Rami Makhlouf, who is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's cousin and childhood friend, is quitting his business and devoting himself to charity.
Considered to be the personification of Syria's corruption and nepotism, Makhlouf is the first of Assad's beau monde to concede to protestors.
Makhlouf is no ordinary businessman. He owns and operates Syriatel, the country's largest cell phone company, as well as an airline, a bank, a construction company and multiple hotels. He is a much disliked figure to most Syrians, who view him a symbol of the economic corruption allowed by the Assad regime. He has been under US and EU sanctions for his shady business deals.
Offices of his cell phone company have been burned by protestors during the months-long demonstration against Assad.
Makhlouf announced that he will sell many of his assets and donate the money to charity. Additionally he said that he will no more run any projects for personal profits and that he will dedicate himself for charity, development and humanitarian work, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
The move is an important development in the ongoing struggle in Syria. Makhlouf is the first important figure to defect from Assad's inner circle, and it shows that at least some powerful figures in the country are sympathizing with protestors. Makhlouf's decision could invigorate Syrian dissidents who are being pushed back by military forces.
Assad has recently sent troops, tanks and helicopters into northern towns in an attempt to quell protests. There have been at least 300 arrests in the past week, and more than 1,200 people have been killed since the Syrian government began its counter attack against protestors. Additionally, almost 10,000 persons have fled to Turkey for refuge.