Rifat Assad Gets His First Opposition Base on Arab Soil

Like his father, Syrian president Bashar Assad has always regarded Rifat Assad as the family’s foe. Out of respect for the Assad family feud, no Arab government has ever given Bashar’s wicked uncle an invitation to stay – until now.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources disclose that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has granted multimillionaire Rifat a base in Cairo, a home from home from his sumptuous residences in Paris and other choice locations.

This act will be seen as just short of a declaration of war on Damascus and, indirectly, its ally Tehran.

According to our sources, the Egyptian dispensation allows dissident Assad to transfer his base of opposition operations to his nephew’s regime and his business affairs from Europe to Cairo. The terms of this transfer were agreed in two weeks of discussions between representatives of Egypt’s intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman and Rifat Assad in London, Paris and Marbella, Spain. His sons and grandsons who run his businesses sat in on the negotiations.

They agreed that –

First, Rifat will run his political operations and financial empire from Cairo for several months of each year.

Second, the family-owned ANN television will relocate from London to Cairo. His son Somar and grandson Durayed, who run the station and determine its content, will move to the Egyptian capital with their families.

This deal has three important aspects:

1. ANN TV broadcasts harp on the refrain that Rifat Assad is the only man capable of rescuing Syria from the “idiot” (the mildest epithet used for president Assad); and call on the people to rise up and overthrow his regime. Since under the deal, Egypt may not to interfere in the broadcasts, Cairo acquiesces to being used as the center of anti-Bashar resistance in the Arab world.

2. The Egyptians, who have developed a thriving film industry, have never succeeded in building a popular television station that can compete with the Qater-based Al Jazeera. They hope Rifat’s ANN will take off as a mass-audience station that attracts Middle East and Persian Gulf viewers and spreads Egyptian influence. ANN’s directors have begun job interviews with Egyptian broadcasters, anchors, reporters, cameramen and editors after sending out letters firing the London staff.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Cairo sources report that the Mubarak government is so keen on the project that it has allocated ANN special channels on Egypt’s Nile satellites.

For Rifat, another advantage is the huge saving in running costs. Payroll and maintenance are far more costly in London than Cairo. The millions of dollars saved by the station’s transfer will be released for Rifat’s campaign to unseat his nephew.

3. Egypt too has a financial incentive in hosting the Syrian president’s rival: the relocation of his billion-dollar business empire, his broad investment base and his abundant personal financial connections in the Arab world and Persian Gulf. This is expected to attract more Arab tycoons of his caliber. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources stress the Egyptian government’s burning ambition to transform Cairo into the financial hub of the Middle East, to which end they do not miss any political or military crisis that can contribute to this goal.

In the last two weeks since Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian legislative council, the high-ranking Egyptian military mission stationed in Gaza is under orders to woo Palestinian ministers and other Fatah leaders and intelligence chiefs expecting to be displaced and hold up Rifat’s example to tempt them to transfer their families and assets to Cairo.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources disclose that Saudi King Abdullah is supportive of Mubarak’s anti-Syrian steps.

During his visit to New Delhi last month (See last DNW issue 239 of Jan 27: King Abdullah’s Failed Mission), Abdullah confided to his Indian hosts that, for him, Syria and its president are no better than Iran and its president. In other words, he has finally cast Bashar Assad out and relegated him to the camp of Saudi enemies.

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