Syria 2020: Between Asma Al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf

Asma al-Akhras al-Assad never thought her family would ever be targeted by the US "Caesar Act" sanctions. More than that, the sanctions came to prove that change in Syria is an American policy, regardless of who is in the White House, whether it is Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
Saturday 02/01/2021
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C), his wife Asma (L) and their children during the afforestation of Harsh al-Tufaha (Apple Forest) area in al-Drekish countryside in western Syria. (AFP)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C), his wife Asma (L) and their children during the afforestation of Harsh al-Tufaha (Apple Forest) area in al-Drekish countryside in western Syria. (AFP)

From "The struggle for Syria", the title of British Patrick Seale's book in the mid-1960s, to Nicholas Van Damme's "The Struggle for Power in Syria" in the 1970s, there was a return in 2020 to a mix of the two struggles.

There is at this stage a struggle over Syria and a struggle for power in Syria at the same time. But there is more to it than that. There are questions related to the fate of Syria as we have known it, as the country has come under five occupations: Iranian, Russian, Turkish, American and Israeli.

This return to the two struggles came half a century after the establishment of the current Syrian regime, which from the start was clearly a family system before anything else.

In the year 2020, the system remained family-based, but a fundamental change in its composition occurred in light of the rise of Asma al-Akhras al-Assad, the wife of Bashar al-Assad, and the demise of Rami Mohammed Makhlouf.

From the Assad-Makhlouf regime, which lasted a long time, to the Assad-al-Akhras regime, which ended before it even began; in a country where the minimum level of awareness is lacking about what Syria has become in light of international and regional pressures.

The rise of Asma, the daughter of a Sunni family (from Homs), did not continue for long. The US sanctions against her father, mother, and two brothers, Firas and Iyad, came to confirm that the US administration is adamant about change in Syria.

The matter is no longer dependent on the administration of Donald Trump, but goes beyond it given that the main players in this regard are the two chambers of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives), where radical change in Syria enjoys great support from Democratic and Republican senators and representatives alike.

One had to wait for the death of Mohammad Makhlouf three months ago to discover that the latter was the cousin of Hafez al-Assad and that his sister, Anisa, the wife of the late Syrian president, was not from a different social class.

Everything that the regime had propagated for half a century about the role of Mohammed Makhlouf in facilitating his sister's marriage to Hafez al-Assad was inaccurate.

The truth of the matter is that there was, from the beginning, a division of roles between Assad, the father and his cousin, who put his hand on the Syrian economy while enjoying a cover from the former, in order to control the Alawite sect and ensure its compliance through private funds.

Hafez al-Assad founded the currently-established regime, November 16, 1970.

Hafez al-Assad was the defence minister starting in 1966. During his tenure , the Golan was occupied by Israel in June 1967, in circumstances that were ambiguous to say the least. He eventually turned against his Baathist and Alawite comrades.

He became the sole ruler of Syria after putting another Alawite, Salah Jadid, in prison with Sunni figures, including Nureddin al-Atassi, Yusuf Zuayyin, and others.

He quickly got rid of another senior Alawite officer, Mohammad Omran, when he sent someone to assassinate him in Tripoli, the capital of northern Lebanon, in 1972.

This made Lebanese Prime Minister Saeb Salam an undesirable person in Syria after he insisted on investigating the assassination of Mohammad Omran.

What happened in 2020 can be described as a very important development, even a turning point, on the Syrian level, less than ten years after the outbreak of the popular revolution in March of 2011.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking next to his wife Asma as they receive members of the army and their mother's to celebrate Mother's Day in the capital Damascus on March 21, 2016. (AFP)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking next to his wife Asma as they receive members of the army and their mother's to celebrate Mother's Day in the capital Damascus on March 21, 2016. (AFP)

In light of the regional and international struggle over Syria, the nature of the ongoing struggle within the ruling family has changed.

Rami Mohammed Makhlouf, who inherited the role played by his father, was replaced by Asma al-Akhras al-Assad, the woman who is driven by an unmatched lust for power and financial influence.

In 2020, Asma was able to destroy the economic, social and sectarian empire of the Makhlouf family and fully control it and fragment what was left of it in the pursuit of her own project

Thus, Alawite families, their livelihood and daily bread became dependent on the mercy of the “Syrian Trust for Development” institutions directly controlled by Asma al-Akhras, after they had been under the control of the Makhlouf family since the seventies of the last century when Hafez al-Assad allowed Mohammed Makhlouf to control the Syrian economy and use this money to control and subdue the Alawite sect and transform them into slaves of the ruling family.

Also, Asma was able to transform herself into a fundamental pillar in the equation of Syria's war economy to ensure the survival of the Assad regime.

Asma hopes to transfer power to her oldest son, Hafez. Today, she controls 70 percent of the Syrian public sector economy through the so-called “the fund of the martyrs and the wounded of the Syrian Arab Army”.

Asma is also directly involved in the Syrian private economy. She controls as well the resources of international humanitarian institutions and United Nations organisations operating in Syria through the ministry of social affairs and the Syrian Red Crescent and by forcing all international institutions operating in Syria to work exclusively through these two bodies that are 100 percent under her control.

Asma left the “dirty” economic activity to Maher al-Assad and sidelined him in the successful confrontation it waged against Rami Makhlouf and his group.

In addition, she was able to impose the control of her immediate relatives over a number of economic sectors.

Asma al-Akhras al-Assad never thought her family would ever be targeted by the US "Caesar Act" sanctions.

She had thought that her British nationality and the "hidden political" role that her father, Dr Fawaz Al-Akhras thought he was playing, would provide her family with protection from the US sanctions that had previously targeted her personally as well as her eldest son, who is still dreaming of inheriting the presidency.

The sanctions proved that the decision to place the family on the US sanctions list came in full coordination between Washington and London.

More than that, the sanctions came to prove that change in Syria is an American policy, regardless of who is in the White House, whether it is Donald Trump or Joe Biden.