Rami Makhlouf is the godfather of a financial empire estimated to have controlled a staggering 60 percent of Syria’s pre-war economy. Yet despite his fall from grace, he remains a powerful figure.
Makhlouf has appeared in two videos so far, calling out the upper echelons of Syria’s political establishment, of which he had been an integral part for over two decades, more videos are expected as the crisis drags on.
The row in Syria's ruling elite is of the like not seen since Hafez al-Assad’s standoff with his brother Rifaat in 1984.
Stressed out and sitting on the floor of his villa — thought to be in Syria — Makhlouf seemed to be quickly running out of options. His words came off like veiled threats: "If we continue down this path, the situation in the country will become very difficult.”
The sharper tone in Makhlouf's second video was proof that things didn’t go as planned after the first . Indeed, private sources at SyriaTel confirmed to me that three manager-level employees were arrested after the first video was released.
After Makhlouf’s appearances, his sons deleted all pictures of their extravagant lifestyle from Instagram, including any pictures of the Syrian president.
A crackdown is now well underway, with reports of arrests and security forces storming Makhlouf’s villa in Yafour in addition to a heightened security presence in Latakia, where Makhlouf has many loyalists. The number of SyriaTel employees arrested now reportedly stands at 28.
Trouble has been brewing for Makhlouf since 2018, effectively starting the moment when the fighting around Damascus and other provinces ended. The wealthy financier had amassed an army, a vast fortune estimated at $5 billion pre-2011 and media clout.
Makhlouf was a looming threat and a profitable target but it would have been unwise to challenge him at the peak of his strength during the conflict, at a time where the state was very weak and occupied with the day-to-day fighting
Although Makhlouf may have had legitimate grievances with the systematic attempts to undermine him, his image and that of his children has been a cause for some consternation in Syria.
As many suffer from the daily struggle to get by amid sky-rocketing living costs, poverty, inflation, and unemployment, his sons were on Instagram living the high life in Dubai, showing off their massive wealth, sports cars, and private jets.
You can follow @Dannymakkisyria.
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