He Wanted to Correct the Regime's Course |
Al Hayat - 12 July, 2012
Author: Jihad Al Khazen
Were it not for the fact that the Syrian situation, with the innocent victims and the daily killings, is the equivalent of a Greek tragedy, what I read about the exit of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas from Syria would have been comical – given the amount of errors and exaggerations the coverage of this event contained.
Some of the coverage in the press was accurate. But the majority of those who wrote about Manaf, analyzing his character and expressing sympathy for his family, do not know him, or have never met him or spoken to him. Instead, they just made ‘inferences’ about his motivations.
Today, I will focus on what I personally and directly know about the subject, and I will begin by correcting some information first.
Manaf Tlas is the second son of Deputy Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, and not the eldest son as I read. Lt. General Mustafa Tlas is usually addressed by his sobriquet Abu Firas- meaning Firas is his eldest son.
Agence France-Presse, which is usually accurate, spoke of four children, two sons and two daughters. But Manaf did not send an e-mail message to AFP; the message was probably a fake.
A brigadier general in the leadership of the Syrian Revolution, who seems to be afraid that Manaf will rival him in the next regime, claims that Tlas’ defection does not honor the Syrian opposition. He claimed that when the 105th brigade (and not battalion) which Tlas headed was ordered to destroy the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs, Manaf requested that he be excused from his post, and placed him under house arrest.
I believe that all this is not a so-innocent mistake, but rather deliberate lying. Manaf Tlas was opposed from day one to the military-based solution. He had reached a peaceful resolution in Douma which was refused by the advocates of violence around the president. As a result, he chose to remain home and only returned to his office when the president ordered him to do so, but without discharging any duties of any kind until he left Syria.
Manaf Tlas is a committed member of the Baath Party, which means that I do not agree with him politically. He was on his way to succeed his father Mustafa as defense minister, but the revolution turned the whole situation upside down.
In my opinion, Manaf’s exit was to protest the daily killing, and was not a defection from the regime. Perhaps the most accurate talk that represents the opinion of the entire Tlas family was what I heard from one of its members, who said that since the start of the crisis, at each time the conflict reached a crossroads and the president had the chance to change course, the latter took the wrong road, making the situation worse.
Today, the family of Mustafa Tlas is all outside of Syria, including the father, the children, and the grandchildren, scattered between Dubai and Paris. But Firas Tlas, a businessman, did not move any of his businesses outside of Syria as I read. For one thing, this is impossible, because he cannot possibly move a factory or a share in a company.
More importantly, I have not heard any talk from the Tlas family members about toppling the regime or crushing the opposition. Instead, they spoke about a solution where there would be no winners or losers. Indeed, some fear that a devastating civil war may erupt in Syria, and others are concerned that the Syrian crisis may spillover to neighboring countries – and we saw something like this happen on the Lebanese border recently.
I and some colleagues in Al-Hayat had known for months that Manaf Tlas was not discharging his official duties, that he wanted to leave the country and that he was waiting for a suitable opportunity - especially so when he is a married father of four, two young sons and two young daughters, and thus could not leave them and their mother behind.
His ‘disgruntlement’ was no secret. A few months after the incidents in Deraa had erupted, an individual close to the regime told me that they considered the Tlas family to be in the opposition.
During the unity between Egypt and Syria (1958-1961), Gamal Abdel-Nasser, expelled several Syrian officers because he doubted their allegiance, including Hafez al-Assad. Assad worked in the Syrian Shipping Company between 1961 and 1963, and I had a friend who used to sit at a table near that of the expelled officer back in those days, and he told many me stories about his political ideas and activities.
However, Hafez Assad returned to the army after the coup of 1963. In 1970, he was the Minister of Defense and Mustafa Tlass was the Chief of Staff, and it was Tlas’ troops that occupied Damascus in the famed ‘Correction Movement’. Hafez Assad became president two years later, as he was below the age required for the post, and so was preceded in it by Ahmed Al-Khatib.
This is unlike what happened with Bashar al-Assad’s presidency, when the law was amended so that he could inherit his father’s post in the year 2000, when he was below 40.
Mustafa Tlas retreated to his home after the incidents in Deraa too, to protest the military-based solution and violence against the protesters. But he, like his son Manaf after him, did not think of a coup against the regime, but only about correcting its course.
I hope that the above contains some useful information for the reader, even by way of correcting the many mistakes endemic to the media coverage of Manaf Tlas’s exit from Syria. Today, I have limited myself to what I have known and heard directly, so that I don’t make any mistakes in trying to correct those made by others.