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Why the Assad regime will continue to destabilise Syria

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Over the summer of 2019, observers of events in Syria were left bemused by the news that Rami Makhlouf had been placed under house arrest. It simply didn’t make any sense. Makhlouf is President Bashar Al-Assad’s cousin, a member of his regime’s inner sanctum who has been instrumental in keeping Assad in power.

In 2011, the Financial Times estimated that Makhlouf controlled 60 per cent of Syria’s economy; after the Syrian revolution broke out, he was accused by the European Union of bankrolling the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

Using his extensive business contacts, Makhlouf enabled Assad’s survival and helped pay for his war. Although he was on the US and EU’s sanction list, he received millions of dollars from the UN through aid programmes designed as humanitarian relief for Syrian civilians suffering the ravages of war. UN money became an important lifeline for the regime and Makhlouf was the go-to-guy for it.

Such prominence makes his fall from grace puzzling. Not only was he suddenly placed under house arrest but stories also came out of Damascus about his business interests being sold off, including SyriaTel, one of the country’s largest telecommunication networks, without explanation. This left many deeply confused.

READ: Assad regime persecutes Syrian Christians, says human rights group

It then emerged that the seizure of Makhlouf’s assets did not happen due to a rift with Assad, but at the request of Russia. Moscow demanded that Damascus should repay a $3 billion loan, money which the Syrian regime did not have; pleas by Syrian officials to........

© Middle East Monitor