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Assad's lifelong friend: 'The crisis has changed him'

September 28th, 2012
10:31 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

(CNN) - Manaf Tlass was once one of Bashar al-Assad's closest friends.

"He is humble. He loves people," Tlass said when describing the Syrian leader. "But he has changed. The crisis has changed him."

Before he defected this July, Tlass was the very image of an Assad regime insider.

His father is a former defense minister.

Manaf Tlass was a brigadier general in Syria's Republican Guard. And, of course, he was a close friend of Assad's. 

But Tlass became disgusted with the regime's brutal crackdown - and he learned about it in the exact same way the rest of the world has: by watching amateur video posted to YouTube.

"I remember very well how I defected," Tlass told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Thursday. "I remember that video that I saw when they stepped on the head of a Syrian citizen in Baniyas," a city on Syria's Western coast.

"I started to feel the feelings of a citizen."

Tlass said he went to Assad and told him that the perpetrator should be punished. When Assad refused to react, Tlass knew that was it.

"Ever since then I can no longer be a friend of Bashar's," Tlass said.


"I tried to tell him that he had to give up something for the people," Tlass said of his last conversations with Assad. "That there is a true uprising and that he must go along with it. There is an Arab Spring all around us. You should be part of it and democratize the country. He refused."

"The old guard around him lulled him into handling the crisis this way."

But the falling out with Assad came early - four months after the conflict began. The last time the two spoke, Tlass says, was June 2011. It would take him more than another year to defect.

Top diplomat slams U.N. over Syria response

How did he survive?

Tlass was a dissident within the regime, but he was still a true member of the inner circle. His fellow insiders told him that if he kept quiet and avoided Assad, he would be safe.

"I stayed in my office and refused to engage in any meeting or any conversation with any of them," Tlass said.

Tlass stayed silent and survived like this through many months, and many more killed.

"But then I realized that the violence was becoming unbearable and I could no longer take it," Tlass said. "My military conscience could not take that constant killing of innocent civilians."

The Alawites

Tlass, unlike much of the military and regime leadership, is Sunni - Assad and most of his allies are Alawite, a small Shia sect.

Nonetheless, Tlass said it is not allegiance to Assad that is preventing more Alawites from defecting. Rather, it is fear and the sense that the Sunni-majority rebels do not have a clear vision.

"Alawites are being told that the Islamists are taking over - they were considered infidels by the Islamists and that's what scares them," Tlass said. "But when there is a project for Syria that can, which can include all parties, the Alawites will defect."

VIDEO: Refugees wait with sick children


As the world continues to hem and haw on what to do about the civil war in Syria, Tlass was unequivocal about what he thought should be done - or not be done.

"I don't believe there should be any foreign intervention in Syria," the former general said.

Western powers have often cited the strength of the Syrian military as a reason for their reluctance to intervene, a point that Tlass - a former member of the military - said was simply not true.

"It will not be a danger," Tlass said almost inaudibly. "But we don't want to repeat the Iraqi experience or the Afghani experience or the Libyan experience. We want the Syrian people to liberate themselves by themselves."

That is not to say that Tlass believes the world should let Syria fester. Indeed, it is lack of "political will," as he put it, that is keeping his former friend in power.

"Everything will be different once he realizes that the international community has truly decided it's time to step down," Tlass said. "He will step down. I am certain of that."

CNN is not identifying where Tlass lives because of security concerns.

Syria's internally displaced languish in squalor at Turkish border

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Habib

    What has changed him?

    September 28, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
    • BlueColoreMinded


      September 29, 2012 at 6:32 am | Reply
    • ramesh punjabi

      Tlass words above in the interview have no Iota of truth there is no any killing at al.l the criminal that were recruited from the Arabs jails are the one who committed atrocities raps and brutal Killing. TLASS defection was made by the Saudi and Qatar money. How can such a general defect ?is that logic ?. He is a traitor that were planted in the Syrian Army.
      He worked with Assad he got many he defected ...tomorrow he will work with the American got money some way else and then defect..!!!!! Peoples like this can't be trusted at all !! The American are enough Clever to know thi.s how ever the West and the American are using them is fine, and so are the Arabs all are Puppets and bow down to out side force but killers and criminal against each other.!!!

