Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle

These are the guys that run the racket and repression in Syria…

Although Bashar al-Assad inherited Syria’s presidency on his father’s death in 2000, analysts say he does not have Hafez al-Assad’s absolute grip on power. He is surrounded by military and intelligence figures, most of whom are either related to the president or are members of his minority Alawite community.

Here are some excerpts on two of, if not THE, main men from Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle as reported by the BBC.

Maher al-Assad, Republican Guard chief

The president’s youngest brother is said to be Syria’s second most powerful man. He heads the Republican Guard, the elite force which protects the regime from domestic threats and is the only one permitted to enter Damascus, and commands the fourth armoured division. […]

He has a reputation for being excessively violent and emotionally unstable, and allegedly shot [!!] and wounded his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat. […]

In 2005, Maher and Shawkat were both mentioned in a preliminary report by UN investigators as one of the people who might have planned the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

When mass pro-democracy protests began in the southern city of Deraa in March 2011, Maher’s fourth armoured division – which is deployed on Syrian territory bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and controls the capital’s approaches – was sent in to crush them.

Rumours persist that Maher might challenge his brother’s rule – much like his uncle Rifaat attempted to seize power from Hafez in 1983 – but there is no evidence that he has sufficient power to challenge his rule.

Rami Makhlouf

A first cousin of Bashar al-Assad, Mr Makhlouf is arguably the most powerful economic figure in Syria. He has been the subject of persistent accusations of corruption and cronyism, and analysts say no foreign companies can do business in Syria without his consent. […]

In 2001, he and the Egyptian telecommunications company, Orascom, were awarded one of Syria’s two mobile phone operator licences. After a court dispute over control of Syriatel, Orascom was forced to sell its 25% stake. […]

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 2008, the US treasury banned US firms and individuals from doing business with Mr Makhlouf, and froze his US-based assets. It accused him of “corrupt behaviour” […]

“Makhlouf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals. He employed these techniques when trying to acquire exclusive licenses to represent foreign companies in Syria and to obtain contract awards,” a statement said. […]

Former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam said in 2009 that Bashar’s rule had been marked by “transforming corruption into an institution” headed by Mr Makhlouf.

Two years later, anti-government protesters in Deraa initially directed their wrath at Mr Makhlouf, some chanting: “We’ll say it clearly, Rami Makhlouf is robbing us”. A branch of Syriatel in Deraa was set on fire.
Opposition websites later accused Mr Makhlouf of financing pro-government demonstrations both across Syria and abroad, by providing flags, meals and money for those participating.

See the full article here: BBC News – Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle

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