Ali Mamlouk publicly in Moscow as advisor to General Secretariat of the Republic

From Ali Mamlouk's meeting with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council in Moscow - April 22, 2024 (Russia Today)

From Ali Mamlouk's meeting with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council in Moscow - April 22, 2024 (Russia Today)


Enab Baladi – Hani Abdullah

Months after his disappearance from the scene, amid rumors of a health crisis, assassination, or his removal from the scene, Ali Mamlouk appeared in Moscow meeting with Russian officials as an advisor to Bashar al-Assad, raising questions about the reasons and implications of that visit.

The Syrian official news agency (SANA) published a statement limited to rhetorical formulations about the visit, without disclosing the objectives, indicating that Mamlouk met with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, to enhance bilateral relations between the Syrian regime and Russia, and to affirm Syria’s full support and endorsement of the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

The agency mentioned that Major General Mamlouk arrived in Russia to participate in the 12th St. Petersburg International Conference of High Representatives for Security Affairs, which took place in St. Petersburg between April 23 and 25.

Hidden objectives of the visit

Rashid Hourani, a researcher at the Jusoor for Studies Center, told Enab Baladi that Mamlouk’s visit to Moscow had undisclosed hidden objectives, suggesting that the visit was likely at the request of Russia, to discuss the progress regarding the restructuring of the security apparatus that the Syrian regime started about six months ago under pressure from Russia, in its attempts to rehabilitate the regime through the Arab gateway.

Hourani, a defector from the regime’s army, added that Russia might have discussed in its meeting with Mamlouk the subsequent steps for those security changes, considering him one of the experienced figures in the security aspect of the Syrian regime, due to his long service in the security apparatus, and his many previous visits during the revolution outside Syria to Riyadh and Rome.

Mamlouk’s visit to Russia may have discussed issues on jihadists in Syria, as Russia attempts to monitor them, especially those originating from republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, considering them a threat due to their hostility towards it, according to Hourani.

The visit coincided with joint naval exercises conducted between the naval forces affiliated with the regime and Russian naval units present in Syria, which, according to Hourani, indicates Russia’s desire to send a clear message of its control over the security and military side of the regime, in addition to discussing files related to regional security and Russia’s responsibility for it given its presence in Syria, especially regarding drug trafficking.

In the same context, Dr. Nasr al-Yousef, a specialist in Russian affairs, believes that the Syrian regime largely depends on what the Russian side wants, which is not surprising as the regime realizes that without Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, it would have fallen in 2015. In terms of analyzing the brief statement by the Russian side at the end of the visit, it includes two main points, “discussion of the situation in the Middle East, and Russian-Syrian cooperation aimed at ensuring Syria’s security.”

Al-Yousef added to Enab Baladi that “there are attempts by Iran and its allies to strongly involve the regime in the current developments related to the Palestinian issue, especially with the increasing pressure on al-Assad due to his withdrawal from the Gaza war.”

Al-Yousef believes that the regime sent Mamlouk to Russia to receive specific instructions from the Russian side, and how he could act under these circumstances.

Sudden appearance or routine protocol?

The Syrian state news agency “SANA” referred to Ali Mamlouk during his visit to Russia as the “National Security Advisor in the General Secretariat of the Presidency.” This came approximately four months after talks about his removal from his position as head of the National Security Bureau.

According to media leaks, the Syrian regime had appointed the former head of military intelligence, Kifah Milhem, as the head of the National Security Bureau, replacing Mamlouk, who was appointed as the security adviser to Bashar al-Assad last January.

Mamlouk’s appearance or the announcement of his activities usually occurs secretly. His last publicly known political activity took place in May 2023 when he visited Russia to attend the International Security Forum in Moscow, meeting with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev.

Mamlouk had visited Moscow a year ago in his former capacity as head of the National Security Bureau, but notably, that visit was not covered by the media, and no images of Mamlouk during his meeting with the Russian official were published. However, images were deliberately released by Russian and regime media outlets when he visited Russia again a few days ago and met with the same official, indicating that both Moscow and Damascus intended to convey specific messages through Mamlouk’s appearance.

Commenting on Mamlouk’s public appearance in Russia, Dr. Nasr al-Yousef stated that there was no deliberate attempt to showcase Ali Mamlouk, as he arrived in Russia to participate in a security forum based on an official invitation from Moscow. Therefore, it was not a secret meeting but a public forum attended by many security officials from countries friendly to Russia, making Mamlouk’s appearance routine rather than surprising.

