In a month, Rami Makhlouf has published three videos on the internet in which he complains about the treatment he receives. This week, the Justice Ministry imposed a temporary ban on traveling outside the country.
In his most recent video, shared last Sunday, Rami Makhlouf stares into the camera and speaks slowly, almost whispering a few sentences.
His beard looks whiter than in photographs from the past, when he radiated wealth and power, counting his billions as the man in charge of money, not only the regime but his family.
Makhlouf has not lost the touch of wealth. Is a man who will never be poor, something unusual in Syria, where the United Nations says that 80% of the population lives in poverty, almost 10 million people do not have enough to eat and half have lost their homes to the war.
.Syria has been in civil war for almost a decade.
He lives in a valley adored by Syria’s super-rich on the road from Damascus to Beirut, Lebanon.
In the video, Makhlouf’s jacket looks expensive and Italian, and he is seen sitting in a corner of his house in front of a pile of olive wood artistically placed and ready for next winter.
But if what he says in the video is correct, and this week he offered the world his third recording, has lost power.
He was known for charging a commission on every serious business deal in Syria, which is why some called him “Mr. Five Percent“.
Rami Makhlouf is the first cousin on the maternal side of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad. They are almost the same age, in their fifties, and were childhood friends.
Makhlouf was seen as a staunch supporter of the regime who rarely spoke publicly about family, politics, or his business.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Rami Makhlouf in 2011, on the accusation that he financed the al-Assad regime.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2011, when the war was gathering momentum, he said that Syria’s ruling elite – the Assad, the Makhlouf and a few close partners – they would fight to the end.
“They should know that when we suffer, we do not suffer alone,” he said.
That turned out to be true, but their other promise was that they would stay together. And his videos show that this was not the case.
On social networks, Makhlouf has published a prayer in which he asks God to end the injustice that he suffers.
Also shared three videos containing criticism of the government. Publications like those would mean prison for most Syrians.
. Rami Makhlouf’s public criticism of his cousin Bashar al-Assad is unusual.
On May 3, he said: “President, the security apparatuses have begun to violate people’s liberty. They are your people, your supporters ”.
Makhlouf works in the oil and construction sector, but his main gold mine is his control of Syria’s largest mobile networks.
Their companies are accused of duty $ 180 million in back taxes. For a man of such resources, it is not too much money. Even her son Mohammed, who lives in Dubai, is described as a billionaire in gushing internet profiles.
As her children deleted Instagram photos boasting of their lavish lifestyles, Makhlouf shared on Facebook a letter that appeared to be an offer to pay what she owed.
It is becoming increasingly clear that his distant cousin, Bashar, is chasing a much larger part of Makhlouf’s business empire than a relatively insignificant amount of back taxes
Syria’s chests are bare after almost a decade of war that has destroyed much of the country.
In his most recent video, Makhlouf apologized to his employees. At least 28 of them have been arrested by Syrian security forces in recent weeks.
He said: “Most of the legal issues are still pending and without progress, especially in relation to those arrested by mysterious people.”
.Syriatel is the largest telecommunications company in Syria, with 11 million subscribers.
They are not really mysterious to Rami Makhlouf. His brother Hafez used to be the head of the Directorate of General Intelligence, the most important agency that deals with internal threats to the regime.
Makhlouf knows perfectly well what Syria’s intelligence and security men can do.
A series of theories about the fall of Makhlouf circulate. Some say it had become too big and too rich for his boots.
The first signs of pressure emerged last summer, when he was forced to shut down his Bustan charity network, which had created a militia of about 20,000 men.
The theory centers on the president’s wife, Asma al Asad, who grew up in London, UK, and whom Syrians see as a regime force leading their own humanitarian organizations.
Another theory focuses on relations with the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is Bashar al-Assad’s greatest ally.
Corruption in Syria has come under criticism in the Russian media associated with the president Vladimir Putin, who is al-Assad’s most important ally and protector.
His decision to intervene in Syria in 2015 practically meant the victory of the Syrian regime in the war.
The theory states that al Assad does not want to lose the protection of Putin and Rami Makhlouf is an obvious sacrifice because for many Syrians it is a symbol of the corruption that runs through the entire country.
Russian businessmen close to Putin too they must have their eyes on contracts that Makhlouf might consider his.
The fact is that no one outside the ruling family knows exactly what has happened behind the closed doors of the regime.
Bashar al Assad’s father, Hafez, the first president Asad turned Syria into a family business after assuming power in 1970.
His wife, Anisa Makhlouf, came from a richer background than Hafez, who rose from poverty thanks to the air forces and the Baaz party.
. Syrian President Hafez al Asad and his wife Anisa Makhlouf (sitting), with their children in 1985.
Hafez was deeply suspicious, and was determined to be the only ambitious Syrian military man to enter the presidency.
He surrounded himself with men from his own Alawite sect, but it was his family that occupied the nucleus of the system you built.
The family has a history of spectacular breakups.
Hafez Rifaat’s brother was his right hand. He entrusted him with the most important jobs, such as suppressing an uprising of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982, where he killed thousands of people.
But a year later, when Hafez was ill with heart problems, Rifaat sent tanks of his own paramilitary force to the streets of Damascus. in an attempt to seize power. The attempt failed.
Rifaat’s fate was neither prison nor death, but exile, accompanied by millions of dollars. That may now be the best option for Rami Makhlouf.
His has also been a great fall.
Rami Makhlouf is now under great pressure from a regime that became the brain. That is why he came to light, sharing videos and documents on Facebook and defending himself in what seems increasingly like a losing battle.