Home > Syrian uprising > The Abdulrazaq Tlass affair and the naked truth

The Abdulrazaq Tlass affair and the naked truth

In the same week as Prince Harry’s nudity made it onto the front page of the UK’s biggest selling newspaper, an equally racy expose was made on a Syrian news website involving a naked rebel commander and his laptop.

The commander in question is little known outside the Middle East, but 25-year old Abdulrazaq Tlass (pictured) is the undisputed poster-child of one of the largest groups in the Free Syrian Army: the much-vaunted Farouk Brigades. He is a brave and handsome lieutenant who led the successful defence of Homs against Assad‘s hordes of army and shabiha. Recently, and to signal a growing religious piety, he took to sporting a beard in the Salafist fashion.

So when he decided to go online and engage in a spot of Skype sex sometime in mid-August, little did he know that regime hackers had installed spyware that enabled them to capture images from his webcam. The recording found its way online and one opposition news website decided to run with it.

Terribly embarrassing it may have been for him, at a time of revolution personal indiscretions are easily forgiven. A public apology would have helped, but in the end Syrian media activists like myself decided that, big-picture wise, it wasn’t worth the fuss.

What happened after that made me, a dyed-in-the-wool opponent of Assad, question the motives of those leading the revolution to oust him.

Three days after the video was posted on the Internet, Lt. Tlass issued a video response in which he, quite straight-faced, claimed that the entire recording was a regime fabrication aimed at besmirching the reputation of revolutionary figures. Assad’s accomplices in this cheap propaganda trick were Russia and China, “who supplied him with the technology to do such things.” In the words of Shaggy, it wasn’t me.

At this point it might be worth reminding ourselves of what Lt. Tlass had done wrong. He used a laptop and satellite Internet connection donated by Syrian expats to conduct an online sexual liaison. He sort-of cheated on his wife with an unidentified female, though the rumour points to a journalist in Turkey. He displayed a gross lack of judgement and brought the FSA into disrepute.

All that, however, was dwarfed by the simple fact that he lied. The intelligence of millions of Syrians was trumped by his sense of personal honour; he actually wanted us to believe that his word outweighed video evidence. The audacity, the gall, the bare-cheeked effrontery of it, was remarkable.

Equally remarkable was the reaction of the Syrian opposition, office-holders and humble activists alike, who launched into vulgar verbal tirades against anyone who dared question Lt Tlass’ character. “His shoes are more honourable than you dirty scoundrels” was one comment left on the opposition news website that dared to post the video. “You are Assad’s dogs and whores. Why do you make up lies about the opposition? Who is paying you?” screamed another.

The journalist who called for his resignation was bombarded by over one thousand abusive messages on his Facebook page, some even demanding he be hanged as a traitor. Those less shrill dismissed the video as a fabrication, and calmly asserted that even if it was genuine “who among us has not wronged?” It was a case of a public corruption passing off as private misdemeanour.

The big taboo

Assad’s propaganda machine spent the first few months of the uprising trying to convince the world that protest footage aired on Al-Jazeera was fake. It went as far as to claim that a giant Hollywood set of famous Syrian landmarks had been erected in Doha as part of a US-Zionist-Wahhabi wag-the-dog conspiracy. It didn’t quite wash, but it wasn’t all together unexpected coming from a regime that accused teenage bloggers of being Mossad agents.

Naturally, one would assume that the opposition would be radically different. They would champion free and independent media reporting as part of a wider vision for a post-Assad Syria that centered on freedom of expression and public accountability. Unfortunately, experience of working within the opposition media machine has shown that that vision is lacking.

The Syrian opposition runs at least seven satellite television channels and scores of news websites. But if you want to know what the opposition is up to, you’re better served trawling Facebook where you can pick up half-truths and hearsay. Voices that criticize opposition leaders (and there is much to be critical of) or that shed light on the internal workings of opposition organizations such as the Syrian National Council, have been quietly hushed. Rocking the boat is taboo.

