The verification process was the most nerve-racking period for the Syrian activists who had leaked the cache. They had spent months reading Assad's emails after receiving the usernames and passwords from a member of the regime, and they were convinced of the emails' authenticity. But they were forced to wait while the news outlets conducted their own checks.
In Al Arabiya's Dubai headquarters, the problem was not only verifying the emails but navigating the political and cultural sensitivities of the region. The network, which was founded by members of the Saudi royal family, published a story that it was declining to reveal the "scandalous" emails of the Assad family and would only feature emails directly related to the yearlong crisis in Syria.
But other emails raised potential political issues: In one of the most important exchanges, the daughter of the Qatari emir, Mayassa al-Thani, offers the Assads asylum in Doha. While Al Arabiya published the emails mentioning the princess's name, its story only refers to her as "the daughter of a Gulf royal ruler" and a figure who "appeared to be from Qatar."
Far from being concerned about being scooped by a rival outlet, Al Arabiya actually welcomed the Guardian's efforts to publish stories from the email cache before it did. The British newspaper's work gave Al Arabiya the cover to report on the story, while inoculating itself from charges that it was revealing the private correspondence of an Arab ruler.
"Let me be frank on that. There are security concerns," said an Al Arabiya editor. "That's why we were happy that the Guardian published it. And even at first, we aired six TV episodes -- each of half an hour, summarizing the emails. And in the first one and the second one, we gave the credit [for the information] to the Guardian, just because of the very fact that they went before us."
There is evidence that the Syrian regime and its allies did try to prevent reports about the cache from reaching its citizens, as well as people throughout the Middle East. The Guardian's website was reportedly blocked in Syria shortly after it revealed the story, while Al Arabiya's frequency on the Egyptian satellite communications company Nilesat, which the station uses to reach the majority of its viewers throughout the Arab world, was jammed for up to an hour at a time for several days.
The network has previously accused the Syrian regime of blocking its broadcasts, but this time it believed the Syrians had help. "It is jamming coming often from Iran and sometimes from Syria," the Al Arabiya editor said.
Information about Middle Eastern governments, of course, leaks all the time. But never before have thousands of personal emails from an Arab ruler been released into the public sphere. This fact, along with the intensely personal nature of many of the emails, convinced the news outlets that tackled this story that they needed to be handled with the utmost care.
"If you are in Switzerland or in the United States and someone reveals a story that will embarrass somebody else, that somebody else can go to the court and the law will be the judge," the Al Arabiya editor explained. "In a place like Syria, where there has never been any rule of law … they wouldn't agree to appear to respond to the story. It is news about a regime that has no hesitation to kill an opponent just because they are not happy with that opponent. And because these are the emails of the president, we became cautious that they may go that far."