The impression that one emerges with from the discourse of the defected Brigadier General Manaf Tlass is that the collapse of the al-Assad regime should be limited to Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle, whose hands are stained with the blood of the Syrian people, as well as some parts of the army and security forces.
In his statement broadcast on Alarabiya TV, or in his extensive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed, published in this newspaper on Thursday, the Syrian Sunni Brigadier General spoke clearly and frankly about his commitment to the “unity” of the Syrian state and social fabric, stressing that we must limit the damage to this as much as possible. The General has a number of advantages; he is from the “marrow” of the house of al-Assad, whilst he inherited – from his father General Mustafa Tlass – friendship with the al-Assad clan. Manaf was previously a close friend of Basil al-Assad, the heir apparent, who died suddenly only to be replaced by the second heir, Bashar. In addition to this, Manaf Tlass’s father, Mustafa Tlass, was a very close and faithful friend to the father Hafez al-Assad. According to the overwhelming sectarian discourse being propagated today, Tlass is also a Sunni, from the city of Rastan, which was subject to the worst scenes of killing and crimes of the al-Assad regime. Therefore on one hand Manaf Tlass is a part of the social class that have benefited from the al-Assad era, along with the Alawite sect and other minorities, on the basis that he was “practically” a son to Hafez al-Assad,. On the other hand, Tlass is a member of Syria’s Sunni majority, as well as being part of the army and military class.
Therefore Tlass is a “modern” Sunni general with close ties to the house of al-Assad who has lately defected from the regime. However he continues to confirm, as he did in his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the issue regarding the coherence of the Syrian army, and that the Free Syrian Army [FSA] is an “uncontaminated” extension of the Syrian military. He also repeated his commitment to the “social fabric of Syria”. These are the internationally required descriptions to move away from this crisis and cut the path ahead of the Russian “jargon” regarding fear for minorities.
One of the most important things put forward by General Manaf Tlass was his warning against the idea of “marginalization”, which is certainly a dangerous idea which was tasted in Iraq [debaathification] and whose impact remains full of woe and destruction. This is an idea based on an instinct of revenge, whilst it is also very impractical. What is required is to limit the damages as much as possible. This would be the ideal situation. Tlass was also keen to show that he was not seeking power, but that he was concerned about the idea of Syrian national and social unity, and he stated frankly that he does not see a future for Syria under Bashar al-Assad.
All of these represent beautiful ideas, if achieved, and I truly hope they are achieved, whether with Manaf Tlass or anybody else, in order to reduce the dangers of the transitional phase. However the reality is that this will be difficult to achieve on the ground, there is a complicated inventory of bloodshed and massacres and we except – but certainly don’t hope – that this will require a long period of time to overcome. This is because the al-Assad regime has pushed Syria off the proverbial cliff, provoking a huge amount of hatred, colored in blood and debris. This is what has roused the underlying sectarian monster in Syria, nothing else.
We have gambled on a bright history of social harmony since Syrian independence.
In any case, the Syrian regime has sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind, and we hope that al-Assad chooses to surrender the Syrian state.