The escalating crisis in rebellion-torn Syria, in which thousands have died, appears to have had little effect on the upmarket lifestyle of its leaders Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad.
Private emails obtained by the Guardian show a life still filled with excess and distracted by shopping, even as the rebel city of Homs remains under heavy fire.
The first lady in particular has used emails to purchase finely crafted furniture, hand-made jewelery and high-end shoes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
One pair of shoes, crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutins heels, would cost more than AUD$4000 even though one friend emailed the first lady saying: “I don’t think they’re going 2 b useful any time soon unfortunately.”
The President, on the other hand, alternated between being apparently torn and dismissing the state of the nation. He emailed country and western song lyrics to his wife: “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.”
In July last year when she emailed that she would be finished at 5pm, her delighted-sounding husband replied: “This is the best reform any country can have that u told me where will you be, we are going to adopt it instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media…”
The Syrian uprising began last March and has grown to include hundreds of thousands agitating for more freedoms, and a democracy in action. More than 8000 have been killed, many more detained and stories of torture and brutality at the hands of the regime which most recently included images of children and babies being killed.
The rebels have taken hold in the city of Homs, which has become the epicentre for the violence as Government forces fight back.
George Clooney might be better known for his blockbuster movies and ladies-man-attitudes but the actor has also thrown himself heavily into humanitarian work, having recently returned from a trip to the troubled Sudan on the continent of Africa to see firsthand the horrors of the civil war.
“What we’re looking at is a real disaster,” Clooney told reporters before testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington.
Travelling with John Prendergast, co-founder of the advocacy group the Enough Project, Clooney filmed the hardship for a video shown to the committee and posted online just before his testimony.
The country voted on a split last year, forming Sudan and South Sudan but violence on the border and over oil pipelines has persisted. Clooney witnessed an nine-year-old boy with his hands blown off, and dodged a rocket attack himself.
Please be warned, this video contains graphic content: