(حافظ الأسد ) (October 6
– June 10
) was president
, for three decades. Assad's rule stabilized and consolidated the power of the country's central government after decades of coups and counter-coups. He was succeeded by his son and current president Bashar al-Assad
Hafez al-Assad was born in the town of Qardaha
in the Latakia
province of western Syria
(then a French Mandate
) into a minority Alawite
family. He was the first member of his family to attend high school
. Some say his family's name was Wa'hish (or Beast in Arabic) and they changed the family name. He attended Jules Jammal High School in Lattakia from which he graduated. He joined the Baath Party
in 1946 at the age of 16. Because his family had no money to send him to university
, Assad went to the Syrian Military Academy
(where he met Mustafa Tlass
) and received a free higher education. He showed considerable talent and the military sent him for additional training in the Soviet Union
. As a pilot during the 1950s, he flew the Gloster Meteor
jet fighter, amongst other types. He rose through the ranks and became an important figure in the military.
He opposed the 1958 union between Syria and Egypt which created the United Arab Republic (UAR). Stationed in Cairo, he worked with other officers to end the union, sticking to his pan-Arab ideals while arguing that the UAR concentrated too much power in the hands of Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime. As a result, Assad was briefly imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities at the breakup of the union in 1961. Tlass escorted his family to Syria, where he later rejoined them.
In the chaos that followed the dissolution of the UAR, a coalition of left-wing groups led by the Baath Party seized power in Syria. Assad was appointed head of the airforce in 1964. The state was officially ruled by Amin Hafiz, a Sunni Muslim, but was in practice dominated by a coterie of young Alawite Baathists.
In 1966, the Baath launched a coup d'etat
within the government and cleared out the other parties from the government. Assad became Minister of Defence
and wielded considerable influence over government policy. However, there was much tension between the dominant radical wing of the Baath Party, which promoted an aggressive foreign policy and rapid social reform, and Assad's more pragmatic, military-based faction. After being discredited by the failure of the Syrian military in the Six-Day War
in 1967, and enraged by the aborted Syrian intervention in the Jordanian-Palestinian Black September
war, the government faced conflict within its ranks. By the time President Nureddin al-Atassi
and the de facto leader, deputy secretary general of the Baath Party Salah Jadid
, realized the threat and ordered Assad and Tlass be stripped of all party and government power, it was too late. Assad swiftly launched a bloodless intra-party coup, The Corrective Revolution
of 1970. The party was purged, Atassi and Jadid jailed, and Assad loyalists installed in key posts throughout the government.
Al-Assad inherited a dictatorial government shaped by years of unstable military rule, and lately organized along one-party lines after the Baathist coup. He increased repression and attempted to secure his domination of every sector of society through a vast web of police informers and agents. Under his rule, Syria turned genuinely authoritarian
. He was made the object of a state-sponsored cult of personality
, which depicted as a wise, just, and strong leader of Syria and of the Arab world
Syria under Assad never quite reached the levels of repression practiced in neighboring Iraq, ruled by a rivaling Baathist faction. Where Saddam Hussein's policies of perpetual state terrorism aimed to secure his rule through fear, Hafez al-Assad took a more sophisticated approach: rather than immediately brutalizing restive communities, his government often bribed or threatened dissidents. Only after milder forms of persuasion had failed would swords come out. Then, the government could be counted on to act with unflinching cruelty in order to intimidate all would-be dissidents.
Stability and reforms
Whilst dictatorial, the government of al-Assad initially achieved some popularity for bringing stability to the country, which had experienced dozens of attempted coups since 1948. He also implemented many social reforms and infrastructure projects, notably the Thawra (Revolution) dam on the Euphrates River
. It was built with Soviet
assistance, and still supplies much of Syria's electricity. Public schooling and other reforms were extended to larger segments of the population, and a notable rise in living standards occurred. The government's secularism
meant that many members of religious minorities, such as the Alawites
, and Christians
, naturally supported Assad, fearing a return to historic persecution under a Sunni Islamist successor government to Assad.
