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Syria: How Warlords Emerged

Some businessmen agreed to play secondary roles or pay royalties to the Syrian regime to ensure their survival, according to al-Modon.
Syria: How Warlords Emerged

On Monday, the Hermon Center for Studies released a new study explaining the mechanism and reasons leading to the emergence of new warlords, who have reached the top echelons of the Syrian regime’s economic centers. The warlords have obliterated obstacles in their path at the expense of old figures, who have retreated from the scene for reasons related to economic sanctions and political positions since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

The study explained that the beginning of their emergence coincided with the regime’s need to find more flexible channels within the Syrian economy. These responses were required to transition to the war economy. The study added that, as the war continued, the trade-off between warlords and the regime evolved from the formula of “security and military services” to “security, military, and economic services.” The latter category consisted of obtaining quotas and partnerships in different sectors in certain proportions.

Reasons for the old elites’ retreat

On the reasons that kept the old economic elites away, the study said: “As the Syrian economy shifts to a war economy as a tactical production system that provides economic resources to ensure that violent circumstances continue.” Some old figures preferred to wait or retreat from the economic sphere for reasons related to political positions. Others tried to shield their wealth and financial assets from the country’s deteriorating security situation, as well as fearing the threat of economic sanctions — most notably Firas Tlass, Ratib al-Shalah, and Bassam Ghrawi.

Sanctions against some old elites have also called for the use of unknown economic figures, with the aim of providing the regime with commodities and financial flows as a form of circumventing sanctions. In this way, warlords expanded their subsequent roles and functions.

What is the old elites’ fate?

The old elites received a clear message, as conveyed by the cancellation of Rami Makhlouf’s role. The message warns of the need to obey and evacuate the scene to accommodate new arrivals, to whose dominance they must submit. The fate of old elites is divided between total cancellation and seizure of property, such as what happened to Imad Himisho. In other cases, elites like Haitham Jude faced marginalization and the inability to compete. The report indicates that the latter category agreed to play secondary roles or pay royalties to the Syrian regime.

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In summary of their fate, some of them were seized and confiscated after being forced to leave the country under pressure from Assad and his regime, harassment of partnerships with the Assad family, as well as the practice of forced sizing against some others.

The system provided care and influence

According to the study, with the emergence of warlords as an objective condition, the regime worked on their industry and created the necessary conditions for their increasing growth, and this was evident by giving them the necessary care and influence from its actors. The most prominent of these actors were the Fourth Division, such as the support it provided to Abu Ali Khader, and the Presidential Palace, as the case of Saqr Rustom, who led the National Defence, and Hossam al-Qaterji, air force intelligence, as well as other figures who received support and influence from security and military agencies.

Later in their appearance, the regime rushed to integrate them into political frameworks, such as the People’s Assembly, like Hossam Qaterji and Hamam Msouti. In addition to economic frameworks, such as chambers of industry and commerce, as well as highlighting some of their updated investments, as evidence of recovery and the return of the economic wheel to the country.

Birth, origin, and source of wealth

The study divided these people according to their origin, upbringing, and source of wealth into three main groups. The first is a mixed category of “war wealthy and expatriate warriors, group leaders, and local mediators”. While Abu Ali Khader and the Qaterji brothers belonged to the “militia warriors” category, Amer Khaiti and Mohieddin al-Manfoush belonged to the “local and commercial mediators” category, explaining that the personalities of the latter category took advantage of the war’s conditions and gained exclusive trade exchange between the regime’s areas and the besieged opposition control areas.

The second group was formed, according to the study, from a group of war-rich people who came to the world of businessmen from the gateway to commercial work, pointing out that these people contributed to the financial support of the militias, or established militias that are theoretically affiliated with them, most notably Samer Al-Fawz, who founded the “Sahel Shield” militia and Waseem Kattan. It is noteworthy that they were not leaders of these militias, and they did not have the right to take the military and security decisions.

As for the third group, the facades of the Assad family, which suddenly appeared in the world of the Syrian economy, included sizes that are not commensurate with their economic activity and financial history, and they suddenly assumed centers and economic activities that are historically considered among the fields of activity of the Assad family, as is the case of Yasar Ibrahim, who has become known as “the treasurer of the palace”. He is tasked with collecting royalties from merchants and industrialists, indicating that this role was previously entrusted to Rami Makhlouf, before it was reduced and his property was confiscated.

The role of Asma al-Assad

According to the study, Asma al-Assad, who is well-connected to the business world, was one of the most prominent new sponsors, especially in the field of telecommunications, food, and charitable sectors. This was the case with Lina Kannaya and her husband Hamam Misto, whom she brought into the dome of the parliament in the Syrian regime, among many other personalities.


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.

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