From Dallas to Damascus … Assad’s entourage torn apart by money, power and betrayal | Political news

The tumultuous relationship between the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, known as “the treasurer of the regime,” is in its details similar to a drama series, apparent betrayal and the struggle for power and money, and inwardly desperate attempts by the head of the regime to “clean up” the narrow circle of government.

A lengthy investigation by the correspondent of the French newspaper Le Monde in Beirut, Benjamin Barth, sheds light on this volatile relationship, which was characterized in his infancy and the intersection of economic and political interests, before turning into a “violent” conflict. in which all sorts of weapons and maneuvering methods were allowed.

Thirteen years after al-Assad’s election to a second term in 2007, following a propaganda campaign in which he was heavily involved and funded by Rami Makhlouf, to show him a “contemporary” and “controlling” president, unlike his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with blood and fire, the “time of friendship” between “my childhood friends” ended. .

The Assad government – which has been plagued by 9 years of war and held by international sanctions – seized Makhlouf’s telecommunications company, Syriatel, for allegedly failing to pay tax money.

Rami Makhlouf, 50,’s assets were also frozen, and some of his senior employees and men were arrested inside Syria, in a clear indication of the regime’s attempt to marginalize him and exclude him from the scene, according to the newspaper.

Makhlouf’s answer

But Rami Makhlouf did not wait long to respond, as he posted a series of videos on his Facebook account criticizing the allegations of tax evasion and the “arbitrariness” of the security services.

And these are all “ridiculous” grievances – according to Le Monde – by this man who sponsored and financed the suppression of the Syrian people’s revolution in 2001, and through his videos he tried to show himself as the “benefactor” of the Alawite sect that rules the country, in implicit defiance of Bashar al-Assad.

Ayman Abdel Nour, the Syrian dissident and former adviser to Bashar al-Assad, claims that “if it had been anyone other than Rami Makhlouf, he would have been liquidated at the time, but this audacity is due to the fact that the man named a prestigious family that protects him, and he has hidden a lot of money in accounts and fake companies abroad. “

Abdel Nour – who now lives with both men – adds that “these matters are the guarantee of his life, and if he is now disposed of, all his assets will go to his wife and children abroad … Rami was wounded, but he is not dead yet. “

Rami Makhlouf (right) and Bashar al-Assad, described by the site as “my childhood friend” (communication sites)

Beginning of the story

The roots of the relationship between President Bashar al-Assad and his cousin Rami Makhlouf go back to the relationship of their parents, Hafez al-Assad and Muhammad Makhlouf, united by politics and a link of interests since al-Assad came to power came. after the coup of the Arab Socialist Baath Party in 1970.

Ayman Abdel Nour believes that “the Makhloufs have always considered themselves partners in the ruling family of the Assad family. The regime was not only for the Assad family, but their regime was also theirs.”

When Bashar succeeded his father in 2000, he preserved the legacy and nature of the relationship between the two families, as he gave Rami Makhlouf the management of Syriatel Communications Company, which was a pioneer in a new and promising market, ” “.

And the economic website “Syria Report” revealed that the Syriatel contract was signed after a tender offer lasted only two weeks in the summer, to avoid the emergence of any serious competitor, and thus the company in a symbol of “friends-capitalism change” “sponsored by the president, which is different from those sponsored by his father. With Al Makhlouf in form, but similar in essence.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sits next to his wife, Asma Assad in this handout photo provided by Syrian Arab News Agency
Bashar’s marriage to Asma al-Akhras was not welcomed by the Makhlouf family, according to newspaper sources (Reuters).

relationship change

In early 2001, Bashar al-Assad broke the deadlock with Asma al-Akhras, the daughter of a British Homsian heart surgeon based in Homs, whom he met while studying ophthalmology in London.

Thanks to her image as a “modern” woman and her experience in the field of financial analysis, Asma attracted the attention of the media, but her appearance on the Syrian scene was not welcomed by the Makhloufs, who at one time wished has that Hafez al-Assad’s successor will be linked to their daughter and Rami’s sister, Kinda Makhlouf.

A Syrian adviser working closely with the president and his wife confirms that “Anisa (Bashar’s mother) and Muhammad (Rami’s father) were opposed to this marriage, but Bahjat Suleiman – a strong man in the Syrian intelligence service and close to Bashar – convinces them to accept the case as it is considered a good step of openness to the Sunni community, which makes up the majority of Syrian society.

In 2006, within the framework of private sector development policy, Rami Makhlouf established a giant holding company called “Cham”, in which about 70 entrepreneurs – all Syrians – joined as partners, including Asmaa Wazna. Report “in a report -” Join me and get a piece of the pie, or stay away and you will get nothing. “

Around the same period, Asma al-Assad launched her own economic group under the name “Syria Holding”, but the company’s value and weight are not comparable to the Ramy Group, which included about 20 investors, all of them “second class” men in the Syrian economy.

