Syria’s most powerful, and possibly most hated, tycoon announced yesterday that he was retiring from business, in what’s seen as a major concession from President Bashar al-Assad to the protests raging through the country. Rami Makhlouf is Assad’s cousin and is seen as “a symbol of the corruption in the regime,” one Middle East scholar tells the New York Times. Protesters have called for his head, and burned the offices of his phone company Syriatel.
“The government is now using another set of cards, one that directly addresses protesters’ demands,” the scholar said, though he added that “the decision has come too late, and it’s not going to be accepted seriously.” In a press conference, Makhlouf said he’d sell his Syriatel shares to benefit the families of those killed in the uprising, and work exclusively for charity from now on. The Times notes that it's unlikely Makhalouf would have made such a move without the OK from, or even insistence of, Assad. Some diplomats say Makhlouf angered Assad with a Times interview in which he said Syria’s elite would fight “to the end.”