President Asad’s Cabinet Reshuffle

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¶1. (C) SUMMARY: After months of rumors that President Bashar
al-Asad would reshuffle his cabinet, he finally did so on
April 23, appointing six new officials to Prime Minister
Utri’s cabinet. Asad tapped Judge Ahmad Hamud Yunis to be
Minister of Justice; Tamer Fu,ad al-Hija as Minister of
Local Administration; Mansur Fadlallah Azzam as Presidential
Affairs Minister; Kawkab al-Sabah Mohammed Dayeh as Minister
of the Environment; and Rida Adnan Sa,id as the Minister of
Health. The highest profile appointment was Asad’s choice of
Major General Sa,id Muhammad Sammour to replace General
Bassam Abdel Majid as the new Minister of the Interior.
These appointments are widely viewed as an attempt by Asad
both to weed out ineffective leaders and shore up power.
Given the recent border-smuggling corruption scandal
surrounding Hasan Makhluf, some of our interlocutors see the
Sammour appointment as Asad,s way of cleaning house. END
SUMMARY.

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Interior
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¶2. (SBU) The new Minister of the Interior is Major General
Sa’id Muhammad Sammour, an Alawite, and the former Deputy
Chief of Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI). Born in Jableh
in 1950, Sammour has a B.A. in English Literature and a
Diploma in Aviation Science and Flying. He has served as
Chief of Military Intelligence in Homs and also for the
Damascus Region. As Deputy Chief of SMI, Sammour served
under former Chief of SMI Asef Shawkat, President Asad’s
brother-in-law. Sammour replaced Major General Bassam Abdel
Majid, who had been brought in after Major General Ghazi
Kan’an committed suicide on October 12, 2005. The Ministry
of Interior portfolio has been relatively secondary during
Abdel Majid’s tenure.

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Justice
——-

¶3. (SBU) Ahmad Hamud Yunis, the new Minister of Justice, was
born in Ras al-Maara in 1950. He graduated with a decree in
law from Damascus University in 1973 and was appointed to the
Judicial Circuit in 1975. Since that time he has served as
Attorney General and Chief of the Economic Security Court.
Between 1997 and 2009, he was Chairman of the Central
Commission for Auditing and Inspection. Yunis is a member of
the Ba’ath Party and a Sunni. He is married with two sons and
two daughters.

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Local Administration
——————–

¶4. (C) Former Governor of Aleppo Tamer Fu’ad al-Hija, a
member of the Ba’ath Party’s Central Committee, is the new
Minister of Local Administration. As governor in Aleppo, he
was highly regarded by Syrians and diplomats, having brought
a more open work-style to the job and a willingness to listen
to local citizens. Prior to his appointment, he held various
academic and administrative positions at al-Ba’ath University
in Homs, eventually rising to the position of Dean of the
Faculty of Civil Engineering in 1994 (Hija received a Ph.D.
in Civil Engineering from the Higher Institute of Technology
in Leipzig, Germany in 1989). In 1999 he entered local
politics as the Chair of Homs City Council. Before becoming
Governor of Aleppo, he served as Governor of Damascus
Countryside from 2004-2005. In 1997, Hija traveled to the
U.S. to study curriculum development and teaching methods
through the State Department’s Volunteer Visitor (VOLVIS)
program. Hija, who was born in Homs in 1959, is married with
two daughters and two sons.

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Presidential Affairs
——————–

¶5. (C) Mansur Fadlallah ‘Azzam, chosen to serve as the
Minister of Presidential Affairs, was born in Sweida in 1960.

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Diplomatic sources tell us ‘Azzam had been locked in a
dysfunctional power struggle with other staff in the office
of the President. His elevation to ministerial level
indicates a presidential vote of confidence. He is the
youngest of the new cabinet members and the only Druze.
After receiving a degree in French Literature from Damascus
University 1983, ‘Azzam completed his postgraduate work in
translation in 1985. He then went on to take a diploma in
International Relations from the National Institute for
Administration in Paris. In 1994 ‘Azzam joined the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs and between 1995 and 2000 served as a
Cultural Affairs officer and then later as the officer in
charge of U.S. Congressional affairs at the Syrian Embassy in
Washington, D.C. From 2000-2002, ‘Azzam held the positions
of Counselor and Director of Protocol at the MFA; from
2003-2008 he served as Deputy Chief of Protocol for the
Presidency; and finally, between 2008-2009 he held the
position of Secretary of the Presidency. ‘Azzam is a member
of the Ba’ath Party. He is married and has three daughters.

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Environmental Affairs
———————

¶6. (SBU) A native of Jableh, Dr. Kawkab al-Dayeh, the new
Minister of State for Environmental Affairs, is the only
woman among the new appointees. Since receiving a Ph.D. in
Pharmacy from Damascus University, she has been active in
health issues, including serving as Deputy Minister of Health
(1993) and Director of Health, Environment and Population at
the Women’s Union until her recent appointment. Dayeh is a
member of the Ba’ath Party. She has two sons and a daughter.
(Note: Prior to the most recent round of appointments, the
Ministries of Local Administration and the Environment were
unified. They had, however, originally been distinct from
one another. The Ministry of the Environment was established
in 1994 and then merged with the Ministry of Local
Administration in 2003.)

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Health
——

¶7. (C) The choice of Dr. Rida Adnan Sa’id is notable in that
he is the only politically independent appointee to the
cabinet. Reportedly, the previous Minister of Health was the
target of rumors of corruption which are unlikely to occur
with Sa’id, who is the nephew of wealthy Syrian-British
philanthropist/arms dealer Wafic Sa’id. After receiving an
M.D. in ophthalmology from Jesuit University in Beirut, Sa’id
went on to become the Director of the Eye Hospital
(1998-2007) and the Director of the Eye Bank (from
2007-present). He has also served as Deputy President of the
Arab Board for Ophthalmology. Born in Damascus in 1947,
Sa’id is married and has two daughters and a son. (COMMENT:
Sa’id has maintained contacts with the U.S. Embassy despite
questioning by Syrian intelligence. END COMMENT)

¶8. (C) COMMENT: Local and diplomatic contacts have told us
the new appointments are not a bellwether for political
reform. Rather, we have heard Asad’s goal is to remind other
ministers that job security is contingent on performance. It
is unclear whether the appointment of Sammour to the Ministry
of the Interior is an attempt by Asad to “clean house” after
scandals involving SMI and Customs officials (reftel).
Sammour had reportedly served as Asad’s eyes and ears in the
SMI, especially with regard to Shawkat. His appointment to
the MOI may signal a desire on the part of Asad to increase
oversight and reduce corruption. Under Abdel Majid’s
stewardship, the MOI had not been able to wield much power in
the cabinet. With Sammour, we may see the MOI assert its
leadership more robustly.

¶9. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: It is worth noting that the
appointments are religiously diverse (Druze, Sunni, Alawite).
There is a slight but discernible international flavor to
the cast as two of the six appointees–‘Azzam and Hija–have
worked/studied in the U.S. and France. Finally, despite the
unimpressive results of the previous five-year economic plan,
Minister of Finance Dr. Muhammad al-Husayn, Minister of
Economy and Trade Dr. Amer Husni Lutfi, and Deputy Prime
Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Dardari all survived
the shuffle unscathed. Their continued tenure suggests that

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Asad, recognizing the special circumstances surrounding the
global financial crisis, has decided to give them more time
to achieve results. END COMMENT.
CONNELLY