A screenshot from one of Rami Makhlouf's videos criticizing the Assad regime. (Rami Makhlouf via Facebook)

Syria, Caught In-between in the Battle of 2 Cousins

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 8

When evaluating who has more power, the president of the Syrian Republic or the CEO of the country’s largest telecommunications provider, the answer is almost certainly the former. This is true even when the CEO happens to be the president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, who surprised all observers of Syrian politics last week when he issued two videos in which he called to end Assad’s regime. Makhlouf’s videos found a large and attentive viewership around the world. The truth is that domestically, most citizens couldn’t care less about the battle for power between the two cousins. Most Syrians are currently home, glued to their screens, consuming hours of Ramadan television shows. Not even the coronavirus situation has succeeded in making them abandon the drama series that are produced in their country each year during this holy month. In this context, Rami Makhlouf’s videos, dramatic as they may be, haven’t succeeded in garnering a wide following inside Syria. The key to understanding the future of this dispute between the two cousins is to determine whether it is happening on financial or political grounds. If Makhlouf is picking a fight with Assad over money, then things can be sorted out rather quickly between the two cousins. However, if the fight is ideological, we’re likely to see a much longer war waged against the Syrian president in which Assad is most likely to win. It is important to note that many eyes are glued to Damascus as a result of this battle. The situation in Syria is crucial not only for the stability of the region but also for the greater proxy war unfolding between the United States and Russia. Almost every player in the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, would be affected by a change of power in Damascus. The next few weeks will reveal which of the two battles this is, and whether we’re in for a temporary squabble or a long-term proxy war between two camps and their clashing worldviews. – Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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