On May 11, 2020, the Syrian president dismissed Atef al-Nadaf, Minister of Local Trade and Consumer Protection, and replaced him with the Governor of Homs Talal al-Barazi.
Talal Barazi is unique in that he is reviled by both Syrian regime loyalists and the opposition. Despite this, he remained in his position as Governor of Homs for six years before Assad handed him the Local Trade Ministry. Barazi’s governorship of Homs saw the collapse of the city’s opposition, the collapse of historic neighborhoods and the exit of fighters. But that has not made him a hero in the eyes of regime loyalists, who have gone out into the streets chanting: “The people want the fall of the governor.”
Talal Barazi was born in Hama city in 1963. The two neighboring cities—Homs and Hama—are known for competing with one another, and it is rare for someone born in one to be appointed governor of the other. Barazi earned a BA in economics and a diploma in business administration at the University of Damascus.
He founded the Talal Barazi International Foundation in 1997, and serves as both general manager and a founding partner in the Bawadi Projects Company, in which he owns 250 shares. Barazi is a member of both the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and Damascus Chamber of Industry, in the cinematic and television sectors. He has also been a member of the Arab Management Association, in Cairo, since 2001.
Barazi served as Governor of Homs from 2013 to 2020, as well as board chairman of Damascus International for Technical Production. He is also an administrative consultant in the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone. Barazi was previously elected chairman of the Board of Directors of the Syrian Expatriates Association in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
The problematic governor
When the name Talal Barazi comes up in Syria, all that comes to mind is a persona that has been transformed over the past seven years into an example of how much criticism is allowed to loyalists. This circle belongs only to the Assad regime’s government and its ministers, and is far from the president and his military institutions and security branches.
Yet despite criticism towards Barazi, he remained steadfast in his position as Homs governor. Indeed, Assad stood by Barazi in recent years despite voices calling for the latter’s ouster.
Loyalists loathe him
Chanting “the people want the fall of the governor,” residents of the generally pro-regime al-Zahraa neighborhood of Homs expelled Barazi from their streets in February 2016 as he visited the area following an explosion there that killed 50 people. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Similar incidents also occurred in 2014 and 2015.
The pro-regime street in Homs saw rising anger from 2014-2016 amid a series of explosions that riled their neighborhoods. Residents placed blame mainly on Barazi, as well as local heads of security branches. The Assad regime managed to isolate most of those accused of responsibility, while keeping Barazi as governor—a move that was mired in controversy and whose scope is still unclear.
It seems that Assad may have stood by Barazi to avoid caving to popular demands, which could have opened the doors to other protests on all kinds of other issues, such as corruption.
Expelling Old Homs
Barazi’s name circulated in 2014 as he expelled residents and fighters from the old districts of Homs to the city’s rural northern countryside. It was the first displacement campaign of its kind in Syria since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011.
May 2014 saw the signing of an agreement stipulating the expulsion of residents and fighters in Old Homs to the northern Homs countryside. Barazi was the agreement’s godfather, with UN participation and Russian-Iranian presence. At the time, a group of opposition leaders, activists and notables in Homs met with a high-ranking Iranian officer in the presence of Muhammad Deeb Zeitoun, head of the Political Security Division, and Barazi. They agreed on a mechanism for expelling residents from the besieged neighborhoods.
Barazi didn’t stop at Homs’ Old City. Three years later, in May 2017, he turned to the al-Waer district, whose residents and fighters were expelled to northern Syria’s Idleb and rural Aleppo governorates.
Man of the stage
Barazi could be nicknamed the “man of the stage,” as his name crops up time and again at various pivotal stages in the history of Homs governorate: after 2011, the displacement of fighters and residents in both the old city districts and al-Waer, and even during the campaign to ease sectarian tensions in the city. Homs is considered one of Syria’s most tense cities for sectarian conflict, amid Alawi-Sunni fighting tied to the demographic nature of the area.
Barazi began to work towards “easing sectarian tensions” under the banner of “reconciliation,” moving from neighborhood to neighborhood and village to village from 2016-2019, and calling for residents to stand with the “Syrian state.” He stressed a “unified social fabric” that distinguishes Homs governorate.
To this effect, Barazi played on local tribal dynamics and a number of religious figures in Homs, including Sheikh Issam al-Masri, Sheikh Ali Doum and Sheikh Muhsen al-Khudhur, as well as a main actor, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Hemeimeem.
Meanwhile, Barazi began talking about the “reconstruction” of Homs’ destroyed neighborhoods. He promoted the actual start of this campaign, holding a series of meetings with UN delegations, whose programs entered projects for rebuilding infrastructure in destroyed districts.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.