      September 29, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
      • Sammy

        Another Assad dog. How does it feel to murder the children of your countrymen? And the old people, they can't run too fast so it is easy to shoot them in the back, no?

        September 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  2. edwardegraham

    I'm wondering if what's happening in San Diego is being directly caused by those who fomented the riots in the Mediterranean. The pattern of things seems the same. Is it possble that brig the Moslem People together under the guise of a better life is the same ploy used in America, 1776; and, being done to create an enemy that must be fought, not ignored, as withthe Arch Duke Ferdinand, Pearl Harbour, 911, etc., in preparation for WW3. In whose best interests would such a strategy serve?

    September 28, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
  3. nwa

    humble my ass!

    September 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  4. maayish nasirudeen

    ok some of asat friend know what it takes to allow up raising in a muslim world so they should stop saying nonsence if they can not say the true. and america is behind all that ,america and it friends they are the couse of the distruction in the midil est and the islamic world america why all thise

    September 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  5. ernie meyer

    what exactly did he do to prevent the murder of civilians other than hiding under his desk? If he was so concerned for the civilians of the nation he should have been pro active in stopping the slaughter, instead he chose to hide and run away. Isn t that what cowards do?

    September 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      This is the funniest post I have ever read. Do you know what it is like to be inside Syria under a PURE DICTATORSHIP?! Being in his position and doing nothing would be really hard- especially that he was under real pressure since he is brigadier general.

      September 28, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • desert voice

      We just need more information to be able to comment. Tlass seems a far better option to me, than Assad. An excellent choice, I might say, for an Interim President. Besides, being "guapo, fanfarron y pituco" as the Argentines might say, even somewhat narcisistic, he seems to have a good heart and a sound judgement. I like his "solution" to Syria, provided he gets support from the army to accomplish a bloodless coup.

      October 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  6. DrEH

    The best thing that could happen at this point would be a de-capitation strike or a palace revolt that deposes and kills Assad. He cant be allowed to live because then some of his followers would continue the fight. Russia and China have blood on their hands for stopping outside intervention. There can be no justification for the world standing by while Assad's forces slaughter innocents. The insurgents will surely win eventually but the price will go higher with each passing day.

    September 28, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  7. Mello

    Isn't Mr. Tlass a part of the Syrian people!!Which he said that they have to claim victory themselves!! How would they when such influential figures flee and don't help in this process?? or was he another one of those promoted because of whom he knows and not what he did (performance)!! I think that this officer is a hypocrite!! why?? he claims to be against the killings but approves that he can flee to 5 star lifestyle, watch the people suffering and being killed, and then if the people win over Al Assad he will return to get some power in any manner!! this isn't only to Mr. Tlass but many other Syrians!!

    September 28, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • tony blair


      September 29, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
    • ramesh punjabi

      Tlass words above in the interview have no Iota of truth there s no any killing at all the criminal that were recruited from the Arabs jails are the one who committed atrocities raps . TLASS defection was made by the Saudi and Qatar money. How can such a general can defect is that logic . He is a traitor that were planted in the Syrian Army.
      H worked with Assad he got many he defected tomorrow he will work with the American got money some way else and then defect. Peoples like this can;t be trusted at all the American are enough Clever to know this how ever the We and the American are using them is fine and so are the Arabs all are Puppet and bow down to out side force but killers and criminal against each other.

      September 29, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • desert voice

      Let the man succeed. Give him time! In the situation Syria is in, the people of Syria should go to the streets and support Mr. Tlass. At least, he is everybody's friend, including the Christians. At this moment, given the alternative of an endless jihad, I see him as the best chance to stop the bloodshed if he gets citizen's support and the international backing.