In February of this year, an Istanbul-based member of the SNC Executive Committee, the highest body in the organization, claimed on Al-Jazeera that his brother in Aleppo has been murdered by the regime. A Barada TV investigation that I oversaw however, revealed that it was the FSA itself that carried out the hit because it believed his brother was a financier of the shabiha. Family honour dictated that the SNC leader suppress this news, and so he lied. He did so because he thought he could get away with it.

And he did. He threatened to sue the channel if it broadcast the story and promised swift political retribution on all those associated with the investigation. The channel’s management caved in, and an hour before it was due to be aired the story was spiked and replaced with something less offensive.

This was by no means an isolated incident. Eighteen months of self-censorship has meant that gross incompetence, petty squabbling, vote-buying, clientelism, embezzlement of funds, and yes, lying to the world by members of Syria’s opposition has gone unreported and unaccounted. The result has been a break down of trust between the political opposition and the grassroots, and a strained relationship with the West – and the revolution as a whole has suffered for it. The Abdulrazaq Tlass affair shows that the rot has now infected the FSA.

At stake is the kind of media that will emerge in a future, democratic Syria. Opposition media activists should not be impervious to the risks of cosying up to the revolutionary figures of today who may turn into the dictators of tomorrow. There is a balance that can and should be struck between robust and responsible journalism and not handing the regime a propaganda victory. If the Syrian revolution is genuinely about freedom and democracy, those claiming to be its champions should live up to its ideals.

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Categories: Syrian uprising
  1. Rima Allaham, Ph.D
    September 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm | #1

    I read the article and honestly I don’t see your point. Focusing on a naked picture of a member of the Syrian Free Army is a typical American way of defaming people. Is this a topic that deserves to be dealt with when hundreds are being massacred, tortured, and abused every day by the Syrian regime. The only unacceptable purpose of your article is to equate the awful dictator with the Syrian Free Army. I can tell you one word “IT WILL NOT SUcCEED”. The Syrian people are behind the Syrian Free army. Good luck!!

    • Zein
      September 25, 2012 at 9:24 am | #2

      Rima, it’s the FSA (free Syrian army) not SFA… The article is a little too late coming I think. We need transparency and accountability. If Tlass was this easily compromised, can you imagine what else his indiscretion has led to? Sex videos is the least of his worries… I’m thinking security, this indiscretion could have led to the killing of his whole unit. Also, he could have inadvertently given very sensitive information in order to impress the other party into exposing more of her modesty… It’s not just about the masturbation… It’s far more serious than that.

  2. September 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | #3

    Malik makes a great point here. Just because Abdulrazak was caught having ‘Skype-Sex’ does not discredit anything he has done to defend Syrians against Assad nor does it discredit the FSA in anyway. If anything, it proves that he’s human like the rest of us. It shows us what many of us already know, that the FSA is not in-fact a ‘salafi’ fighting force bent on creating an Islamic Emirate as the world media & Assad wants you to believe. They are (FSA) in fact regular people from every city, town, village and farm in Syria who have picked up arms to stop the annihilation of their own families and the rest of Syria by Assad. Just because most of their support (money) comes from religiously conservative donors in the rest of the Arab world does not change this. No one else is giving them money, so no one can fault them from accepting these donations in order to save their own children.

    The ‘Beard Issue’ – Many in the FSA grow beards for many reasons. 1) They want to. 2) It’s a form of rebellion in a country where no man would be caught dead with a long beard lest he wish to ‘vanish’ forever one day courtesy of Assad & Co. 3) Some are genuinely religious. Get over it. 4) If you woke up every morning knowing that you will almost certainly die a horrible death fighting a massive army such as Assad’s you might be inclined to become more religious (as they say, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes”). 5) Many FSA fighters have admitted they grow the beards to attract funding from conservative and religious donors in the rest of the Arab world. And finally 6) Sometime you can’t find a handy Gillette Mach 5 razor on the front-lines of one of the most violent massacres in modern history.

