There are no crucial new developments regarding the crisis between Rami Makhlouf and Asma Al-Assad, which erupted last summer, except for the fact that Makhlouf appeared in the public sphere, three times even, thereby implicitly indicating that he is helpless regarding what Assad did to him.
Since the outbreak of the crisis between Makhlouf and the Syrian regime, triggered by the exorbitant taxes requested by the Syrian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority from Syriatel, the telecom company owned by Makhlouf, virtually all the latter’s money has been seized.
Moreover, he has been prevented from traveling, the activities of his companies and factories have been frozen, investments withdrawn, while a legal guard supervises Syriatel. In short, Rami Makhlouf has been transformed into a wolf without fangs and claws. The latest appearances of Makhlouf confirm his inability to face the rising influence of Asma Al-Assad. In fact, it seems he is close to achieving her goal: “abandoning Syriatel.”
In his last messages on his Facebook page, Makhlouf revealed that his house and properties had been sold under forged contracts by “the merchants of war.”
“I sent a letter to President Al-Assad, in his capacity as head of the High Judicial Council and head of the executive, military and security authorities,” wrote Makhlouf. “These gangs (the wealthy of the war) went further than that, they actually carried out their threats, because we did not give up our companies and properties by selling them. They even sold my house, and those of my children, using forged contracts and power of attorneys.”
“If all this pleases you, Mr. President, then I will speak no more of this matter,” he added. “Lawyers are being threatened, and none of them dares to defend our rights, even if they are allowed to do so. In contrast, these gangs enjoy wide powers. Most importantly, the security authority is like a sword hanging over everyone’s heads without exception. Not to mention that all our transactions with state institutions were suspended.”
Makhlouf emphasized that the “gangs” worked in agreement with public authorities to forge contracts and power of attorneys by registering them with old dates to refute any claims that they actually carry much later dates.
“Moreover, by doing so, they are trying to promote their fraudulent practices and legalize the selling of our possessions that we did not sell,” he added.
The security forces stormed Makhlouf ‘s headquarters and confiscated all of his companies’ documents, including files regarding meetings with public bodies and commercial records. It is this what allows them to freely forge documents and decisions by the boards of directors.
Before his Facebook message, Makhlouf came out with a rather strange video, in which he talked about incomprehensible religious practices, calling upon the Syrians to “pray for 40 days beginning on the 15th of this month” to avoid the upcoming disasters this year.
In the video he warned that “2021 will be a landmark year and will witness major disasters,” referring to the religious prophecies dealing with the advent of the Awaited Mahdi and the descent of the Messiah.
On December 14, 2020, Makhlouf published another Facebook ?? message addressed to Assad, in which he asked him to “open a new page for Syria and all Syrians.”
The Merchants of War
It seems Asma Al-Assad has created a new generation of merchants working under her control. They are the people Makhlouf described as “merchants of war.” They can be divided into two categories.
The first represents the “old bourgeoisie” headed by Makhlouf. This group includes the Syrian merchants who have dominated the market since the 1990s, well before the outbreak of the war. They dispersed in recent years. Some fled with their wealth outside the country. Others saw their money seized or are now working within a narrow margin in areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
The second represents the “bourgeoisie of the Syrian war,” a group of people about whom the Syrians used to know nothing. They had no activities in the world of business before the revolution, but during the war they appeared with billions of dollars and gained control over all sectors.
Certainly, the emergence of these people was not arbitrary. It came at the expense of the declining “old bourgeoisie.” The members of the second category often work as fronts for personalities who wish to remain unknown, such as Asma Al-Assad.
The beginning of the end for Rami Makhlouf was when his aunt, Anisa Makhlouf, the mother of Bashar Al-Assad, passed away, which resulted in the women’s leadership in the Republican Palace shifting from Anisa Makhlouf to Asma Al-Assad, who seems to be working on restructuring the Syrian economy by creating economic fronts that control the country on her behalf.
Among the merchants of war, Khader Abu Ali is considered one of “Asma’s boys.” Abu Ali owns a chain of companies, including Emma Tell for cellular services, of which al-Assad is likely to be the true owner. This company has succeeded in defying US sanctions several times, most recently with the introduction of the iPhone 12 in Syria, making it the first Arab country to put the new Apple product in the market.
As Makhlouf talked about the storming of his house and companies, and the theft of documents, some sources in the Syrian capital stated that Abu Ali and a group of men close to the Syrian security apparatus broke into Makhlouf’s house situated in Damascus’ luxurious Yafour suburb. The aim was to collect even more documents in order to forge them and use them to track the ultimate target Syriatel. However, Daraj was unable to confirm this information.
It seems Asma Al-Assad has created a new generation of merchants working under her control: They are the people Makhlouf described as “merchants of war.”
Alongside Abu Ali among the merchants of war, the name of businessman Muhannad al-Dabbagh stands out. He happens to be the cousin of Asma Al-Assad and owns the Syrian Takamul company, which received a “smart card” project from the government to distribute bread, fuel and subsidized foodstuffs.
In addition, there is Samer Al-Fouz, described as “the new Rami Makhlouf” and Hussam Katerji, the godfather of the oil deals with ISIS, when it controlled Deir Ezzor. It seems Asma Al-Assad thought well and hard before executing the restructuring, as her control over the country’s resources through these economic fronts is much better for her and her family than when remaining in the hands of the Makhloufs.