Walid Muallem – A Sunni Who Understood His Limits
The late Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem speaks at the Geneva Conference on Syria, January 22, 2014. (Jean-Marc Ferré/UN)

Walid Muallem – A Sunni Who Understood His Limits

Al-Rai, Kuwait, November 21

Ironically, Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister since 2006, died on November 16, 2020, the day marking the 50th anniversary of the 1970 “Corrective Revolution.” The revolution was carried out by Hafez Assad against his comrades and led to the rise of the Assad regime we know today. Was Muallem’s departure on that particular day a coincidence or yet another sign of the end of a regime that has outlived its time? The Corrective Revolution gave rise to a regime that, in order to survive, had to disintegrate Syria into tribes that could be divided and conquered. The Assad dynasty first relied on the help of the Iranians to do so, and then turned to the Russians. From barrel bombs to assassinations, chemical weapons and the mass displacement of citizens, the Assad regime has not shied from using violence to strengthen its power. The truth is that Muallem, a Sunni Muslim who spent most of his life in the inner circles of Damascus, had no significant decision-making authority over the Alawite regime – neither during the Hafez Assad era nor the current Bashar Assad era. Like other Sunnis who rose to fame in Syria under the Assads, Muallem was simply a decorative tool used to polish the regime’s image by allowing it to deny that it was loyal only to Alawites, a sect of Shia Islam. Muallem was among the few urban Sunnis who assumed a prominent position in government. Most other Sunnis in Syria remained powerful only within their own local circles, typically outside the large cities. Those who did rise to fame in places like Damascus were immediately jailed. Muallem knew his limits and learned them early on. After serving as Syria’s ambassador to Washington between 1990 and 1999, he was summoned back to Damascus due to a tip-off that he was growing “too close” to his American counterparts. In fact, Hafez Assad put him in direct competition with Farouk al-Shara, the foreign minister, with Shara coming out victorious. Since his return to Damascus, Muallem played the role he had to play. He demonstrated his loyalty to the Assad family while hiding his true feelings, which were similar to the feelings of every Syrian Sunni toward the regime. He understood what it meant to be a Sunni in the service of Bashar Assad’s regime, and before his, that of Hafez Assad. He knew that the Sunni should negotiate with Israel while the Alawite should remain outside this circle. Therefore, the public negotiations with the Israelis were limited to people like Muallem. Ultimately, he played the sole role of preserving his position. Despite being the highest-ranked official in Syria’s security establishment, he was far from the strongest. The most powerful person has always been the Alawite, who serves as the backbone of the system – which above all else is a family system. – Khairallah Khairallah (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

Give the Gift of Truth This Jewish New Year

The Media Line has been leading for more than twenty years in pioneering the American independent news agency in the Middle East, arguably the first in the region. We have always stayed true to our mission: to provide you with contextual sourced and trustworthy news. In an age of fake news masquerading as journalism, The Media Line plays a crucial role in providing fact-based news that deserves your support.

We're proud of the dozens of young students we've trained in our Press and Policy Student Program who will form the vanguard of the next generation of journalists to the benefit of countless millions of news readers.

Non-profit news needs public support. please help us with your generous contributions.
The Media Line
We thank our loyal readers and wish you all the happiest of holidays.

Invest in the
Trusted Mideast
News source.
We are on the
front lines.

Personalize Your News
Upgrade your experience by choosing the categories that matter most to you.
Click on the icon to add the category to your Personalize news
Browse Categories and Topics
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.