In Aleppo, Syria’s business elites are voting with their money

Special to WorldTribune.com

LONDON — The powerful business elite in Syria is said to be
steadily withdrawing from the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Western diplomats and opposition sources said leading Syrian
industrialists and investors were quietly transferring their funds out of
the country. They said the most powerful element of the elite, based in
Aleppo, was being harmed by Western sanctions against the Assad regime.

Workers inspect the site of an explosion outside a military security building in Syria's northern city of Aleppo on Feb. 10. /Reuters

“The businessmen are voting with their money, and they are now doing everything they can to get their money out of Syria before the regime collapses,” a diplomat said.

The business elite is said to have funneled their money through
relatives and Syrian exiles, including the brother of Assad, Rifat, a former vice president. They said the Assad regime is now being directly sustained by Syria’s main ally, Iran.

“There is also now explicit talk about some businessmen leaving Syria to save themselves and their money, not to mention claims that the Assad government is practically and genuinely divided,” Saudi analyst Tariq Al Homayed, editor-in-chief of the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat, said.

A leading Syrian industrialist agreed. Faisal Al Qudsi said the Assad
regime is no longer in control over large parts of Syria. He said the
regime is crumbling by the weight of the Sunni revolt as well as Western
sanctions.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Al Qudsi said the
Syrian Army and security forces could not last beyond August 2012. He said
Assad’s only option was to declare a ceasefire and begin negotiations with the opposition.

“The Army is getting tired and will go nowhere,” Al Qudsi, once regarded
as close to Assad, said. “They will have to sit and talk or at least they
have to stop killing. And the minute they stop killing, more millions of
people will be on the streets. So they [regime] are in a Catch-22.”

The assessment came amid an Assad offensive on Sunni rebels around
Damascus and southern Syria in which more than 100 people, including two
Western journalists, were reported killed on Feb. 21. Opposition sources said the regime’s campaign was bolstered by more than $1 billion and thousands of troops from Iran.

“Assad will be not be defeated militarily like [Libyan ruler Moammar] Gadhafi,” the diplomat said. “Instead, his regime will crumble, and those
with him will flee or make deals to save themselves.”

A key threat to Assad is said to be the destabilization of
Aleppo. Opposition sources said the second largest city in Syria, long
regarded as loyal to the regime, has been infiltrated by anti-Assad forces.
They said shops and schools were closing out of fear of regime violence and
rebel bombings.

On Feb. 21, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the
assassination of a leading pro-Assad businessman in Aleppo. The London-based
opposition group identified the victim as Mohammed Ramadan, a property
developer whose brother, Ahmed, is a leader in the opposition Syrian
National Council.

“Assad can no longer protect Aleppo, and that ends any loyalty to him by
the business class,” an opposition source in the city said.

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