Hazem Al Amin

Manaf and Abdel Razzaq

A Syrian activist wrote on his Facebook page: “Firas Tlas’ dissent won the revolution a Hollywood figure, while the regime did not lose an unrivaled military commander.” This is one of dozens of expressions that were abundantly posted on Syrian Facebook walls to comment on the dissent of the “handsome man.”
“Handsomeness” is obviously the main characteristic of the dissenter who was seemingly keen on stressing it and transforming it into an implicit statement even as his statements have been sparse so far.

What did Firad Tlas want to say by putting forward his “handsomeness” as a key factor in the portrait of the regime dissenter?

For starters, we should anticipate the possibility of having this introduction misconstrued as a satire of handsomeness or its triviality in public affairs. Indeed, it has long been wretchedly said that politics should come with a certain degree of austerity. Our supervisor at the Communist Party told us one day: “You should know, comrades, that Stalin kept wearing the same shoes for nine years.” Later, he noted that Khrushchev raised his shoe in the United Nations and said: “I am the son of the lowliest farmer in Ukraine.”

One cannot deny that Tlas’ “handsomeness” is indeed surprising, as he is the son of an uncomely regime. The picture that springs to mind for such figures is that of a round-faced officer with a dyed mustache … and yet we get Manaf Tlas as a different model of Baath officers! It seems that the novelty of this model is essential to understand what went on in Syria throughout the decades of Baath rule. How can the Baath regime give rise to a “Hollywood figure”? What were the values and standards underlying this “model”? This handsomeness is certainly not of a local origin; rather, it is made by “post-Baath” elements. This means that the Baath regime is no stranger to it. The relation between Manaf’s handsomeness and the Baath is evident, as the man is simply Mustapha Tlas’ son.

Another officer of the Tlas family, namely Abdel Razzaq Tlas, may be an even stronger symbol of Syrian handsomeness and an expression of its local components, whereas Manaf’s handsomeness is tainted by the possibilities underlying it. The man is influent and the son of the corrupt regime who managed to “cultivate” his hardship using Hollywood elements, having spent long days on the Côte d’Azur. This handsomeness cannot be dissociated in Syria’s conscience from the fact that it is due to the food factory established by the family after it won the commission for the Syrian Army’s meals.

Once again, one must avoid getting caught in the trap of “Soviet” primitiveness by scorning “industrial” handsomeness and being biased towards local handsomeness, as it would be backward to do so. Ultimately, the difference in handsomeness is merely one between local and international values. Abdel Razzaq Tlas is handsome because he successfully emulated the image of a local star, whereas Firas Tlas is handsome because he successfully emulated the image of a Hollywood star. The first added to his “handsomeness” a beard, which – he said – is not related to Salafism whereas the second went to Mecca for the Umrah immediately upon his dissent.

The former “Soviet” man is weary of falling again and claims to be a fan of Abdel Razzaq whilst being afraid of a slight “admiration” he has always felt with regard to Manaf, even as he warns himself that the man is the son of the bloody and corrupt Baath regime.

The two men are obviously at a loss as to how to cash in their handsomeness, but it is equally obvious that the sons of the Tlas family will be the stars of the coming period. Which Tlas will Syria choose?

This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on Friday July 27, 2012