The defection of Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas dealt a severe blow to the Syrian regime and sent everyone wondering how a top military official once considered closest to President Bashar al-Assad then turned against him.
Manaf Tlas, 48, is known to be one of Damascus’s most famous “spoilt youth.” He is handsome, elegant, loves expensive cars, smokes the cigar and likes to spend his summer vacation in France’s Cote d’Azur.
After protests erupted in Damascus, Tlas was relieved of his job as head of the Republican Guard after the regime started losing trust in him, according to a source close to Syrian authorities. Soon thereafter, he had taken off his military uniform, grown his hair and beard, and went around in civilian clothes.
Tlas, the source added, tried to mediate between the regime and the opposition once in al-Rasten, his birthplace, and another time in Deraa in the south, but failed.
Another source from Damascus said that the rift between Tlas and the Syrian regime took place during the military offensive on the Baba Amro neighborhood in Homs in February and March. At the time, Tlas refused to head the unit that launched the attack and it was then that Assad asked him to “stay at home.”
The dispute was aggravated when Assad refused to promote Tlas to General in the annual promotions that take place in July each year.
According to another source, Tlas’s family are all outside Syria now. Tlas’s brother, Feras, a Dubai-based businessman, has been known to support the revolution from the beginning and posted his opinion on his blog when the protests started.
Tlas’s father, Mustafa Tlas, was a close friend of late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, who ruled for 30 years. Manaf Tlas became friends with Bashar’s elder brother Bassel when they were both officers in the Republican Guard. After Bassel died in a car accident in 1994, Tlas’s relationship with Bashar grew stronger.
Manaf’s brother Feras used to run the For Syria Group, which supplied the Syrian army with clothes, food, and medicine. According to observers, the Syrian regime gave the Tlas family a lot of privileges because they were one of the country’s most powerful Sunni clans and therefore constituted a guarantee of Sunni loyalty to the Alawite Assad family.
According to Fabrice Balanche, French expert on Syrian affairs and head of GREMMO (Groupe de recherches et d'études sur la Méditerranée et le Moyen- Orient), Mustafa Tlas was very smart to involve one of his sons in business with the regime and another in the country’s most sophisticated military unit, the Republican Guard.
Tlas’s father and Hafez al-Assad, Balanche added, were both based in Cairo between 1958 and 1961 during the union between Egypt and Syria, also known as the Arab United Republic. They were both members of the Baath Party and objected to the union. When Assad came to power in 1970, he appointed Mustafa Tlas minister of defense.
Balanche stated that Mustafa Tlas’s duties as a minister did not stop him from writing a book about the flora of Syria, several books categorized as anti-Semitic, and poems to Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida.
Abdul Razak Tlas, a cousin of Manaf Tlas, is currently the leader of al-Farouk Brigade, which is affiliated to the Free Syrian Army in Homs.