Even without the looming threat of civil war in Syria, flirting with a Middle Eastern ruler is dangerous business.
Not that the practice of extramarital affairs and illicit rendezvous is uncommon: Brutal autocrats from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to erratic Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and their sons were rumored to have sexual encounters with numerous women during their reigns.
A trove of recently leaked e-mails purportedly from embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inbox appear to indicate several women brazenly flirting with the father of three, some while working for the regime.
Chief among the women is U.S.-educated Hadeel al-Ali, who in one e-mail sent a photograph allegedly of herself in a skimpy bra and thong, with her derrière facing the camera.
In the cache of nearly 3,000 e-mails obtained by CNN, it does not appear al-Assad reciprocates her advances. Nonetheless, in one message the young woman features a photo of a young Bashar and the lines “so cute, I miss youuuuuuu.”
Just two days after the U.N. published a damning report alleging that government forces committed crimes against humanity and killed more than 250 children, al-Ali wrote, “let the world see that we all are your shabeeha even the tiny little generation believes in you and is ready to fight from now.” The shabeeha are pro-regime militias or thugs accused of the worst atrocities and killings by the opposition.
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On occasion, the schoolgirl crush takes a more serious tone as the 20-something political science graduate appears to relay public relations advice from Tehran. More than five pages of suggestions for the president include advice to use language like Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, and attack Israel as “the real enemy.”
In New York, Sheherazad Jaafari, daughter of Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Jaafari, provided advice on al-Assad’s public image abroad while occasionally sending overtly sexual notes calling the ruler “handsome” and “cute.”
As regime forces shelled the flashpoint city of Homs in late January, Jaafari appears to plead for a meeting with the president: “I am coming today. I will arrive there tomorrow. and i wanna see after tomorrow. I CANT wait. no excuses … miss uuu please please please.”
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Among the few e-mail responses sent by al-Assad, it appears the isolated ruler is more preoccupied flirting with his British-born wife, Asma, than responding to adulation from other women.
“If we are strong together, we will overcome this together … I love you …” al-Assad wrote his wife the day the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria because of a spike in violence.
Days later, the 46-year-old ophthalmologist-turned-autocrat doodled an elaborate sketch of a large pink and red heart on an iPad and e-mailed it to his first lady.
Asma, who boasts in one e-mail to a friend that she is the “REAL dictator” in her relationship, reciprocates the affection, once writing her husband a short poem.
“Sometimes at night, when I look to the sky, I start thinking of you and ask myself, why? Why do I love you? I think and smile, because I know the list could run on for miles.”
As the president’s inbox filled with schoolyard flirtation and adoration, the regime continued a bloody campaign that the opposition says has decimated entire towns and claimed thousands of lives.