Something stinks to high heaven. First there is the defection of Manaf Tlass, a Republican Guard General, son of Mustafa, the former Syrian defence minister under Hafez Assad, and friend of the latter’s son, Bashar. In one news story I heard Tlass referred to as a member of the Damascene “aristocracy”, and then we hear reports that Michel Kilo gives a radio interview to a Russian station saying that Tlass is an acceptable head for a transition government.
Firstly I don’t think the Tlass family are members of any “aristocracy”. No offence but the town of Rastan is not known for its riches, it is a military town, and its sons find a career in the military far more appealing than the other opportunities available to them. The Tlass’ have done well under Assad’s forty year rule, and they have considerable wealth. I don’t remember hearing them have any issues about corruption, torture and regime heavy handedness during the eighties. Tlass junior’s departure today is even more suspect now that the Assad regime appears to be on the way to collapse.
So why is he now being pushed as a potential successor to Assad? I think he ticks all the boxes. He is charismatic, handsome, wealthy and comes from a military background. That means he is respected by Assad’s old guard – both the new and the old. His friendship of Assad might mean he won’t pursue Assad and his family should the latter leave power, and the country could safely retain its security apparatus under a new Sunni dynasty, the Tlasses. I find myself wondering if this is the result of some compromise between Russia and the West, with both sides not very happy about this revolution, and neither of them wanting the country and the region to crumble into oblivion.
Iran is quietly watching from the sidelines, and it is no coincidence that Annan has hurried between Damascus and Tehran; most likely to deliver the final ultimatum offered by the West. Whatever the contents of this final lifeline are, the alternative is a very destructive war. The FSA will definitely see an upsurge in supply from the West and the Gulf states. Ultimately this means a catastrophic refugee situation. It is clear by now that the Gulf states intend to herd all Syrians fleeing the violence into refugee camps, as the GCC has been denying visas to all Syrians for months.
This is a particularly devastating and humiliating option for many Syrians, as their other routes, whether to Turkey, which will be perilous, or to Lebanon, which might just be a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Not many people realise this, but Damascus in particular is packed with families that have left Homs, Hama and the neighbouring areas and rents in the capital have sky rocketed in the past year. If war reaches Damascus then where will these people go? And how will they be fed, clothed and sheltered? Clinton is not joking when she warns of an impending catastrophe, but the real question is whether Assad cares or not. The mantra chanted by his supporters, “Assad or the country burns” might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tlass might be the least worst option, but this still isn’t good enough for a country that has given over fifteen thousand lives for its freedom, and tens of thousands of refugees and prisoners. I doubt that all these people died to replace an Alawite dictator with a Sunni one, but I’m confident about one thing, and that is that Syria’s freshly grown grass roots will now, and should remain, the final line of defence for the Syrian people’s liberties and fight against oppression. It is now more vital than ever that these grass roots groups and coordination committees dig in and consolidate. The hard work really begins once Assad goes.