What is left for the Syrian regime after Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, commander of Brigade 105 of the Republican Guard, has defected?
There was a time when Manaf was being groomed to become the defence minister, like his father Lt. General Mustafa Tlas before him. Manaf had become eligible owing to his rank in the Republican Guard and the ruling party, and I believe the delay was only because of his young age.
Mustafa Tlas was one of the main pillars of the regime, perhaps even its backbone.
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Tlas has been ‘brooding’, sitting alone at his home or visiting his daughter Nahid in Paris for treatment or to escape the miserable situation. In truth, he is the only person in Syria whom I know (and heard) address Hafez al-Assad on the phone by his first name, without saying Mr. President or any other title.
Firas Mustafa Tlas, the eldest son, is the best friend I have in Syria. He is a businessman and has nothing to do with the regime, unlike his brother Manaf, who was a committed man, sometimes speaking to me in the language of the sixties as he dreamt of a role in liberating Palestine and achieving Arab unity.
Since April, 2011, I have not been in touch with any official in the Syrian regime and I used to criticize the opposition, condemning its divisions and the obnoxiousness of some of its figures. The opposition would then respond by claiming that I supported the regime, but I say in response to this that I had severed all contacts with the regime before everyone else did.
I have objected since day one, and to this day, to the killing of people. My opinion was and still is that the regime could have ended the crisis in Deraa peacefully had it not chosen violence, which it escalated month after month. This continued until we reached the point of no return with the massacres of Hula and Qubeir two months ago, as I wrote at the time. Today, it has become clear that the Syrian revolution will end with a winner and a loser, and that the loser will pay the price from its own blood.
I almost cannot believe that the regime has lost the family of Mustafa Tlas and only has Iran left on its side. The regime does not realize that Russia and China are not allies, but that they have strategic interests.
Russia in particular will sell Dr. Bashar al-Assad and his regime as soon as tomorrow, if the Obama administration offers the right price – for example cancelling the deployment of the missile shield in northern Europe, which he claims is to defend against Iranian missiles, when it is in fact aimed at destroying Russia.
Iran is a different matter. The Islamic Republic is in a situation that is as bad as Syria’s or worse, even without a revolution. Iran is secluded through international decisions, and additional ones taken by the U.S. administration and the EU. Thus, anyone who deals with Iran is subjected to sanctions, a situation that Syria is facing as well. Syria and Iran have an alliance that can be best described as one between ‘the miserable and the hopeless’.
But how did the regime reach a point where its relations with its people and the majority of the world were severed?
Perhaps Manaf Tlas’s story will illustrate the situation. Following the events in Deraa, the Syrian authorities received information about a possible protest movement in Douma and neighbouring towns.
President Assad instructed Manaf Tlas to go to Douma to resolve the problem with the townspeople. So he went and agreed with them over a solution that meets their demands, mostly concerning their daily livelihoods and affairs, and others concerning the municipality chairmanship and how the affairs of people there are managed. Manaf then returned to the president, briefed him on his efforts, to which president approved and thanked him.
On the following day, opposition emerged in Assad’s inner circle to Manaf’s proposals. I heard that this opposition came from men like the president’s brother, uncle, cousin and brother in law, but I am not certain of this. What matters is that the town’s leaders came to Damascus for the agreement, only to be snubbed, and they returned empty-handed.
I heard that those who opposed Manaf’s proposals said that he gave the people of Douma too much, too quickly, and that people will get greedy and ask more from the regime. So for this reason, they urged the president to backtrack on what he had approved a day earlier.
Manaf Tlas decided to stay home in protest after his mission failed, and remained there for weeks or two months, I believe. Then the president asked him how long more will he be ‘brooding’, and ordered him to go back to his office and his job. He did, but he did not exercise his duties.
Today, I hear that Manaf Tlass has defected and fled to Turkey. Since my relationship with the regime has been severed for 16 months, I cannot be certain of anything until I speak to him or encounter one of his relatives.
Today in Syria, the final chapter of a popular uprising is being written, and I insist that the regime could have avoided it, had it not chosen the military-based solution and its stubborn insistence upon it, even when it failed month after month, making the problem worse.
Yet the solution will not come from a meeting in Cairo, Geneva or Paris, but from the heart of Syria itself.
The heart of the Arab needs an urgent heart surgery, but this will only succeed if it is to be performed by Syrians themselves. I therefore refuse in advance any solution that is non-Syrian or non-Arab, i.e. one the Americans, the Europeans or any other foreign party may attempt to impose.
Thousands of victims have died as a result of wrong solutions in a revolution that has gone beyond all the stages of a compromise, to the stage of a final showdown.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on July 8, 2012