Syria’s stock market announced today that it would stop trading shares of Syriatel, the country’s largest telecommunications company, which is owned by Bashar al-Assad’s embattled cousin Rami Makhlouf.
Syria’s Commission of Financial Markets said the suspension would last indefinitely and was designed to protect shareholders, The Associated Press reported.
The move is the regime’s latest step in consolidating power over Makhlouf, who is believed to have at one point controlled as much as 60% of Syria’s economy, but has apparently fallen out of favor with Assad.
Makhlouf went public against the crackdown last month, posting videos to Facebook in which he appealed directly to the president.
Syria’s telecommunications regulatory body gave Syriatel four days’ notice May 1 to accept a repayment plan for some 230 billion Syrian pounds (about $450 million). The government then froze Makhlouf’s assets and imposed a travel ban on him.
With some 11 million subscribers, Syriatel is considered one of the prime assets of the regime, according to AP. Makhlouf also has large stakes in real estate, oil trade and construction.
The moves come as Syria’s government is under increasing financial strain from decades of corruption, nine years of civil war and unrelenting US and international sanctions.
The US State Department has taken a lead role in discouraging international economic cooperation with the Assad regime, hoping that Russia and Iran, which militarily propped up Assad during the war, will inherit a broken and dysfunctional ally.
The regime has a significant interest in normalizing international relations and attracting foreign investment. Syria is estimated to need between $250 billion and $400 billion for post-war reconstruction, some four to seven times the country’s prewar gross domestic product in 2010.