Amid the yearlong conflict in Syria, president Bashar al-Assad purchased a wide variety of music that included “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” by Right Said Fred, “Hurt” by Leona Lewis, “Look at Me Now” by Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order, “God Gave Me You” by Blake Shelton, and “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO.
The Syrian leader also appears to have bought a Harry Potter film, Steve Jobs’s autobiography and a Cliff Richard tribute.
The emails between Bashar al-Assad’s account and iTunes give an insight into the Syrian president’s state of mind and reveal a man with wide and sometimes surprising tastes.
Alongside songs from the Lebanese actor and singer Nasri Shamseddine, who remains popular in the Arab world almost 30 years after his death, there is an eclectic mix of artists from the 1990s British duo Right Said Fred to the US singer Chris Brown.
The fact that the US last year imposed sanctions against Assad and other Syrian government officials, prohibiting “US persons” from engaging in transactions with them, may explain why Assad’s iTunes account is registered to another name and a New York address.
One of the more unusual purchases, made through an American Express account, occurred on 5 February when Assad sent his wife, Asma, an iTunes file of the US country star Blake Shelton singing God Gave Me You.
There is not a huge country music fanbase in the Middle East and a look at the lyrics reveals a conventional tale of life’s ups and downs in the US. Assad sent the file a day after the shelling of Homs had begun. A day later, Syrian forces would fire more than 300 rockets into the city. All of which – given that he specifically picked out this song for his wife – seems to have provoked Assad to reflect on his life in these lyrics: “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 / But you stay here right beside me / Watch as the storm goes through.”
Just before Christmas Assad underlined his leftfield tastes when he ordered Don’t Talk Just Kiss by Right Said Fred, a band that shot to fame with the hit I’m Too Sexy. Days earlier he highlighted his interest in UK pop music, this time with a slightly more credible choice, purchasing Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order. In the same month he ordered We Can’t Go Wrong by The Cover Girls, a New-York-based “urban girl group” of the 1980s and early 1990s. The song includes the line: “There was a time when things were better than the way they are today. But we forgot the vows we made and love got lost along the way.”
As the conflict in Syria intensified Assad continued to add to his eclectic playlist, ordering Hurt by Leona Lewis, Look at Me Now by Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes and – on New Year’s Eve – A Tribute to Cliff Richard by 21st Century Christmas.
In January he bought a number of songs by the popular US dance group LMFAO including their hit Sexy and I Know It. Assad’s iTunes emails also reveal a limited interest in books, gaming and films. In November he ordered one of the Harry Potter films, Deathly Hallows Part II, as well as several Harry Potter apps. The next month the Syrian president ordered Real Racing 2 and the biography of the Apple founder Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
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