Syria: Defection of General Manaf Tlas A Blow to Assad

This article is part of our special coverage of the Syrian Revolution

News of the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Mustapha Tlas, a member of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, has provoked a vocal reaction on Syria's streets and on Facebook amongst both regime supporters and the opposition. The move comes after 16 months of revolutionary upheaval and the deaths of more than 15,000 people according to UN and human rights organisations’ reports. The defection of general Manaf Tlas, the leader of one of the most powerful brigades of the republican guard responsible for protecting the president, is considered highly significant both within Syria and internationally. Regime supporters have been reluctant to comment on the defection due to the strong relationship between the Tlas family, including his father Mustapha Tlas, a former minister of defence, with the ruling Assad family.

The Syrian government has also hesitated in commenting on his departure from the army despite the steady stream of contradictory information from sources saying that the Syrian government has not known the whereabouts of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas since Tuesday 3rd of July [ar] and that security forces obtained a number of his personal documents in a raid on his home which is situated in an affluent part of Damascus.

In the midst of the media war, regime supporters created a Facebook page entitled “against the traitor Manaf Tlas” [ar] wheras Manaf's brother, Firas Tlas, wrote this on his personal Facebook page:

“الحمد لله . قد يراها بعضكم غير كافيه . انا أراها تختصر كل تاريخ الانسان ومسار مستقبله .قدرنا ان نعشق هذه الارض المباركه سوريا “، دون الافصاح بشكل مباشر عن انشقاق شقيقه .

Praise be to God. Perhaps some of you will deem it insufficient, I see it as summarising the entire history and future of man. We have been able to love this blessed land of Syria

General Manaf Tlas with president Bashar al-Assad. Image from the Facebook page of the council of Aleppo against the regime's mercenaries and the Shabiha. Used under Creative Commons license

Fattouh Kassar [ar] wrote:

انشقاق العميد مناف طلاس يؤشر الى وجود شرخ في الدائرة الضيقة الموالية للنظام،.
من المؤكد ان بشار الاسد يعاني من صداع قوي منذ سماعه بنبأ انشقاق العميد مناف الذي يعتبر من اقرب اصدقائه، ان لم يكن صديق عمره

The defection of General Manaf Tlas shows that cracks are appearing in the regime's inner circle. The news of Manaf's defection has no doubt caused Bashar al-Assad a severe headache as he considered him one of his closest, if not his oldest and best, friends.

Shalid Bitar [ar] wrote this on the Facebook page “intellectuals for Syria” [ar]:

مناف طلاس … هو انشقاق ممتاز ولكن بالأخص له هربا من السفينة الغارقة … ولكن الآن المطلوب منك ان تظهر على التلفزيون وتعتذر عن كل مافعلت وتعد بان لاتبحث عن اي منصب أو علاقة بالدولة القادمة وتدعوا للثورة وتساهم بجذب الآخرين وانشقاق الجيش … وعندها يشفع لك …

Manaf Tlas…an excellent defection as he fled the sinking ship…but what we need now is for you to appear on television and apologise for all that you have done, make it known that you do not seek any position or relationship with the new country, declare your support for the revolution and call on others to desert the army…then you will be one of us

Umar Mustapha wrote this on Twitter:

3amr_Mustafa@: بعد انشقاق مناف طلاس الذي تفاجئ بعد عام ونصف من ان الجيش يقصف شعبه !.. ننتظر بشار الاسد ينشق هو الاخر ويعلن من موسكو صدمته من تصرفات الجيش !

The defection of Manaf Tlas is surprising after a year and a half of the army bombarding his people! We are waiting for Bashar al-Assad to sense the change in direction and for Moscow to declare its surprise at the army's actions!

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the newspaper al-quds, wrote on Twitter:

abdelbariatwan@ العميد المنشق مناف طلاس كان من المفترض ان يصل الى باريس ويشارك في اجتماع اصدقاء سورية تأخر وافسد المفاجأة هل يجري اعداده كبديل للاسد؟ ‎‫#سورية‬

The brigadier general who defected, Manaf Tlas, was expected to arrive in Paris and take part in a postponed meeting of the friends of Syria and to end speculation as to whether he was preparing himself as an alternative to Assad. Syria#

Doctor Feisal al-Kasim, the presenter of the program “The Opposite Direction” on Al Jazeera, tweeted:

kasimf@ إنشقاق مناف طلاس إنشقاق خمس نجوم، إلى باريس فوراً

The defection of Manaf Tlas is a five star defection. To Paris!

Some bloggers doubted the veracity of the news; Mujahed Mu'amun Dirania wrote:

mujahed_dira@ أما إن كان انشقاق مناف طلاس مدبراً -ليصنع منه الغرب قائداً لمرحلة انتقالية- فإن شعب سوريا لن يبلع خدعة بهذه السذاجة.لا حصان طروادة بعد اليوم

If Manaf Tlas’ defection is a ruse – let the West make him a leader of the transitional phase – the Syrian people will not fall for such simple tricks. There will be no more Trojan horses

Arwa al-Ghalayini added:

@arwaalghalayin مناف هرب لمصالح لم بنشق!الانشقاق المصطلح الذي درجناع استخدامه يعني ان يلتحق بالحيش الحر ويحارب لتحريرأرضه#لن_نتعود

Manaf fled to save his own skin not to support the revolution! Real defection means joining the Free Syrian Army and fighting to liberate Syria!

Mu'anas Bukhari explained the story of Manaf Tlas’ first comments on the Facebook page “Syria in pictures” [ar]:

أول تصريح على طريقة رسالة منه , إلى فرانس برس :
لم أدخل المؤسسة العسكرية مؤمناً يوماً أنني أرى هذا الجيش يواجه شعبه وإن سبب امتناعي عن تأدية مهامي ومسؤولياتي داخل الجيش يكمن في أنني لم أوافق إطلاقاً على سير العمليات الاجرامية والعنف غير المبرر الذي سار عليه نظام الأسد منذ أشهر عديدة وأوجه شكري الى كل من مكنوني من مغادرة الأراضي السورية التي أصبحت فيها حياتي وحياة أقاربي مهددة وفي خطر وأدعو زملائي “العسكريين مهما تكن رتبهم والذين ينجرون في قتال ضد شعبهم ومبادئهم الى عدم تأييد هذا المسار المنحرف ,,أقر بـ شرعية النضال الذي تقوده المعارضة وخصوصا على الارض ,,سأتكلم بـعد أيام قليلة وبشكل مفصل عن دوافعي وخطواتي نحو المستقبل

The first statement was issued by means of a letter from him to France Press: I did not enter the military hoping to one day see the army confront its own people, and the reason for me ceasing to carry out the duties of my post and my responsibilities within the army is because I totally disagree with the criminal, violent, and unjustified response carried out by the Assad regime for many months. I give thanks to all of those that facilitated my departure from Syria where my own life and that of my family had come under threat. I call on my colleagues in the army regardless of their rank and all of those who have been swept along with the murder of their people to not support this perverse course of action. I agree with the legality of the opposition's struggle, especially on the ground. In a few days I will speak in greater detail about my motives and plans for the future.

Despite the conflict of interest created by Tlas’ long friendship and close relationship with the regime, his departure has caused a severe blow to the Assad regime which is attempting to regroup and reorganise its inner circle comprised of members of the intelligence and military services. The defection of brigadier general Manaf Tlas has come at a delicate time in the Syrian revolution, which is about to enter its 16th month, as the death toll grows ever larger.

This article is part of our special coverage of the Syrian Revolution

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