Al-Assad’s wife has also set up a charity called the Syrian Trust for Development, which is the first non-governmental organization in the country’s history.

However, Anisa and her daughter Bushra (Bashar’s mother and older sister) worked hard to combat the president’s ambitions, according to Ayman Abdel Nour, while Rami Makhlouf continued to develop his projects, especially thanks to his relationships with the top of the pyramid of power, as its “economic empire” expanded to new sectors, including fuel, financial services, air transport, and insurance.

Bashar al-Assad was not happy with the “investment craze” that characterized Rami, as confirmed by an influential businessman in the Syrian capital.

Rami Makhlouf was once quoted as saying – during a meeting with his partners, after hitting his desk hard – that “we have the money, and we have the power.” The book “Assad of We Burn the Country” published in 2019 by Lebanese-American journalist Sam Dagher.

Ramy Makhlouf, Bashar Al-Assad and Asma Al-Assad Combo
Asma al-Assad sought to “secure the future of her children in the long run” by targeting the wealth of Rami Makhlouf, according to Le Monde (communication sites)

redundancies and penalties

The problems really started for Rami Makhlouf in the summer of 2019, when Syrian soldiers besieged the headquarters of his militia in Damascus, where everyone in it was demobilized and integrated into the ranks of the regular forces.

During the same period, officials from the Al-Bustan Charitable Foundation, which Makhlouf founded in 2011 to help the families of dead regime soldiers, especially from the Alawit sect, were suspended, and they were replaced by others loyal to the government.

A chapter of financial sanctions followed as the assets of Aabar Petroleum – one of the pillars of Makhlouf’s economic empire – were frozen in December 2019.

In mid-April, the Syrian government announced that it was demanding 233 billion Syrian pounds (at the time about $ 180 million) from Syriatel and MTN, the second company in the Syrian smartphone market, as arrears, so that Rami Makhlouf, the “new pariah”, would In the eyes of the regime – according to the newspaper – after publishing his furious videos that revealed the details of the case.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stands next to his wife Asma as he addresses injured soldiers and their mothers during a celebration in celebration of Syrian Mother's Day in Damascus
Le Monde regards recent measures against Rami Makhlouf as “revenge” against Assad’s wife (Reuters)

provocation and revenge

The incident, according to Le Monde’s investigation, was “retaliation” for Rami Makhlouf’s “ambitious” Asma al-Assad, and came only a short time after his two sons – Ali and Muhammad – “provoked, perhaps, photos of Asthma has published “al-Assad” which spends them on a lavish summer vacation aboard luxury cars in alleys. Monte Carlo and the Greek beaches of Mykonos.

In this context, Ayman Abdel Nour says, “Asmaa thinks of her children, as she wants to secure their future in the long run … She is no longer satisfied with what businessmen pay loyally to the regime, she wants to seize their assets “(the Makhloufs) and put it under her name and Bashar’s name, as a bank employee. A precedent that believes he is capable of managing these assets.”

In turn, Bashar sees no harm in reminding his cousin of the rules of the game. In his opinion, Rami has always been a manager, not a partner, and that is the misunderstanding that caused the whole problem, “according to a Damascene businessman close to the regime.

The president also sees no embarrassment – according to the newspaper – in “putting his hand in the pocket” of a youth friend, while the pockets of his regime urgently need dollars to stop the constant collapse of the Syrian pound and the collapse of the purchasing power of the population exhausted by years of war.

He also needs to “calm down” his allies in Moscow and Tehran, who are eagerly waiting to receive them in exchange for the support they have given him over the past nine years. , understood by the ruling circles in Damascus as a reference to The patience of the Russian ally is running out, according to Le Monde.

family judges

She adds that the absence of both Anisa and Muhammad Makhlouf (Assad’s mother and brother) in this crisis, which despite everything remains a “family” – and they have always played the role of “family judges” – has a clear impact on the course. Anisa died in Damascus in 2016 after living in Dubai for a while with her daughter, Bushra, while Muhammad Makhlouf was suffering from illness in the Russian capital.

The director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, researcher Joseph Bahout, believes that “the death of his mother and the departure of her brother Bashar al-Assad freed them from their guardianship, so the situation has now become unbearable . “

According to private information, Le Monde said in his investigation that contact was still ongoing between the two camps, by two prominent Alawite leaders – Ghassan Muhanna, Rami Makhlouf’s uncle, and Suleiman Haddad, the former Syrian ambassador to Berlin – around the crisis.

She believes that these efforts will probably determine whether Rami Makhlouf will be able to stay inside Syria, and whether he will have to pack his belongings and join his father in Moscow.

The newspaper claims that the Assad regime may have “successfully” overcome the current crisis that threatens it from within, and may even be an indication of a “strong return” to Bashar al-Assad.

And she adds – with the quote from researcher Joseph Bahout – that “Bashar was actually able – as was the custom of his father, Hafez al-Assad – to clear the narrow circle around him … Only two years ago he could not have renounced Rami, but now he has, and that’s proof of health. “

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