“Why Manaf Tlas is Uniquely Qualified to Serve the Opposition,” by a Supporter

“Why Manaf Tlas is Uniquely Qualified to Serve the Opposition,” by a Supporter
For Syria Comment, Sept 24, 2012

 A letter from a supporter of Manaf Tlas

It has now been nearly three months since Manaf Tlas’s defection. At the time, his flight from Syria was hailed as the most significant defection.

Every defector has a past association with the regime he leaves. Manaf Tlas has been attacked by some in the opposition because he was part of the Asad regime. The Tlas family has been associated with this regime for decades.  There is no question that the family benefited from their position. Manaf’s father was the defense minister. His brother has been a high profile Businessman.  Manaf himself served in the Republican Guards and has had a close personal relationship with Bashar al-Assad for most of his life. During the last three months, Manaf has tried to explain why that past makes him particularly qualified to serve the opposition today and why he has come out squarely against the regime that he was born into.

For the first few weeks after his flight from Syria, Manaf disappeared from sight. Most suspected that he was in France. His first public communiqué was made on July 17th. On July 25th, he appeared on Al Arabiya Television Station.

He was also briefly filmed attending Umra in Saudi Arabia, when he was interviewed by the Saudi-owned Ashraq alawsat.

He also visited Qatar at this time, but the trip was not covered by the media. This left many with the impression that Manaf was Saudi’s man. This view was mistaken. Indeed, Manaf was warmly welcomed by the Emir of Qatar in Doha on his trip there.

Turkey, in particular, seems to believe in Manaf’s potential. His trips to that country have reportedly helped cement a solid relationship over the past three months

Lately, Mr. Tlas was interviewed by both David Ignatius of the Washington Post and BBC-Arabic where he gave his last public interview.

Where does Manaf stand today?

The Syrian opposition has been deeply divided. Mistrust and backstabbing have been widespread among opposition factions. No one from the opposition wants to hand leadership to another faction for the sake of unity. Manaf’s background and close previous association with the regime makes it particularly difficult for him to quickly earn the trust of the majority in the opposition. The Islamists think he is too secular. The exiled opposition see him as an insider who was himself part of a regime that they have fought for too long. The pro-regime people, on the other hand, consider him a traitor and an opportunist. Manaf has been highly critical of the regime’s leadership while he calls for unity and moderation when it comes to dealing with the institutions of the government.   He has often talked about a “road map”. His strategy builds on the following foundation:

1-      No foreign intervention.

2-      The need to reassure Alawites that they can split from the regime ruled by the Assad family without fear of retribution or marginalization in a new Syria.

3-      The need for the various factions of the opposition and the FSA to unite and reconcile their differences (easier said than done).

4-       The need to ensure that Syria does not lose its minorities and its historic cultural and religious mosaic.

5-      The need to preserve institutions like the Syrian Army and to prevent an Iraq-like destruction of most Government institutions

The above 5-point plan constitutes what he sees as a “safety net” that will preserve Syria in a post-Assad era.

Will Manaf succeed?

Syria’s opposition needs a national leader desperately. It is important to note that by its very nature, the Syrian regime is constructed to prevent any such leaders from emerging. Indeed, to date, the opposition is struggling to unite behind a single person/entity. Each faction sees this as its only chance. Manaf’s military background is important in this chaotic environment. His secular credentials could attract a large following including the country’s minorities.  Alawites were heavily represented in the Republican Guard division that he led. Many reportedly respected and trusted him. This relationship is crucial, if the opposition is to convince Alawites to stop fighting.

Manaf faces many formidable challenges. Many claim that Manaf cannot serve the opposition because he is a member of the Tlas family. His brother, Firas, was a prominent businessman whose success was due to his family’s position. Those in Manaf’s camp do not dispute this but point to the fact that the two brothers led two distinctly separate and independent lives. Surprisingly, there are many that still believe that Manaf’s exit has been coordinated with the palace. This cannot be further from the truth.  The final question in the BBC interview addressed this very point. Clearly, Manaf’s response should put this issue to rest. Those close to him claim that as a military officer, dedicated to his troops and country with broad name recognition, Manaf is well placed to serve the opposition cause.

Those that know Manaf doubt that we have seen the end of him. He has chosen a seemingly slow and deliberate path forward. His effort to promote unity and his five-point plan for ending the regime and bringing Syria out of civil war

Manar Tlas’s interviews

Syrian defector says opposition can win

L’Express interview: “Nous ne voulons pas être libérés par une intervention étrangère”

BFM interview Text – French

Extract of BFM interview video

Al Jazeera chosen part – Arabic

Manaf’s argument that “”We must convince Alawites that they do not have to commit Suicide along with the regime,” is key to sparing Syria from a much longer and more brutal civil war. So long as Alawites believe that they must stand by Assad’s side in order to save themselves, they can and will destroy Syria.

