Rami Makhlouf, the most important businessman in Syria, and a cousin of the president, is selling part of Syriatel.
This is big news. It shows that the regime is belatedly recognising that he is the problem. Or, at least, he was the problem. Anger at Makhlouf’s domination of the economy was an early reason that people came out on to the streets. Syriatel offices were burned in Daraa, and placards denouncing his name were held high.
But this is not March. Now, the killings are motivating the demonstrators.
In any case, Makhlouf is only selling 40% of the company (profits from the sale will go to charity).
He retains a majority stake. (CORRECTION: it appears he only owns 40% of the company, so he is selling his entire stake). And he is selling it…to the state. So it would appear to be a cosmetic change. (CORRECTION: he is selling shares in an IPO – which means anyone can buy them) As David Kenner, associate editor of Foreign Policy magazine explained: “The idea of Rami Makhlouf selling his properties to the state is a lot like the State Department selling its buildings to the US government.”
Others are explaining this as Bashar selling-out his relative to save his job. But would this really have happened without Makhlouf’s consent? Of course not.
And even after this sale, Makhlouf still controls the majority of the Syrian economy. As much as 60% of the Syrian economy, by some estimates.
Will the Syriatel sale make a difference? Will it have an impact? I doubt it. Others are more optimistic.