A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Manaf Tlas Defection

Close families: Bashar and Manaf

Here is why the Manaf Tlas defection matters: Hafiz al-Asad, father of Bashar al-Asad, and Mustafa Tlas, father of Manaf, met at the Syrian  Military Academy in Homs in the early 1950s and became lifelong friends. During the 1958-61 United Arab Republic, when Egypt and Syria were united, the two men were stationed together in Egypt. When the UAR collapsed, the Nasser regime arrested Asad; Tlas accompanied Asad's family safely back to Syria. Asad showed his gratitude for the rest of his career; Tlas served as his longtime Defense Minister, despite a penchant for embarrassing comments to the press. Bashar al-Asad has known Tlas' sons Firas and Manaf all his life. The father, Mustafa Tlas, now 80, is believed to be outside the country; some say he is undergoing medical treatment in Paris. There are reports that Firas, who is a businessman, is also outside the country. But Manaf was a serving military officer, a general. Now he is  in Turkey, a defection, confirmed after a day of rumors, that hits quite close to the Asad family. The elder Tlas, along with former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, was one of the two visible high-level Sunnis in the largely Alawite regime of Hafiz al-Asad; Khaddam had left the country and broken with Bashar even before the uprising. Now the family that symbolized the presence of Sunnis in the Asad regime has broken with the Asads.

Joshua Landis, who has been very cautious about writing off Bashar, now says, "The Tlas defection sends the sign that the regime is done for."

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