Hoping to retard the momentum for regime change, Syrian authorities have decided to placate angry protesters by announcing that tycoon, Rami Maklouf, linked to the ruling Al Assad family, is quitting his business empire and would divert a large amount his wealth towards charity.
A cousin and childhood friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mr. Makhlouf runs a vast network of businesses such as hotels, duty free shops, a mobile telephone company, airlines and oil. He has symbolised alleged corruption and nepotism in the ruling Al Assad clan. The announcement that Mr. Makhlouf was distancing himself from his commercial enterprises was carefully timed ahead of Friday prayers, when demonstrators, calling for change, take to the streets in large numbers.
Analysts say the decision to disempower Mr. Makhlouf is significant. He has been one of the pillars of the Syrian regime, with deep nodes inside the system. Mr. Makhlouf's father Mohammed was a well-known businessmen, while brother Hafez has been the intelligence chief of capital Damascus.
The U.S. had sanctioned Mr. Makhlouf since 2007, a precedent which the European Union has followed since May. The Syrian tycoon maintains that he runs legitimate businesses which employ huge numbers, but Washington accuses him of corruption.
State television said Mr. Makhlouf would siphon out his wealth for charity and into development projects. “As for his businesses, they will be directed so that they ... create jobs and support the national economy. He will not enter into any new project that [brings] him personal gain,” said Syrian television.
Nearly 40% of Mr. Makhlouf's holding in Syriatel will be up for sale as part of an initial public offering. The profits from the proceeds will be used for humanitarian work and benefit families of those killed in the uprising, state news agency SANA reported.
But in step with its stratagem to defuse a major source of public anger, there has been no let- up in the Syrian crackdown against protesters. State television showed Syrian troops travelling on tanks, armoured personnel carriers and buses into Maarat al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun, two northern towns in proximity to the road that links Damascus with Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital. The area is close to Jisr al-Shughour, the town that overrun on Sunday by Syrian troops after considerable violence. But the regime's recourse to violence has begun to have a diplomatic fall-out. Turkey, akey ally, has launched a scathing attack on the perceived use of excessive force, which has generated a cross-border surge of refugees. Turkish sources said around 8,900 Syrians had crossed into Turkey, where they were being looked after. Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians and more than 300 soldiers and police have been killed since protests began in March.