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Friday, May 6, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Analysts project competing palace coups in Syria

LONDON — Syrian President Bashar Assad could be overthrown by his closest aides if he does not conduct his own power play first, according to an Arab analyst.


Tariq Al Homayed, a leading Arab analyst, has raised the prospect that Assad could be overthrown by pro-Iranian elements within his regime. The Saudi analyst said the Syrian president could be toppled by either his brother or top regime members.

"The prevailing belief, according to sources that have based their opinion upon information from within Syria, is that a genuine struggle for power is taking place in the country," Al Homayed, who quoted Western diplomatic sources said.

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The analysis by Al Homayed, editor of the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al Awsat, marked the first time that the royal family appeared to raise the prospect that Assad would be replaced. Saudi King Abdullah, whose wife is related to Assad's family, has sought to help the Syrian president end the revolt, believed fueled by the Islamic opposition.

Al Homayed said the Assad regime would not enact democratic reforms to end the huge and bloody protests throughout Syria. He said the president and the ruling family were convinced that the opposition could be stopped only by force.

The Syrian power elite was said to included Assad's younger brother Maher, head of the Syrian Presidential Guard as well as his cousin, industrialist Rami Makhlouf, and his brother Hafez, head of Syrian security. The analysis, in a scenario that has alarmed the United States, said one of these three, particularly Hafez, could decide to recruit Iran to topple the president.

"This is something that would radically change the form and substance of the Syrian leadership," Al Homayed said.

Another scenario was that Assad would conduct a reform campaign that would target threats to his regime. This would include the arrest of Makhlouf, already a target of U.S. sanctions and regarded as the financier of the Assad regime. In March 2011, the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily, Al Akhbar, in a column, believed ordered by Assad himself, called for the arrest of Makhlouf.

"Reform would mean Assad carrying out a palace coup [against Makhlouf], before a coup is carried out against him," the analysis said. "And the question that must be asked here is: Have the events in Syria overcome the entire regime, or will such a palace coup allow the regime to save what can be saved?"

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