Which president married his cousin

Syria: how powerful is Assad?

The Russian ambassador in Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, apparently thought the time had come to clarify some things: at the weekend he gave the Iranian news agency Mehr an interview on the attitude of the Russian government towards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In it, he denied rumors about an agreement between Russia and Iran that provided for the removal of Assad.

There are rumors that Russia is not satisfied with President Assad, said Dzhagaryan. However, these rumors did not reflect the position of the Russian government. "I would like to emphasize that we will continue to support the political process in Syria," said Dzhagaryan. "We will support the legitimate government of Syria. The future of the country belongs to the Syrian people. Only the Syrians are the decision-makers in their country."

Putin (left) and Assad in Damascus in January

The report of alienation between Russia and Iran on the one hand and Bashar al-Assad on the other was based on the fact that fighting in Syria is still going on after more than nine years of war - and Assad is preventing a ceasefire with his uncompromising attitude . Russia and Iran have invested heavily in this war. They have wanted to end it for a long time if possible. But since both countries have also had to raise funds to contain the corona crisis to protect their own people, spending is putting even more pressure on the state budget than it already is.

"Iran and Russia are holding on to Assad"

Nonetheless, both Russia and Iran continued to hold on to Assad, says Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Russia would like Assad to play a more politically constructive role. But Moscow also knows that he is the absolute key figure in Syria. He is at the center of power, and that is why Moscow is not abandoning it."

In Tehran, too, they continue to rely on Assad, said Barnes-Dacey. “The Iranian government is less concerned with how sustainable the system is. It is much more interested in national security.

Opposition supporters will celebrate the ninth anniversary of the uprising against Assad on March 18 in Idlib

Accordingly, at the weekend, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the chief adviser to the Iranian parliamentary president, spoke about Iran's attitude towards Assad. He also denied rumors that the political leaderships in Moscow and Tehran had agreed to depose Assad. Corresponding reports of such an agreement are "a big lie," he said. Assad is the "legitimate president of Syria."

The billionaire's criticism

However, Assad hears expressions of discontent in his own country. On Tuesday this week, Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, one of the richest men in the country, said the government had ordered the confiscation of his property and had forbidden him from doing business with the Syrian state for the next five years. The declaration is the culmination of an alienation within the Syrian power and business elite that has been dragging on for months.

At the end of April, Makhlouf had been critical of the president's political style via Twitter. In it he referred to incidents last December. At that time, according to a report by the Economist, the Syrian government had confiscated parts of Makhlouf's assets. The entrepreneur disregarded customs regulations, it was said at the time.

Rami Makhlouf

In April of this year, militias attacked Makhlouf's company, Syriatel, the country's largest mobile operator. Several executives were arrested. The state then demanded license fees of at least $ 170 million. The action takes place as part of an anti-corruption campaign, said Assad.

"The security forces arrest our employees in an inhuman way," complained Makhlouf, who was not known for his squeamish methods, now on Twitter. He then turned directly to his cousin in the presidential palace: "President, the security forces have begun to attack people's freedoms. They are your loyal supporters. The situation is dangerous and God knows, if we continue like this, the situation of the country will be be very difficult. "

Asma Assad in a new role?

The two anti-Makhlouf actions could usher in a new phase in Syrian economic policy, in which Asssad's wife Asma plays a leading role. The newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that last Sunday the Syrian state media broadcast a statement by the President’s wife, in which she announced that from now on the Presidential Office would take care of those injured in the war as well as reforming the economy.

First wife Asma al-Assad

The fact that Makhlouf speaks out in public indicates that there has been signs of alienation among the Syrian elite around the presidential palace, says Barnes-Dacey. But these could not harm Assad. "Domestically, too, the president holds power in his hands. Nothing is possible against him in the country. Even the elite can do little against his will."

Chronic financial stress

Nevertheless, the government is facing massive financial problems. Apart from Russia and Iran and Hezbollah, which is linked to Tehran, it has no significant allies. Western states are reluctant to adopt any policy that could help keep Assad in power. With it, so the opinion common in most European capitals, the country will not be pacified in the long term. Added to this are the global pressures caused by the corona pandemic. Syria is likely to continue to suffer from chronic financial shortages.