Syria’s Bashar Al Assad fires prime minister

The president, who holds all the power, is under rare pressure from his core support base to halt sharp economic decline

Prime Minister Imad Khamis, seen chairing a cabinet session in 2013, has been fired from his post. AFP
Prime Minister Imad Khamis, seen chairing a cabinet session in 2013, has been fired from his post. AFP

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Thursday dismissed Imad Khamis as prime minister and appointed Water Minister Hussein Arnous in his place, according to a short statement on state media.

No reason was given for the removal of Mr Khamis, who held the post since 2016.

Under the Assad family regime, Syria's prime ministers are appointed from the Sunni majority, but the post is largely inconsequential as all power is held by an inner circle dominated the president's Alawite minority.

Mr Al Assad's sudden move appears to be designed to absorb discontent among loyalists as regime-held regions lurch off an economic cliff with the currency in freefall.

The collapse in the Syrian pound contributed to sporadic demonstrations breaking out this week in the Druze majority governorate of Suweida. The regime considers the Druze a loyalist fellow minority.

An increasingly public feud between the president and his cousin, the oligarch Rami Makhlouf, exposed the wealth of the inner circle at a time of severe economic hardship that affects the regime's core support base comprising Alawites and other minorities.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Youssef Badawi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (9067496a) Syrian Public Works and Housing Minister Hussein Arnous (2-R) walks around the sections of the 'RE-Build Syria' five-day exhibition in Damascus, Syria, 19 September 2017. RE-Build Syria exhibition, Damascus - 19 Sep 2017
Hussein Arnous has been appointed prime minister in a reshuffle. Shutterstock, file

The sharp fall in the Syrian currency in recent weeks to 2,450 pounds per dollar has pushed even the middle class into hardship with the cost of basic commodities rising rapidly. The pound was trading at 50 pounds to the dollar when a public revolt against Assad family rule broke out in March 2011.

Mr Arnous, born in 1953, has served as water minister since November 2018 and was previously the public works and housing minister.

State media said Mr Al Assad had tasked Mr Arnous with the duties of the prime minister as well as his current responsibility as water minister.

Before he became prime minister, Mr Khamis served as electricity minister and was sanctioned by the European Union in 2012 for his role in using power cuts to punish and silence the 2011 uprising.

The peaceful revolt had militarised by the end of the year, largely in reaction to the abduction and killing of thousands of demonstrators by the security forces. The country fractured during the ensuing civil war into Russian, US, Iranian and Turkish spheres of influence.

Syrian war in pictures

Updated: June 11, 2020 07:04 PM

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