August 9th, 2012
07:38 PM ET

Al-Assad's inner circle, mostly family, like 'mafia'

From Jill Dougherty, CNN

Syrian Prime Minister Ryad Hijab defected this week, joining the list of several other high-level members of the Syrian regime who have abandoned President Bashar al-Assad as he struggles to maintain his grip on power.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Hijab's actions are another sign that al-Assad will fall.

"I'm not going to put a timeline on it," she said. "I can't possibly predict it, but I know it's going to happen as does most observers around the world."

But the prime minister is the head of the government, and the government does not rule the country. The real power in Syria is held by the true "insiders," al-Assad's blood relatives. 

Maher Al-Assad - Al-Assad's youngest brother and rumored to be Syria's second-most powerful man. He is head of the elite, rabidly loyal Republican Guard and the 4th Armored Division.

Namir Al-Assad - The president's cousin who is one of the top leaders of the Shabiha, the mercenary force used to suppress the opposition.

Rami Makhlouf - The money behind the regime, al-Assad's first cousin is believed to be the richest person in Syria. He allegedly funds the regime's violent battle against protesters and rebels who are seeking to oust the president.

Ali Mamlouk - As the head of national security, Mamlouk had U.S. sanctions leveled against him for human rights abuses and violence against civilians. Almost all members of al-Assad's inner circle are Alawites, a minority Muslim group. Alawites make up less than 15% of the population. Three-quarters of Syrians are Sunni Muslims.

Most of those who have defected are Sunni, including the prime minister.

In July, one of Syria's most senior diplomats, Nawaf al-Fares, defected, publicly embraced his country's uprising and called for a foreign military intervention. Al-Fares was Syria's ambassador to Iraq.

Manaf Tlas, a Sunni general in Syria's elite Republican Guards, also defected last month. Tlas is the son of a former defense minister and a cousin of a first lieutenant in al-Assad's army.

Syria expert Hussein Ibish said al-Assad's inner circle has only one message for its fellow Syrians. " 'It's us or the abyss,' " Ibish said. " 'Stick with us or you will be massacred in your beds.' "

The regime operates like an organized crime syndicate, he said.

"So it isn't possible to reform because what you would have to do to reform," Ibish said, "is start dismantling a mafia operation, a set of rackets, a set of interrelated criminal enterprises."

soundoff (318 Responses)
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    August 22, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  4. Mary

    Why CNN fears opinions which are opposite to the policy which the U.S. government is implementing in the Middle East in the name of "democracy' ? Do you really believe in the freedom of speech or you just want to mislead people thinking that every one is as gullible as the Americans to believe any thing that they are fed ?

    August 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  5. Anthony

    But Assad is a reformer. Did not Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton say so?

    August 13, 2012 at 1:20 am | Reply
  6. Louis

    Why there are no recent news about the fighting in syria? days ago we had everyday reports of the situation....

    August 13, 2012 at 12:34 am | Reply
    • Luke

      All communications were cut off a few days ago in Aleppo, not sure about the rest of Syria. That's the reason it is taking so long for updates, as all of the updates needs to come across the border into Turkey to be uploaded now

      August 13, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
      • Claude

        rest assured that all indirect news coming over that way, will only be pro rebel biased one's.

        January 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  7. Joe

    Wow surprise, surprise! A family of power hungry criminals. Wow what a new concept! ::: sarcasm :::::::

    August 12, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  8. Maher

    The Guardian: Intervention is now driving Syria's descent into darkness
    Western and Gulf regime support for armed groups fighters isn't bringing freedom to Syrians but escalating sectarian conflict and war
    Driving the escalation of the conflict has been western and regional intervention. This isn't Iraq, of course, with hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, or Libya, with a devastating bombardment from the air. But the sharp increase in arms supplies, funding and technical support from the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others in recent months has dramatically boosted the armed groups' fortunes, as well as the death toll.

    August 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Reply
    • nizar.qalb

      Well it is all well and good to repeat a bunch of trumped up pro-regime lies... like some sort of shabiha... to blame Saudi and the US and Qatar... who are doing too little too late to help the Syrian resistance...
      It is all well and good to lie and claim this is all about Islamists... and talk about "Armed groups" like one of Assad's little yorky lapdogs...

      It would be funny if people were not dying Maher...
      It would be funny if Assad weren't using a bunch of Alawi shabiha militias to act like the new Hezbollat pigs....
      You can feign outcry all day.... But it is Assad not "intervention" that is doing the killing.
      There is no intervention. Typical regime talking point.

      Sometimes you have to wonder how much some people are being paid to spread Assad's propaganda... bani klab.... while Russia and Assad and Iran secretly plot the division of Syria into Lattkia... and the rest.

      August 13, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
      • Claude

        shurely Shabiba is a big problem and they restarted after forbidden Muslim Brothers infiltrated peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in Latakia in 2011. Shabiba even killed army and police officers regulating the demonstrators corso.
        But foreign rebel groups with an own agenda are at least a same problem.
        I think Maher did not want to offend anyone but only stated that such a Black or White view of "only the rebels are good" even though their arrival into the country caused havoc, is irresponsible with respect of the unnecessary syrian and foreign blood that has since been spilled in Syria. And no i do not get paid for my statement and hope you do neither ;)

        January 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  9. np

    If there is an increasing show of force by the opposition and success of its military successes then the Syrian inner circle will begin to crumble more rapidly.

    August 12, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  10. Maher

    The Guardian; War crimes by Syrian Armed groups must be condemned too

    August 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
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