Assad-Makhlouf, family duel at the top in Syria

In fifty years of reign in Syria, the Assad family has never been torn apart in public. The rule was to mute internal conflicts in the ruling clan. In 1984, even if the standoff between Hafez Al-Assad, the founder of the regime, and his brother Refaat had not been far from overflowing in the street, the official press had not said a word. Nothing should start the illusion of a perfectly pyramidal system, united in its obedience to the master of Damascus.

This taboo has been broken in recent days by the dissemination on Facebook of two videos in which the businessman Rami Makhlouf, considered to be the biggest fortune in Syria, calls out his first cousin, President Bashar Al-Assad, born as him from the Alawite minority. In the first film, put online Thursday, April 30, the telecoms tycoon, hated by opponents, who see him as a symbol of the regime's corruption, implores the head of state to reschedule the tax arrears claimed from his group. According to him, this amounted to 178 million dollars (162 million euros).

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In the second film, released on Sunday May 3, the 50-year-old, who largely financed the suppression of the anti-Assad uprising of 2011, denounces the pressures exerted on his company, Syriatel, leader of the mobile telephone market, in particular the arrests of his employees. "Can anyone imagine that the security services are attacking the businesses of Rami Makhlouf, who was the greatest support and sponsor of these services during the war?, he wonders. If we continue on this path, the situation in the country will become very difficult ”, he adds, in a veiled threat to the president.

Funny Jeremiads

On the part of an oligarch like Rami Makhlouf, who has cut half of the country's economy in order, these whining are funny to say the least. The government's trial is just as smiley. Was it not he who, in 2014, lowered the share of Syriatel's profits to be paid into the state coffers from 60% to 20%? The discord between the two former partners testifies to the recomposition of the Syrian economic scene after nine years of civil war which saw the national GDP drop from 60 billion dollars in 2010 to 17 billion today.

"State derived annuities have declined massively, decrypts Syrian-Swiss political scientist Joseph Daher, a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. Bashar Al-Assad, his wife, Asma, and his brother Maher strive to concentrate the little wealth that remains in their hands and that of the businessmen affiliated with them. The nuclear Assad family no longer wants to depend on Rami Makhlouf, who, before 2011, was the regime's banker. The goal is to decrease his autonomy and subjugate him to the presidential palace. "

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