The trove of Bashar al-Assad’s personal emails, leaked and released by Al Arabiya, reveal an unusual chain of command, different from hierarchies expected of regimes such as his. Those in the president’s circle has since been exposed and a story that emerges is of a tight group of people that monitored the uprising closely and advised Assad accordingly.
These “backstage” individuals, according to the emails, advised Assad on matters that would soon be realized by the president, all the while bypassing the traditional decision-making process of the state institutions.
In no particular order, Al Arabiya reveals Syrian President’s inner circle and how their influence impacted decisions he made.
A woman named Hadeel is one of the people who offered advice to the president and participated in the decision-making process. For example, in one of her emails she wrote that she spoke with someone named Dr. Ammar. It turns out later that she was speaking about Ammar Saati, President of the National Union of Syrian Students.
According to Hadeel, Ammar expressed his discontentment with the way the situation is being dealt with in some universities by someone she named as “Khaled”. She was apparently referring to Khaled al-Ahmed, who was already described as a close person to the president, updating him on the security situation in the country.
In matters related to the party, President Assad had apparently entrusted Hadeel with the task of presenting a vision for the amendments needed in some Syrian governorates. In more than one email, she sends the names of particular persons she believes must be replaced by other specific names. As evidence of her influence, she once received a message from someone named “Hossam” who pinpointed the need to replace the former Attorney General of Tartus and suggests the lawyer Kamal Genat as a substitute.
“Hossam” asks Hadeel to forward this message to President Assad.
How did President Assad respond when he received her message?
He simply deleted the name of the sender and forwarded the mail in its current form to the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Mansour Azzam, as if it was his decision and they needed to implement it.
Such messages were frequently received by President Assad from Hadeel, like, for example, the attachments sent in an email on November 26, where she features names that need to be replaced in the province of Latakia, after being told to do so by the president.
As aforementioned, Hadeel was also a link between President Assad and many people, including journalist “Hussein,” who was apparently working for an Iranian media institution in Syria and transmitted messages from the Iranian authorities and Hezbollah to the Syrian presidency. For example, Hadeel received a message on December 26 from Hussein suggesting that the regime occupy public squares like the Umayyad, the Abbasid and others during the presence of the Arab League observers from 3.00pm to 9.00pm, in order to prevent the opposition from being present in these squares. Hussein’s suggestion was clearly implemented.
The daughter of Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, Shahrazad, forwarded an email to Assad on December 7 last year, which she apparently received from someone called “Hazem”, with an attachment ready to be signed by President Assad. The attachment refers to a legal amendment in the judiciary body related to the retirement motives of judges. The sender asks Shahrazad to inform the Syrian President about the content of the message the soonest in order to take the necessary measures next month.
In another letter, Shahrazad al-Jaafari refers to herself as the Public Relations and International Communication manager of the Syrian presidency and asks the President to grant her powers that will enable her to impose her decisions in the palace.
Shahrazad wanted to have the legitimacy to judge what is right and wrong in dealing with visiting delegations and activities related to public relations.
In the email she complains about three specific people in the presidential palace:
Muhyiddin: who works at the presidential palace
Luna al-Chabel: media and communication manager
Buthaina Shaaban: the president’s political advisor.
Shahrazaad said that she used all her skills in public relations to be able to contain Chabel’s rude behavior but that she failed, and makes it clear that the former TV anchor is an obstacle to her performance
First Lady Asmaa al-Assad
The Syrian president’s wife, Asmaa al-Assad intervened several times in matters of human rights when she asked for clemency for some detainees. She also requested financial aid to the families of the military men killed during the protests.
In one email, she also warned of the deterioration of events in several areas.
She wrote that supporters of the regime in Jaramana have weapons but had not been using them until now; they were using cold weapons (weapons that do not contain fire or explosives, i.e. knives, axes etc). This story was allegedly told to Mrs. Assad by a certain “Abdul Hadi”, and she was now reporting it to president Assad by email.