      October 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  8. InternetGuy

    1400 years ago a certain prophet said that after Syrian civil war, will come the liberation of Jerusalem and the coming of Jesus Christ the true Messiah. And the defeat of Jew. When the prophet said that, Jerusalem was under the control of Christians. Jews rejected Jesus, God will send then another Messiah, the false Messiah, Dajjal, the "one eyed" man.
    The Prophet spoke about the defeat of Jews not "People of Israel" because the people of Israel are what we call "Palestinians" today. Jesus, one of people of Israel, who doesn't follow the religion of jews, would be what we call today "a Palestinian".

    When Jesus will come, he'll liberate the Holy Land and expel the Merchants of Temple, the Zionist. Those who use religion for money and interest, those who are very well represented in "One Dollar" bill, those who use the greatest power in the world to achieve their goal. They used the roman to crucify Jesus, they didn't succeed, and now they're using the US to achieve another Goal. The actual US leaders are betraying Jesus Christ.

    The Zionists, those who created the corrupted banking system, are very well represented in One Dollar bill. They are represented with money, the "one eyed" man, the star of David, and the eagle of America who serves them and protect them until the coming of their Machia'h, the false Messiah, Dajjal.

    God saif in the Holy Quran "21-95-96 And there is prohibition upon [the people of] a city which We have destroyed that they will [ever] return Until when [the dam of] Gog and Magog has been opened and they, from every elevation, descend"

    It seems that they didn't get the message yet.

    The prophet said "The End of the world won't happen until the musulims defeat the jews"

    And for those who are following blindly the zionists, God said in his Holy Quran:
    "7-38 [ Allah ] will say, "Enter among nations which had passed on before you of jinn and mankind into the Fire." Every time a nation enters, it will curse its sister until, when they have all overtaken one another therein, the last of them will say about the first of them "Our Lord, these had misled us, so give them a double punishment of the Fire. He will say, "For each is double, but you do not know."
    And the first of them will say to the last of them, "Then you had not any favor over us, so taste the punishment for what you used to earn."

    But it will be too laaaaate.......

    September 29, 2012 at 5:05 am | Reply
    • Buddha

      hatred, vengeance, prosecution and punishment that all ur God or Prophet does....
      he sound to me like a sadistic policemen of a totalitarian nation....
      u people, all of u extremists of all religions....
      its u who will perish, its u who will be extinct...
      because u don't give one thing to this world – future
      u will perish, coz u live in dead past...
      and u will perish, coz that is in ur nature...
      because ur greatest enemy is none other than – yourselves....
      world may seem to be burning because of u idiots, but it is because this is ur Swan song...
      your last cry before u eventually fall....

      September 29, 2012 at 5:36 am | Reply
    • Bechor

      Morbid thoughts !! definitely sick ....
      Unfortunately i can't blame you ..This is the result of brain washing ,
      Unfortunately i can't understand how a civilized human being, who works with a computer,and live in this era ....Able to write fictions with so much evil.

      Do not let your mind get trapped within the religious or hallucination ...the humanity more stronger ....keep in mind .

      September 29, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
    • Chris

      That comment really makes me just feel defeated and sad. With all the optimism and hope I still try to retain for the human species, it is this kind of honest blind vulgarity that really confuses and saddens me. And I dont blame the author, he is just a by product of all religeons real goals, to rule, to conquer and to dominate. #Endreligeon

      October 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
    • ruzen

      You have that SO BACKWARDS A&& WRONG!!! You started off well then really went flippant....where did you get this CR**P from?! Your not reading things right or not interpreting them right!

      July 8, 2013 at 3:51 am | Reply
  9. David

    People argue about Assad. But every time I think of America foreign policy, I think of the naivety, blood, displacement, decades of infrastructure destroyed and a decade more of post war instability, corruption and killing just to get it 'ok'. I love my country but the foot prints left by American foreign intervention I would not wish that on anybody.

    September 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
    • Rada Perin

      Finally someone reasonable! USA interventions only brought more destruction to all those countries, and all they got is to become slaves of USA policy...

      October 4, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  10. Alex

    If he's really serious about helping the revolution, he should join the FSA and fight with his countrymen rather than just stand around and talk to CNN. The real leaders are the ones who are too busy to talk.

    October 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      is that an old muslim saying?

