The Makhlouf Dynasty: Assad’s Bloodshed Financier

By: Gary H. Johnson, Jr.

 -Nearly 1000 people have died and upwards of 10,000 dissidents have been detained in Syria‘s eight week uprising. Anthony Shadid stole across the border of Lebanon into Syria for an interview with the Syrian tycoon associated with the Assad regime‘s ferocious crackdown in over a dozen cities. In the resultant May 10 New York Times interview, Rami Makhlouf (pictured) advised the international community to back off the Assad regime in Syria or expect a destabilized regional picture. According to Makhlouf, one of 13 Assad associates recently sanctioned by the European Union, the Syrian regime was ready to fight “to the end.”

On The Takeaway Radio Program, Shadid discussed his trip to Damascus. His sense of the Assad regime’s fight for survival clarifies Western perceptions of the Syrian leadership’s concerns:

This government for 40 years has relied on the Alawite sect to buttress itspower. And I think the thinking within the government, in particular the ruling elite is that the fall of the government means perhaps the extermination of the Alawite sect in Syria. I think that is why you are hearing language that suggests a fight to the end, a fight for survival…. If this government falls no one is going to protect the Alawites; no one is going to protect other minorities in the country. And it’s an argument that the government has relentlessly used since this uprising began. The alternative to us is chaos. The alternative to us is sectarian strife – even civil war – and it has had some resonance among minorities in the country.

Following the release of the NYT exposé, the Syrian Ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustaphacharacterized Rami Makhlouf’s remarks as those of a private citizen who does not speak on behalf of the authorities in Syria. Yet the EU’s official journal of May 6, 2011 charges Makhlouf with bankrolling the Assad regime’s activities.

Rami and Hafez Makhlouf have been on the U.S. Treasury‘s radar for years. For instance, in February 2008, the U.S. Treasury designated Makhlouf as an individual profiteering off of the public corruption of a number of Syrian regime officials:
Makhlouf is the maternal cousin of President Bashar al-Assad and through this relationship, Makhlouf has become a focal point of Syria’s telecommunications, commercial, oil, gas and banking sectors. Despite President Assad’s highly publicized anti-corruption campaigns, Makhlouf remains one of the primary centers of corruption in Syria.
Makhlouf’s influence with certain Syrian government officials has led to his being able to control the issuance of certain types of profitable commodities contracts. His close business associations with some Syrian cabinet ministers have enabled him to gain access to lucrative oil exploration and power plant projects. Makhlouf’s preferential access to Syrian economic sectors has led to complaints about him from members of the Syrian business community.
According to a BBC report:
In addition to Syriatel, Mr Makhlouf is believed to control two banks, free trade zones, duty free shops, a construction company, an airline, two TV channels, and imports luxury cars and tobacco. He is also vice-chairman of Cham Holding, considered Syria’s largest private company, and has stakes in several oil and gas companies.
In late April, the UK Telegraph’s Adrian Blomfield noted that upwards of 60% of the Syrian economy is believed controlled by Makhlouf. This explains why demonstrators have been burning down Syriatel offices in Syria, chanting “Go away Makhlouf. We don’t want thieves.” Indeed, it is unlikely that a communications blackout could be effectively implemented without Rami Makhlouf’s control of mobile phone networks in the country.
Cronyism does not end with Makhlouf’s relation to President Assad. Rami Makhlouf is the brother of Colonel Hafez Makhlouf, head of the Damascus branch of the General Intelligence Directorate. In 2007, Colonel Makhlouf was designated by the United States Treasury as an individual “furthering the Syrian regime’s efforts to undermine Lebanese Democracy.” It is not surprising that the EU sanctions regime on Assad’s inner circle includes Colonel Makhlouf. Read more here
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