Asma al-Assad gives her opinion at the end and says that people in Jaramana are highly frustrated and that the nightclubs in the area should be closed.
The First Lady also sent requests to the president more than once to ask for humanitarian and medical aid. For example, she asked for medical assistance for 64-year-old opponent Mansour Atassi, one of the leaders of the National Committee for Democratic Chance, a coalition of Marxist and Arab Nationalist Leftist parties, who was detained at the Air Force in Homs and awaiting transfer to court.
In another message, the First Lady emailed her family to inquire about the website of the Syrian Center of Communication and Strategic Research. Her father replied that he was not sure who was handling this institute, but that he had received information stating that former founded of a TV station, Osama al-Munjed, is directing the center.
Dr. Fawaz al-Akhras
The First Lady’s father, Fawaz al-Akhras, comes off as a person who had a managerial role in Assad’s affairs as leaked emails show.
Dr. Akhras forwarded an email to his daughter that he received from one of the directors of the Syrian British Association, Wafic Said. (Akhras seems to be one of the founders of the SBA). In the email, Said wrote that it is no longer possible to defend the killings, adding that the Syrian British Association cannot pursue its duties under the current situation. The email implies that Wafic Said is close to resigning, which he does not say directly so as not to put his friend Dr. AKhras in an awkward position as the Chairman of the Association. Wafic Said’s resignation was, however, announced a few months later.
Said sent another email to someone named Firas along with Fawaz al-Akhras, and the latter forwarded it to his daughter.
In that email, Said stated that the Syrian Heritage Foundation, of which he is the Chairman, cannot pursue its mission in light of the crisis in Syria and that a certain “Lord Boyle” had the same concern, so this institution should end its activities as long as its goals have not been achieved.
Four months after the two previous emails, on September 19, Said resigned from the Syrian British Association. The resignation text does not figure among the hacked emails, but what was leaked was a message from the First Lady’s brother, Firas al-Akhras, to both his sister and father, on October 13, more than 20 days after Said’s resignation. In that email, Firas wrote that the members of the Association have received the news of the resignation with deep regret.
Firas blames Said but also recognized his essential role: “We have always worked hard together as founders, to implement the objectives of the association creating a bridge between Britain and Syria, and these goals are not related to the ruling regime or the type of government in Syria.”
Amongst many suggestions made by Fawaz al-Akhras he stressed to his son-in-law for the need for constitutional and legal experts in Syria. His son Firas did the same, suggesting a constitutional expert whose name he forwarded to Asma al-Assad, asking that this person be consulted on what appears to be constitutional amendments.
Bypassing chain of command
Leaked emails also shed light on the manner in which Syria was governed. One email exemplifies this: the Economics Minister, Nidal al-Shaar bypasses the Prime Minister to whom he should usually refer, and goes straight to the president via the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Mansour Azzam. He requests the addition of some personalities to the Economic Committee headed by the Prime Minister.
An email sent on December 4 also shows how a minister avoids the correct line of reporting and addresses the President’s office directly. The Minister for Presidential Affairs forwarded a message to President Assad, which he apparently received from the Minister of Telecommunication, Imad Sabouni, in which he said that he had met a delegation from the Telecommunications Company of Iran in the presence of the Iranian Ambassador. The Iranian delegation expressed interest in a bidding operation for a third mobile operator in Syria, and Sabouni informed the delegation of his will to reopen the bid for the third operator with terms and conditions that would allow the Iranian side to participate, and that the Iranian ambassador reiterated the desire to obtain the license through direct negotiations.
As for the organizational aspect of demonstrations in support of the Assad regime, it seems that the president was familiar with all the details.
In an email sent to Assad on February 6, one day prior to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit, the Media and Communication manager, Luna al-Chabel suggested that the demonstrations not take place in two different locations as they will look mediocre, and recommended that the demonstrations be held on the road the Foreign Minister will take so that Lavrov can be accorded a warm welcome. Her suggestions were implemented.