Behind the scene and in public, family war threatens Assad Rule

خلافات آل الأسد

The escalating tensions between the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and his economic arm, cousin Rami Makhlouf, indicate that an open war is taking place inside the ruling family in Syria.

A reliable source close to the regime confirms to MENA Research and Study Center that the disputes between Assad and Makhlouf are part of a series of other disputes inside the family, and which might end the rule of the Assad family  in one way or another, lasted for half a century.

Relatives might do, what the revolution failed to do

The regime’s resilience against the Syrian revolution does not mean it is able to withstand the rifts and family conflicts. “During the revolution, the family was united, that’s how they succeeded in suppressing the people, but today the family members are biased against each other, which means that we will witness divisions among the Alawites if the crisis escalates publicly,” the source says.

During the past few days, media reports talked about assassinations, dismissals and arrests of many Alawites officers against the backdrop of the Assad Makhlouf crisis.

The danger of the current crisis lies in the fact that Assad’s supporters, Russia in particular, might question Assad’s ability to control the country in later stages.

The ability of Alawite’ ability to survive will also be questioned in light of the sect’s cracking and the diversity of loyalties in it. The Russian policy depends on finding stability in its areas of control, which is currently not visible in the presence of Bashar Al-Assad.

And the former Russian military attaché in Damascus, who was present when Bashar al-Assad inherited the rule, stressed on the importance of security and political stability in Syria for Russia, while the former Russian ambassador in Syria, Alexander Aksenyonuk, had said that the policies of Assad contradict Russian interests.

Assad’s ability to control the narrow circle is being tested now, having failed the first test of suppressing the opposition and achieving a military victory. It is now Assad’s last chance to convince Russia that everything is still under his control.

Assad’s empty box

Lina al-Khatib, a researcher at Chatham House, says Assad’s toolbox is too empty to confront the family crisis, and his rule has become more vulnerable than ever, as he is largely dependent on Iranian and Russian support, after losing the international legitimacy, and the military power that he owned before the war.

Syrian opposition sources indicate that during the first four years of the war, the Assad regime lost 135,000 soldiers.

French intelligence data say that the Alawite sect lost about two-thirds of its young men who were able to carry weapons during the same period.

Open war and contradicted results

Although it is not the first time that disputes happen among Assad family members, this time, according to the author Richard Spencer, the details are different, and bringing the dispute into the open is something very rare, especially in a regime that is based on intelligence systems.

In the 1980s, Syria witnessed a power clash between the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his brother, Rifaat. That clash ended with Rifaat’s exile and preventing him from entering the country permanently, as he attempted to conduct a coup against his brother’s rule, taking advantage of his poor health.

During the crisis of Assad father and Rifaat, the regime was not as dilapidated as it is today, and Alawites were not so weak, which prevented any divisions between them.

There were no armed opposition factions on the ground, and most importantly, the mother of the two brothers was present, Naisa Shalish, who had the influence to end the conflict without blood shedding. This is what is missing today in Syria, in addition to the large number of conflicting parties.

Businessman and former close friend of the Assad family Firas Tlass confirmed earlier that at least three conflicts are happening now in the regime, where Assad’s wife, his brother Maher and his cousin Rami Makhlouf are the main players.

Heads cutting and wings breaking

“It is a problem at the very heart of the regime,” that’s how the researcher Fabrice Balanche, specialized on Syrian affairs, says.

With the Assad and Makhlouf crisis, the policy is connected to the family relations, and it is obvious that the regime’s current plan is cutting some heads and breaking wings.

Cutting heads is a normal thing for the regime in normal conditions; however, neutralizing the conflicting family members reveals the size of the disaster that might end the rule of the Assad family. In this context, we might mention the two mysterious deaths of Musab Wajih al-Assad, cousin of Bashar al-Assad and very close to him, and Ghaith Bustani, a businessman very close to Maher al-Assad.

The Syrian media announced a few days ago that Musab al-Assad and Ghaith Bustani had died in two separate and mysterious incidents. These incidents bring to mind the death of Bassel al-Assad, as it is believed that he was killed by his cousin after disputes on smuggling issues and arresting his cousin.

In 1994, Bassel al-Assad, the eldest son of Hafez al-Assad and his first heirs in power, was killed in a traffic accident, while some leaks revealed that he was assassinated. In the past years, several members of the Assad family were killed under mysterious circumstances, the most prominent was the founder and commander of the pro-regime national defense militias, Hilal al-Assad.

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