Dinner at Makhlouf family House

Former US Ambassador Robert Ford wrote an article in the Saudi-owned Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper published in the British capital London.

In the article Ambassador Ford talked about an invitation extended to him for a dinner at Makhlouf’s family home in Damascus in 2011…

Rami Makhlouf invited me and my wife for an extraordinary dinner inside his house in Damascus in March 2011.

His house was so great that we went five minutes by car at a speed of 20 kilometers per hour, to travel the distance between the external gate and the house.

The home designer succeeded in building a kind of dream home in California on the countryside of Damascus.

Makhlouf’s wife looked elegant, but she did not pronounce a single letter throughout the evening.

Rami’s father was present, and he asked to know my wife’s birth date, and mentioned speculation about the future of each of us based on the sequence of numbers, and how the different totals of numbers indicate certain future events.

(However, he did not expect my criticism of the Syrian government to suppress the Syrian uprising).

The food was excellent and very tasty, as is the custom with the Syrian cuisine; but there was only a small dish, and unlike all the dinners I attended over the past 30 years in the Arab world, the host did not offer us more food. Rami was polite, did not inquire about the sanctions imposed by the US government against him since 2008, and I also refrained from raising this issue.

Two months later, during an interview with the brilliant journalist of the New York Times, Anthony Shadid, Rami warned the Syrian and Western demonstrators that the ruling elite in Damascus would fight, and not acquiesce in change. In early May, at a time when street demonstrations attracted people of different groups inside Syria, Makhlouf stressed that the Syrian government “is fighting in the face of a rebellion controlled by Salafis”.

His message was different from the one that (Foreign Minister) Walid Al Muallem and (Presidential Adviser) Buthaina Shaaban told me, which revolved around President Bashar Al Assad’s commitment to “reform and stop violence”.

Buthaina assured me that “the president is not satisfied with Makhlouf,” but history proves that Rami’s words were accurate.

Today, after nine years have passed, Rami has spoken again, but this time through Facebook, to tell us that he discovered that “the security apparatus assaults on people and violates their freedoms”.

How horrible!

He discovered that the government was holding and threatening loyal citizens.

This is inhumane!

He discovered that there is corruption within the Syrian government, saying that he refuses to pay taxes because he does not wish to transfer the money to other pockets.

Imagine that there were thieves in Damascus!

He admitted that the revenues of his companies helped fund the security apparatus, that he was the largest sponsor of this agency, and that he was shocked to learn that the intelligence service was now arresting managers of his companies.

The truth is that whoever sows the wind reaps storms.

Of course, there are divergent opinions about the reason behind the divisions within the mysterious Syrian regime.

It is interesting that some Russian analysts and companies have also discovered corruption and complain of it today.

In other words, they knew that corruption existed before, but today they are demanding the repayment of loans from Assad’s empty treasury, and for this reason Assad turned with his own eyes towards the money of his uncle’s son.

According to a Syrian analyst, the names of Assad and Rami are fighting for control of the Syrian economy.

Here, we should remember that Asma Al Assad was a manager at the London-based investment bank JP Morgan, before her marriage to Bashar, and therefore she was able to absorb Rami’s tricks.

And I saw another Syrian analysis indicating that businessman Khadir Al Tahir, a member of General Maher Al Assad’s entourage, is now trying to compete with Rami Makhlouf in some economic sectors.

And soon, a senior American official made statements in which he stated that the US sanctions are aimed at harming the Syrian elite, in order to persuade them to accept the political transition.

It is worth noting that the Syrian pound collapsed to the level of 1300 against the dollar (it was 50 against the dollar in 2011).

Suffering today is not limited to the Syrian elite, in fact, all Syrians are suffering.

For my part, I do not expect that the divisions within the ruling Syrian elite will contribute to a political transition soon.

I was a student in Cairo in 1984, when Rifaat Al Assad tried to turn against his brother Hafez.

At the time, the Russians did not intervene, and Hafez managed to keep the reins of power in his hand.

Rami’s brother, Hafez Makhlouf, was a senior official in the General Security Service, but he left the country in 2014 after a dispute with the Assad family.

Many believe that the bombing in 2012, which killed a number of senior Syrian officials, including the Minister of Defense and Bashar’s sister-in-law, Asif Shawkat, was planned by a group inside the regime opposing the Asif group.

I don’t know the truth, but Shawkat’s widow, Assad’s sister Bushra, fled to Dubai.

Nevertheless, and through all of that, the Assad family remained in power.

More importantly, the security apparatus remained loyal to Bashar.

Rami’s speech on Facebook suggests that Bashar knows that he must keep the intelligence villains satisfied in order to remain in control.