The Rami Makhlouf affair, or when the Assad clan is torn apart

The financial pillar of the Syrian regime and mothers’ cousin to Bashar al-Assad, Rami Makhlouf, revealed tensions within the ruling clan of Syria by publicly challenging the Syrian president, via videos posted on Facebook. Decryption.

A very rich cousin to President Bacharal-Assad and the great Argentine from the Syrian regime, Rami Makhlouf, would he have fallen out of favor? The very discreet businessman, who before the war had managed to control up to 60% of the country’s economic activity, according to experts, emerged from the silence at the beginning of the month to reveal his disagreements with the authorities.

Signs of tensions within the Assad clan, RamiMakhlouf, 51, spoke in two videos posted on Facebook, where he challenged and implored the Syrian presidents publicly about the arrests claimed by the state, all of whom said they were victims of intimidation by security services.

One way for the country’s sulfur-shaped first fortune to testify to the unprecedented public opinion in Syria, and in turn, the regime’s foreign allies when they engage in an iron arm that seems lost in advance of his mother’s cousin, President Bashar al-Assad.

“He feels the pressure is increasing to marginalize him,” JihadYazigi, director of the online business website TheSyriaReport, told AFP. “He tried to resist long before he started his last card and revealed family distance.” In daylight, “he said, adding:” It will cost him dearly. “

A colossal fortune

The disputes escalated in the summer of 2019, when authorities took control of Rami Makhlouf’s charity, before dissolving militia funded by him and involved in the Syrian conflict. “It is a pillar in the regime that paid with their companies’ money for the tows that were at the origin of the first deaths in the demonstrations in 2011,” emphasizes Gauthier Rybinski, specialist in international affairs in France 24. In December, when Damascus froze the assets of several businessmen for tax evasion and illegal enrichment during the war, and according to several press reports, the president’s and his wife’s childhood friend was among those targeted.

Nicknamed “the king of Syria”, while still immobile, he experienced a meteoric rise when Bacharal-Assada took over from his father Hafez in 2000 and became a pillar of economic liberalization in progress. when he belonged to the Assad clan, his empire was expanded from the telecommunications sector to the retail sector, by passing hydrocarbons, electricity, banking and air transport.

“He controlled the entire swath” of the economy, summarized JihadYazigi, recalling that “no one could invest in certain areas without going through it”.

“Thanks to front companies, he was one of the few who could divert sanctions and bring cargo to Syria,” said FabriceBalanche at AFP, lecturer at Lyon-2 University, geographer and specialist in Syria. “He continued to grow his business with the addition of food products and hydrocarbons,” he adds.

Rami Makhlouf’s personal fortune is estimated to be billions of dollars and had made him a figure hated by the opposition. “Symbol of the regime’s corruption” he became the direct target of the protesters who demanded a democratization of the regime and an end to the corruption of the elites at the beginning of the Syrian uprising. , it is also subject to measures taken by the European Union against several Syrian values. Brussels specifically accuses him of “funding the regime” and thus allowing “repression”.

A trip that can be expensive

If he is still at the forefront of Syriatel, the country’s first mobile operator, his quarrel with power may cost him dearly, while several Arab media claim he is a refugee in the United Arab Emirates. “In this kind of autocratic regime (…), no one is immune to a ukase,” FabriceBalanche said. Referring to “anti-corruption campaigns, recurring due to ineffective” in Syria, he recalls that the uncontrolled goal is often to “drop heads that stick out”.

In the first video directed at Bacharal-Assad, which confirms rumors of tensions between the two men, RamiMakhloufaffirms demanded by the Treasury $ 178.5 million in arrears (€ 162.2 million) and requests that it be decisive for the survival of Syriatel.

“We do not escape tax and we do not play with the country,” the businessman assured. He appealed to the president’s “instructions” to get a “satisfactory rescheduling,” “so that the business can continue to exist.” And to add, “I paid exactly what I owed, but if necessary, I will pay again, but redistribute my money to the poor “.

“I will respect your instructions (…) I respect your orders,” he thought again, while complaining to the authorities and always “charged and regarded as a culprit”.

In the second video, he condemns “pressure” from the “security services” who arrested his employees, dozens, confirming the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH). “How can we imagine that these services will attack the companies in RamiMakhlouf, which was the biggest support for these services.”

“A scary cousin”

How does this grace and current tensions explain? Has the Alawite billionaire gained too much weight on the Syrian scene? Has he become a threat to the president? The unpacking of tensions within the ruling clan is reminiscent of the 1980s rivalries between Hafezal-Assad, then-president of Syria, and his brother Rifaat, who eventually became ashamed, and then exiled.

Having succeeded in regaining control of the vast majority of Syrian territory, thanks to his Iranian and Russian allies, the current president, son of the late Hafez, seems less dependent on his cousin’s dollars and less likely to share wealth. For Gauthier Rybinski, “everyone wants their share of the cake, the problem is that the cake is almost gone”. As Syria has seen its economy continue to deteriorate in recent months: The Syrian pound continues a historic fall against the dollar, while inflation exceeded 100% in 2019.

“The government took a lot of money from businessmen. It seems that Makhloufait (at one time) refused to pay,” after financing the war effort for a long time, said an Arab diplomat based in Beirut, quoted by “AFP.” There are reports that he was trying to withdraw money from the country. “

Some media, for their part, have raised family rivals with the first lady, Asmaaal-Assad. “It’s hard to know what’s going on,” says JihadYazigi. “Asmaa (…) may be trying to secure his future and his son,” by removing the Makhlouf family, he adds.

According to a diplomatic source familiar with the Syrian scene quoted by Georges Malbrunot, in an article published by Le Figaro, RamiMakhlouf “also pays for the actions of one of his sons last week, who posted on Instagram in front of his amazing red Ferrari in Dubai. At a time when the people were suffering, the intelligence services wanted to convince Assad that And by beating his cousin, Assad sent a signal to the Syrians that he does not hesitate to fight corruption within his own family. “

“Bachar” eliminates “a bulky cousin, just as his father has” eliminated “Rifaat,” concludes FabriceBalanche.

With AFP