International Affairs Middle East — 11 September 2012
Manufacturing a new leadership for Syria

Dr. Abdul Wahid

Last night’s BBC news programme The World Tonight had a revealing report showing exactly what kind of leadership Western colonial states would like to see replace Bashar al Assad in Syria.

Britain, France and the United States all strongly supported the regime of Bashar al Assad, as they did his father, who both secured their interests at the expense of their own people. They only withdrew their backing for him after months of slaughter in 2011, realising their man in Damascus had no long-term future.

All the talk has been of a ‘Yemen-type solution’, where the core regime remained secure at the expense of the man at the top and his family.

The BBC report was about Brigadier-General Manaf Tlass, who ‘defected’ from the Syrian regime in July 2012 and gave an interview to BBC Arabic yesterday, touting him as a possible future leader. The report acknowledged that Tlass is ‘unlikely’ to be the unifying candidate – but argued if anyone could do it, it needed to be a man like Tlass, with his ideals.

So, what exactly are these ideals, and who is this man that has the qualities Washington, London and Paris are desperately looking for to replace their man in Damascus.

Tlass is a man who has spent his life in the centre of Syria’s inner circle. He was a close friend and confident of Bashar al Assad, as well as his brother Basil who was once touted as the heir to their father. Tlass’s father, Mustafa, was a close ally of Hafiz al Assad, and served as his ‘defence minister’ for decades – so being party to suppressing all dissent. Indeed, the BBC radio report was forced to acknowledge Manaf Tlass himself ‘had blood on his hands’, so was far from an untainted candidate to unify the fractured external opposition.

Tlass claimed that he was ‘against foreign intervention’ in the region’, being all too aware that overt military intervention by the West would be opposed at a grass roots level in Syria who saw the outcome in nearby Iraq. Yet this claim is qualified by the fact that his defection was organised by the French intelligence services, a clear manipulation of events behind the scenes and using regional players to execute Western interests. A prime example of this was how Tlass was welcomed in Turkey by Ahmet Davutoglu (Turkey’s Foreign Minister) – in a way no other defecting military officer had been before or since.

Tlass warned in his BBC interview that if the international community lost interest in Syria ‘all possibilities (for future outcomes) were on the table’.

Commentating on the interview and Tlass’s qualities, Professor Joshua Landis (Director at the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma) said whilst the odds were against his being accepted as the answer to where to find an alternative to Assad, ‘if anyone could do it’, it was ‘someone like him’: well-known in Syria, able to win people in the current regime and against Islamic politic groups.

Here Landis summarised the Western position in Syria: They will trade the Assad family in order to exclude any role for Islam in a future Syria – but are desperate to find a candidate who will work with the anyone else from the current regime (hated by the people), yet work with the non-Islamic opposition groups. These secular opposition groups are the ‘divided opposition’ mentioned in media reports, who represent a minority opinion within Syria, in contrast to the majority of people on the street and within the Free Syrian Army, whose call is more Islamic in its flavour.

Whilst most people see Tlass as an unrealistic leader, with too much past baggage, the manner of his defection and the discussion surrounding it reveals much about current events in Syria: Western interference is alive and kicking; regional players like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be the face of any initiatives but are pursuing the agenda of the international community; there is no desire to support the masses for the freedom from colonial interference, and a strong effort to suppress their Islamic aspirations. But most of all, it reveals a hidden hope that most people will not see – and that is (as Tlass put it) that ALL possibilities are on the table; which includes the prospect of Islamic change, and so real liberation for the people of Syria.


Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at [email protected] 

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