenticating them as thoroughly as they can.
In this overview, Robert Booth, Mona Mahmood and Luke Harding tour the documents' highlights, including advice from the Iranian government on putting down the uprising; a personal spy network that Assad employed to report direct to him, bypassing the nation's own security services; an offer of asylum in Doha, Qatar, should the family flee Syria; and a detailed media strategy for portraying the ruling clan in the best light (he is also advised to stop blaming Al Quaeda for his nation's troubles).
In this article, Robert Booth and Luke Harding document the lavish lifesyte enjoyed by Syria's rulers, who use fixers in London to shop the sales at Harrods, a relay in NYC to run an iTunes account for them (Bashar liked to send maudlin, self-pitying country music to his family, "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"), and who order gold and diamond jewelry direct from Parisian boutiques. The family also plans a screening of the last Harry Potter movie.
Here are a few of the 3,000 leaked emails to browse yourself.
Others items that caught the fancy of Syria's first lady included a vase priced £2,650. On 17 June 2011 she sent details to the family's London-based fixer Soulieman Marouf, and added: "Pls can abdulla see if this available at Harrods to order – they have a sale at the moment." Marouf replied with good news: "He bought it. Got 15% discount. Delivery 10 weeks." He added: "Today you should be receiving an Armani light … If you need anything else please let me know."
The emails suggest a woman preoccupied with shopping – but also with an eye for a bargain. She was eager to claw back VAT on luxury items shipped to Damascus, it emerges, and complained when a consignment of table lamps went missing in China. Emails sent from her personal account also concern the fate of a bespoke table, after it arrived with two "right" panels instead of a right and a left one. More than 50 emails to and from the UK deal with shopping.
Some of Asma al-Assad's prospective purchases arouse polite comment from her friends. On 3 February 2012, she was browsing the internet for luxury shoes, according to an email titled "Christian Louboutin shoes coming shortly".
She wrote to friends sharing details of new shoes on offer, including a pair of crystal-encrusted 16cm high heels costing £3,795. She asked: "Does anything catch your eye – these pieces are not made for general public." One friend replied dryly: "I don't think they're going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately."
(Image: A member of the Free Syrian Army burns a portrait of Bashar Assad in Al Qsair. Jan. 25, 2012, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from syriafreedom's photostream)
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.