Former golden boy Manaf Tlass emerges as contender to lead Syria


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The Independent Online

Unthinkable a month ago, it was the name of regime's former golden boy Brigadier General Manaf Tlass that was on delegate's lips yesterday as the fractured Syrian opposition met in Qatar to hash out plans for a transitional government.

In his first interview since becoming the uprising's most high profile defector so far, the chiselled 48-year-old yesterday put himself forward as the man best placed to bring unity to the multitude of factions hoping to oust his former friend and confidante President Bashar al-Assad.

"I left [Syria]… to try to help the best I can to unite the honourable people inside and outside Syria to set out a road map to get Syria out of this crisis," he told the Asharq Alawsat newspaper in Jeddah.

The interview in a Saudi-owned newspaper indicates that Brig Gen Tlass – known for his love of fast cars and cigars – must have at least tacit support from the powers that be in Riyadh. The US is also said to be pushing him forward as a candidate to lead the transition.

But there was caution from Syrian National Council members meeting in Doha, with Obeida Nahas, a member of the executive committee, warning that there was no individual that provided the "ultimate solution" for Syria's political situation.

Historically, such white knights anointed by the international community as potential saviours have had little success. As Egypt was convulsed with protests that brought down former dictator Hosni Mubarak, it was Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei whom many expected to take a leading role in the new state. However, he dropped his presidential bid in January, ostensibly in protest at military rule. In reality, he also faced long odds, with polls showing that many Egyptians saw him as an outsider.

It was a similar story with Ahmed Chalabi, who spearheaded overseas opposition to Saddam Hussein for almost a decade before the 2003 invasion through his Iraqi National Congress. Despite having its coffers filled by Washington in the early days after the Baath Party fell, his party failed to win a single seat in the 2005 elections, not helped by allegations of fraud.

As member of the regime's inner circle for a decade, for many Brig Gen Tlass's associations run too deep. His father, Mustafa, was one of the fearsome "old guard", s defence minister under Hafez al-Assad. Manaf entered the military, becoming a senior commander in the Republican Guards.

"There is no way that he can work with the opposition now, maybe after the regime falls but not now," said Haitham al-Maleh, a prominent dissident. "He is the son of Mustafa Tlass. The opposition inside the country are never going to shake a hand stained in blood."