A Syrian defector’s mission
August 30, 2012 12:36 AM
By David Ignatius in the Washington Post

Syria’s most prominent military defector says the key to political transition in the country is to provide a “safety net” that persuades Alawites they won’t be massacred if they break with President Bashar Assad.

“My main work is to convince the Alawites that they do not have to commit suicide along with the regime,” said Manaf Tlass, a former general in the Syrian army who left the country in July. He spoke Tuesday at a location in France where he has taken refuge. It was his first in-depth interview since he broke with Assad, who was once his close friend.

Tlass said that before there can be a political transition, there must first be a channel of trust between the opposition Free Syrian Army and reconcilable members of the military who are ready to break with Assad, much as Tlass did. Without such links, he said, Assad’s overthrow would plunge the country into a period of anarchic violence and Syria’s chemical weapons would be up for grabs.

“Today, many Alawites are not happy with what’s happening on the ground, but where is the safe zone for them?” he said. “Alawites need to know that there’s a strong side that will guarantee their safety if they defect.” Though Tlass is a Sunni Muslim, he commanded a unit of the Special Republican Guard, which is about 80-percent Alawite, the ethnic minority from which Assad and his inner circle are drawn.

Tlass, 49, spoke movingly about his break from Assad, who, he said, has so bloodied his name that he will never be able to rule Syria effectively again. It began in the spring of 2011, when protests were spreading and Tlass offered to meet with demonstrators. He told Assad about an April 2011 meeting in Darayya with young rebels, whose fathers were silent but obviously proud. “This is the revolution of the fathers through their children,” Tlass warned, noting that such a conflict would be impossible to win by force.

Assad was a changeable, uncertain man, increasingly swayed by the harder line of his family, especially his brother Maher and his cousin Hafez Makhlouf, who heads the internal branch of Syrian intelligence. “If you impose power, people will be afraid, and they will step back,” Makhlouf admonished Tlass.

Tlass says that by May 2011, his counsel of outreach was ignored and his contacts were being arrested after he met them. This was the case even in Rastan, a town in central Syria where his father was born. After Tlass tried to make peace there, he was scolded by Makhlouf. Tlass stopped commanding his army unit after that.

The rupture came in July 2011, when Assad summoned him and asked why he wasn’t leading his troops. Tlass said he responded that the president and his men weren’t sincere about compromise. “You are making me a liar. You and Syria are committing suicide,” he recalls saying. Assad responded that such counsel was “too simple,” and that he was moving to the “security option.”

“You are carrying a heavy load – and if you want to fly, you have to drop that load,” Tlass says he told Assad at that last meeting. “But it seems the heavy load – the family, the inner circle – has won.”

Tlass says he thought at first that he could stay in Damascus, in silent opposition to the hard-liners’ policies. But as the violence increased to countrywide slaughter, he says, “my conscience could not bear it anymore.” He began thinking about how to flee by the end of last year.

The former general still has the rugged good looks that made him a charismatic military leader, which has led some to speculate that he might play a role in a Syrian transition. But Tlass says he doesn’t want any position in a future government, and is focused only on his “road map” for avoiding sectarian strife. He’s probably wise to disavow political ambition, as his wealth, secular lifestyle and prominent background (his father was defense minister) make him a target for a populist, Islamist opposition movement.

I first met Tlass a half-dozen years ago in Damascus, which may be one reason he decided to break his silence and give the interview. When I asked him what he would say to Assad if he could send him one more message, he was overcome by emotion for a moment and left the room. When he returned, he said: “How can anyone think he is protecting his country when his air force and tanks are hitting his own territory?”

AP, Monday September 10 2012, GREG KELLER

Associated Press= BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s most prominent defector said in an interview that aired Monday that he opposes any foreign military intervention in the country’s civil war and that he is confident the opposition can topple President Bashar Assad’s regime.

But Manaf Tlass, a Syrian general who was the first member of Assad’s inner circle to join the opposition, said the rebels need weapons.

“The Syrian people must not be robbed of their victory, they must be given support, aid, arms,” Tlass said in a recorded interview that aired Monday on French television station BFM.

He called on outside powers to give the opposition “all the aid and support” needed to topple Assad.

Comments (101)

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101. Halabi said:

Anyone who believes the “confessions” on Syria TV is absolutely brain dead. The so-called defector from the FSA previously said he killed some men in Aleppo in March. Yet it was Ali Haidar who convinced him to drop his weapons and join the government-sponsored dialogue.


For the record, zero people have defected from the revolution to join the regime, while hundreds of thousands have left Assad and his worshipers to fight for freedom. Or to put in words that sectarian opponents of the revolution understand, there have been defections from both sides…

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September 26th, 2012, 6:23 pm


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