      October 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  11. Justice

    The Tilas family has benefited more than he Assad family from this regime. Manaf has millions from being a military office, the father is a multiple millionaire and he orchestrated many massacars against the Syrian people, and Manaf's brother Firas is one of the biggest thieves in modern history. Firas made lots of money selling weapons to Iraq to kill American soldiers. Now these Wessels are our allies!!,

    October 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  12. Soldier of Fortune

    Assad might have an ace in Askalan...but he has to make the far as I can tell Assad is not the monster the media hypes him up to be...funny how that happens...but I think he needs to find that some of the biggest "game changers" come in the smallest to speak of course...The Kingdom of Heaven...if he is surrounded by old guard...that explains a lot...but he needs to be a doctor to someone who can trade and be a warrior for the peoples of business...

    October 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  13. Opinionated

    I think general Tlass has a lot to bring to the resolution of the crisis in a more understanding way. He seems to have a vision and knowledge of the ground. Syrians should stop arguing "who" does what and instead focus on the country and what is done to put it things on the right track.

    October 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  14. Rada Perin

    And what did George Bush do when he started do war in Iraq? Did he listen to the UN when they said he should not invade Iraq? Why should the UN accept the intervention in Syria now?
    Why should Iran stop their nuclear project while USA is the country who owns the greater number of nuclear bombs? Why is a country forbiden to own a nuclear weapon?
    Wouldn't it be strange syrian regime to attack Turkey, and at the same time the rebels are saying the would support a turkish intervention in Syria?
    There's a lot to think, beyond what we hear from the news! In a war, we MUST ALWAYS question both sides!!!

    October 4, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  15. simon

    the alawite regime since it started ,there was connections and meetings between assad and israel .no dubt ,even thou 1967 war assad the father involved egypt in a war that destroyed the egyptian army ,this was planned long ago, with the knowleged and planning of usa...the son to get the wright to become president,assad the father before he dies renewed the so called rabeen agreement, as per bbc the agreement consisted to let israel enroll the golan for another 25 years,this was the price paid by the alawite to govern,,,,

    October 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  16. simon

    the alawite a minority that does not exceed more than 7% of the population ,collected the farmers and employees to join what was called the baeth party, with that ,in addition to christians and durz they formed some about 25% of the population and were ready to pull out the sunnite regime as many alawite started joining the army... 1971 iran thru al imam al sadr started orienting the chiite towards forming an army ,1979 while irak sadam husain was pulling out the iranians in a destructive war, hafez assad supplied the chiite with exactly 100 tanks aiming to destroy the sunnite force al najjada ,al mourabitoon mkolailat, bombarding thesinnite rural area killing more than 50 000 sunnite and 6700 palestinians,by helping the maronite falanjist todestroy the palestinian camp tall al zaatar...more if this interrests...

    October 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  17. Justin Beltran

    President Assad of Syira, please abdicate your position as president of your country. There are alot of people dying, some of those people are my countrymen. I care for them for we share the same Filipino blood. You have no rights to hurt or kill Filipinos or even people from different nationalities. If you are in favor for the order and welfare of your country, with all due respect, please step down and let your country have a taste of peace. What you are doing is not doing any good. The world has no room for a person who promotes war among his people. Humans, regardless of their nationalities, have the right to live. Only God can deprive that right.

    Justin Santiago L. Beltran III, 1LM1, University of Santo Tomas

    November 21, 2012 at 3:00 am | Reply
  18. Bienvenido M. Co Jr.

    President Assad of Syria, with all due respect, I humbly ask you to please step down from your position as the president of Syria for you are beating the purpose of your power. Your ineffectiveness in promoting peace, order and the welfare of your people had already gone too much. A lot of people had already died because of your unlawful actions. I hope I may be able to help you find the light for you still have the time to lessen and at the later part eradicate the enigmas happening in your country by stepping down from your position. With that you’ll be able to help your countrymen and your country itself to start over. My concern is for the welfare of the people involved in the chaos for some of which are also my countrymen who are there working hard for their families here in the Philippines.

    Bienvenido M. Co Jr., 1LM1, University of Santo Tomas

    November 21, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply
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