Brigadier General Manaf Tlas has finally broken his silence after deserting the Syrian army in early July
A childhood friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tlas confirmed his defection earler this week on Al Arabiya TV, saying that Syrians must now work together to build a new, democratic country.
Tlas is the highest-ranking army deserter since the beginning of the uprising 17 months ago. He has been in exile in Paris for the past three weeks.
A former member of the elite Republican Guard and son of an ex-Minister of Defense, Tlas asked Syrians to allow him to serve Syria in the post-Assad era -- a Syria that “should not be built on revenge, exclusion or monopoly.”
The ex-general, who favors a tousled hair look and is often photographed smoking Cuban cigars, presented himself as a beacon of hope. However, he is not without baggage: his reputation as a playboy, the fact that his family has served the Assads for so long, and the fact that his defection comes late in the game -- all work against him.
Some even doubt the sincerity of his defection. Blogger Rodi Kawro tweeted: "Tlas would never have deserted if he thought the Assad regime had any hope of surviving." And Haytham Amaarah wrote: "Manaf Tlas doesn’t want to join the revolution. He wants the revolution to join him."
The Syrian regime is beginning to exhibit signs that the end is nigh. Assad’s uncle Mohammed Machluf and his sons have allegedly been sounding both Paris and Moscow out to see if they could seek safe haven in either capital, should the system implode. Machluf’s son Rami is one of Syria’s richest businessmen.
The Syrian opposition still offers no alternative: it has no structure, no unity, and no clear agenda. Many regime opponents, particularly outside Syria, are without a power base in the country. But the revolution is counting on other figures -- not Tlas and his ilk, but rather players like Nawaf al-Fares, Syria’s former ambassador to Iraq, also a defector. Al-Fares is not only Sunni, which are the majority in Syria, but also heads the influential al-Jarrah clan, whose fame goes back to fighting the French in the 1940s.
The clan is part of the Egaidat tribal confederation, Eastern Syria’s largest tribal alliance, some 1.5 million members strong, with branches in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The fact that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar support the Syrian rebels is partially -- albeit not entirely -- due to that link.
A new role for Syria’s tribal confederations
The complex tribal structures, ignored or consciously repressed by the Assad regime for more than 40 years, will play a major role in the new Syrian order says Syria expert Hassan Hassan of "The National" newspaper in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Shammar tribal confederation is a million members strong, the Jubur live in Eastern Syria and Iraq and have particularly close ties to the Gulf States, and the Eniza are a powerful Gulf clan with family ties in the Syrian cities of Homs, Hama and Aleppo. The N’eim clan lives in the Daraa region, where the uprising against the Assad regime began. Some key commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are members of this clan. And finally, the 1.2 million strong Baggara clan call Syria (Deir Essor, Aleppo) as well as Iraq home.
These clans represent the real power dynamic in Syria -- a balance that has been relatively successfully ignored by the Assad’s Alawite dynasty over the years.
Tlas is not the only one making the headlines these days. Other defectors include Abdel Latif al-Dabbagh, Syria’s ambassador to the UAE, who together with his wife Lamia Hariri, Syria’s representative in Cyprus, has turned up in Qatar, as well as the 27 Syrian generals who have sought refuge in Turkey and are offering their services to the FSA.
But even if the bad news for Assad keeps piling on, his regime is still scoring points in the civil war. After the army won Damascus back, the economically important northern Syrian city of Aleppo has been turned into a battlefield. Syria’s air force has been bombing the city -- which had been considered friendly to Assad and so far had largely been spared fighting -- and the army is marching towards it.
Supply routes from Turkey feed into Aleppo, and the rebels are in control of the area surrounding the city. Their offensive in Damascus failed mainly because of lack of supplies and rival command structures between officers in Turkey and the commanding officer in Homs.
The United Nations plays a negligible if any role in the conflict. The world organization has removed half of its 300 observers from Syria. The UN is now working "on a reduced basis and is doing what it can [in Syria]," said Hervé Ladsous, who heads the UN “Blue Helmet” forces in Damascus.
Meanwhile, Turkey has closed some of its borders with Syria "for security reasons." Turkish citizens may no longer travel to Syria, but according to Ankara border crossings remain open for trade vehicles and refugees.
Read the original article in German.
Photo - BFM TV