Rumors created by Assad’s intelligence

Ali Mamlouk’s visit to Russia followed widespread controversy over this security figure in recent months. In January, the Russian Sputnik agency reported that Mamlouk was transferred to the hospital due to health problems, without any clarification from the regime about his condition.

Rumors spread on social media platforms months ago about Mamlouk’s death in a car accident on the Dummer-Damascus road, along with a Russian officer. The opposition SNA news agency reported that political sources confirmed to them that they do not rule out the death of Mamlouk, Russia’s primary man and the executor of its projects, who was being prepared for a future political role in Syria.

According to the agency, Mamlouk was at odds with the Iranian direction in Syria, and the appointments made by the regime at the beginning of this year were part of a restructuring of the security branches under Russian supervision.

However, the Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen denied that Mamlouk had suffered a health relapse or accident, quoting Syrian sources saying that Mamlouk was in his office and functioning as usual.

Since the news about his health relapse or suspected death, Mamlouk has not reappeared in the media, adding more mystery to his fate.

Dr. Nasr al-Yousef believes there is a branch within Assad’s security agencies specialized in spreading rumors, possibly having circulated the rumor about Mamlouk’s health issue or death to gauge public reaction. However, Mamlouk remains an integral part of the regime, inseparable from it, and his fate is linked to the fate of Bashar al-Assad.

To consolidate Assad’s power

The rumors about Mamlouk’s death or health issues came days after the announcement that the former head of military intelligence, Kifah Milhem, had been appointed head of the National Security Bureau, replacing Mamlouk, who was appointed as Bashar al-Assad’s security advisor at the beginning of this year, among other security changes.

In this context, researcher Rashid Hourani stated that appointing Mamlouk as a security advisor for al-Assad at the beginning of this year holds more symbolic value and investment in his extensive experience, while making room for his successor to hold lesser security positions.

Hourani believes that the division of security agencies and personalities and their allegiance split between Russia and Iran, or bringing those countries closer to these personalities and relying on them, especially in the military field, is subject to absolute Russian control.

The Candle Center for Studies discussed the underlying objectives behind these security changes, which even affected Ali Mamlouk, one of al-Assad’s prominent intelligence figures:

  • Transforming the National Security Bureau from a coordinating office between the four security branches into a central command office for the rest of the branches, administrations, and security branches, meaning that Bashar al-Assad’s directives will reach the branch heads through the head of the National Security Bureau instead of the usual direct method.
  • Reducing the ability of the regime’s allies to control and penetrate the security branches and influence the regime through them, and controlling the gateway for ally intervention by confining it to the pyramid’s apex controlling all security branches.
  • Limiting the conflict between the agencies and branches and subjecting them to central command control through the regime’s head directives.
  • The Syrian regime recognizes that the secret to its strength and sustainability lies in its security role at the regional and domestic levels. Therefore, al-Assad works to consolidate control over his resources and redraw his security strategy anew to achieve greater efficacy.
  • By carrying out nominal reforms within its security institutions, the regime attempts to convince Western and Arab countries to engage with it in response to the positive steps it undertakes.
  • The security branches are directed to follow the Syrian regime’s approach towards adjusting to the international and regional circumstances, which involve normalizing relations with it, while limiting the Iranian role and addressing the drug issue through security changes and border control.

Mamlouk: The servant of father and son

Ali Mamlouk is one of the few men whom Assad the son has relied on heavily since the onset of the war in Syria, thus described as “the man of the phase” and one of the last remnants of Assad the father’s era.

Born in Damascus in 1946, Mamlouk rose through the ranks in the security agencies since the 1970s, being one of the founders of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and was appointed head of the General Intelligence Directorate in 2005.

After the “crisis cell” was assassinated in July 2012, Mamlouk was appointed head of the National Security Bureau, replacing Hisham Bakhtiar, thus overseeing all intelligence agencies.

Mamlouk played a prominent role in suppressing the anti-regime movement from the beginning of the Syrian revolution, leading several European countries and the United States to impose sanctions on him. In 2018, a French court issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of “complicity in acts of torture and arrests, and involvement in crimes against humanity.”



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