    The fact that Tlass came out on camera to deny that it was him and that the video was a conspiracy was rather absurd, whatever our views, you know it’s true (c’mon, deep down you know it). However, he might have had no choice but so say it. His superiors, donors and benefactors most likely demanded it from their iconic ‘poster-boy of the resistance against Assad’. I’m not making an excuse for the rebuttal by Tlass, but i am defending the man personally, he does not call all the shots, in this world (as sad as it is) the man with the check-book does. In a time where the opposition was (still is mostly) faceless and leaderless, people (especially oppressed people) have a natural tendency to seek out and elevate a leader to the point of glorification and idolizing. They find hope and comfort in these leaders. “He can do no wrong!” , “He is the model of a perfect human!” …etc. This is natural. Especially in times like these. It’s also natural for people to use very offensive and hateful language to defend their idol when he/she is attacked. However, I must note that the oppositions ‘attacks’ are on facebook … Assad’s are on the ground and very real. 30,000 dead real.

    And finally as any Syrian knows, you can take a Tlass (ie Mustapaha, Manaf …etc) away from the party, but you can never take the party from a Tlass. If you don’t know what I mean by this then you don’t know much about the Tlass family or Syria.

    For 40 years the Syrian people have been silenced. Many permanently. We are using our voices for the first time. Just as a child makes mistakes as it learns to speak, walk and interact with the world, so will the Syrian opposition. Mistakes will be made, this is a guarantee. Crimes will happen. This is a certainty. People will take advantage of the circumstances for personal gain. As is always the case. However non of this should discredit an entire movement who’s core foundations and principles are still solid, pure and very much attainable.

    Abdul Razak Tlass still represents me.

  3. September 26, 2012 at 6:18 am | #4

    على الإنسان أن يكون صادق مع نفسه في كل شيء ، لم نثر من بسبب الجوع ولا من اجل ان نحتفظ بإرث الكذب والذي هو ادنى الاخلاق ، ثرورتنا هي على المفاهيم التي تقلب الحقيقة زيف ، وان نقف بجرأة أمام الخطأ ، احيك سيد مالك على جرأتك ، فهناك مثل يقول لا يصح الا الصحيح واضيف اليه ولو بعد حين ، لم يسقط طلاس من عيني حين كان خالعا سرواله لأن خطأه شخصي بحت لا يمكن لاحد ان يحاسبه عليه وبامكانه ان يصلح ما افسد، انما سقط هو وكتائب الفاروق عندما كذب والكتائب لم تتخذ اي اجراء إداري بحقه، كأن تعزله وتصدر بيان يحفظ ماء وجهها ، اذا لم نصل الى هذه المرحلة فما زلنا بعيدين عن معنى الثورة الحقيقي حتى لو انتصرت واقتلعت الاسد الكر.

  4. Free Syria
    October 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm | #5

    Abdulrazzaq Tlass, is not responsable for this video, the assad government is. They know how popular Abdulrazzaq is, they want to ruin this. He is a good trusted man. He was one of the first people to defect. His Farouq Brigade is responsable for a lot of good things happening in Homs. Abdulrazzaq Tlass would never do anything like this. And I don’t think we should watch any of the fake videos, so that we can show our support for the Syrian rev. And our support for the Free Syrian Army and our brother Abdulrazzaq Tlass

  5. log
    October 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm | #6

    So the guy in the “sex video” has mole on the right side of his face, besides having only a vague resemblance of Tlass’s facial features, whiles Tlass does not have a mole on his face.
    This propaganda attempt is crude, and it is ludicrous that some chose to believe it. Sad, really.

  6. salas
    March 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm | #8

    I don’t know. Seems like a cheap trick that has been used ever since the advent of propaganda and media technology. Whether its the internet or newspapers/posters.

    Sounds like something out of Assads book of tricks and “how to villanize an uprising 101″.

    It’s a dodgy unclear video too.

  1. November 15, 2012 at 1:05 am | #1

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