Dickey, Christopher, Giglio, Mike, Newsweek
Byline: Christopher Dickey and Mike Giglio
A Syrian exile waits in the shadows.
Until a few weeks ago, Manaf Tlass was known more for whom he knew than what he was. Few people saw in the playboy son of a former defense minister, buddy of President Bashar al-Assad, and brother of a famed Paris hostess a potential Syrian leader. Yet Tlass has recently been anointed in the media as his country's great tousled hope--a development that reveals much about the desperation of those trying to contain the widening civil war, even as they step up covert efforts to overthrow the regime.
Since the start of the uprising last year, regional and Western powers have been searching for an insider not too tainted by his association with the regime but still able to restore order post-Assad by preserving the security apparatus.
On the face of it, Tlass seems to qualify. The 48-year-old, who grew up with Assad, is a brigadier general who defected last month. Beyond that, Tlass belongs to the Sunni majority and has connections in the West through his sister. But Syrians, especially the rebels, express distrust of Tlass.
"We believe he's the hidden shadow of Bashar al-Assad," says one high-ranking Syrian military officer who's taken up arms against the regime. More damning, perhaps, is the verdict from a prominent member of the Syrian National Council, a largely civilian exile group: "He's not a big brain."
Certainly, how exactly Tlass intends to guide Syria from war to a new democratic future--as he says he wants to--is unclear. …