Assad also continued previous Baath policies by overseeing massive increases in Syria's military strength (again with Soviet support) and by maintaining a strong Arab nationalist position. School curricula and the state-controlled media gave much attention to the glorious past of Syria and the Arabs, and portrayed al-Assad's government as the lone uncorrupted champion of the Arab nation against Western imperialism and aggression. This propaganda aimed to legitimize the government, but also to unify the diverse and fractured Syrian society, and instill a sense of national pride among the populace.
During 1985-2000, Assad's administration failed to arrest the 90 per cent fall in the worth of the Syrian Pound from 3 to 47 to the US Dollar.
Muslim Brotherhood Uprising
In 1979, the Syrian public was taken by surprise when a chain of assassinations took place, starting in the artillery school in Aleppo, every where. No one could identify who was responsible for them. After almost a year, when a member from the group was injured and taken into custody by the intelligence system identified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood party. The group had a significant impactat on the security system and the public . They killed many civilians, focusing on baathist whom educated and have close ties with the government. the Syarian government placed big efforts to clollect information about the party and allowed some brave securty members to join the party to expose its plans and next moves. unfortunately, the security system were, in some insident, so brutal in a way so many innocent civilians killed in the middle of battles between the army and the party members. some sources estimate that the number of civilians killed were arround 200,000!
150,000 killed In Hamah province. the party violence damaged the national growth of Syrian economy and aimed to weakening the authority hoping the sunni members in the army will cease back the sunni rule from the Alwit.
Challenge from Rifaat
In 1983, Assad suffered a heart attack
and was confined to hospital. He named a six-man governing council to run the country in his absence, among them long-time Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass. All six were Sunnis, possibly because they had no independent power over his Alawite-dominated government, and were thus less likely to try to seize power. Despite this, rumors spread that Assad was dead or nearly so, and indeed his condition was serious. In 1984, Rifaat al-Assad
attempted to use the security forces under his control to seize power. His Defence Company
troops of some 50,000 men, complete with tanks and helicopters, began putting up roadblocks throughout Damascus
, and tensions between Hafez loyalists and Rifaat supporters came close to all-out war. The stand-off was not ended until Hafez, still ill, rose from his bed to reassume power and speak to the nation. He transferred command of the Defence Company
and, without formal accusations, sent Rifaat on an indefinite "work visit" to France
Al-Assad's foreign policy was shaped by the relation of Syria to Israel
, although this conflict both preceded him and persists after his death. During his presidency, Syria played a major role in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war
. The war is, despite heavy losses and Israeli advances, presented by the Syrian government as a victory, as Syria regained some territory that had been occupied in 1967 through peace negotiations headed by Henry Kissinger
. Since then Assad-led Syria has carefully respected the UN
-monitored ceasefire line in the occupied Golan Heights
. The Syrian government has denied the state of Israel any recognition, and long preferred to refer to it as a "Zionist Entity". Only in the mid-1990s did Hafez moderate his country's policy towards Israel, as he realized the loss of Soviet support meant a different balance of power in the Middle East
. Pressed by the United States
, he engaged in negotiations on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
, but these talks ultimately failed.
Syria deployed troops to Lebanon
in 1976, officially in response to a request from the Lebanese government for Syrian military intervention during the Lebanese Civil War
. It is alleged that the Syrian presence in Lebanon began earlier with its involvement in as-Saiqa
, a Palestinian militia composed primarily of Syrians. The Arab League
agreed to send a peacekeeping force mostly formed by Syrian troops. The initial goals were to save the Lebanese government from being overun by the Left and the Palestinian militancy. Critics allege that this eventually turned into an occupation by 1982, which is more or less not disputed within the Lebanese community. The Syrian presence ended in 2005, due to the UN resolution 1559 after the Rafiq Hariri
assassination and the March 14 protests.
The hostile attitude to Israel meant vocal support for the Palestinians
, but that did not translate into friendly relations with their organizations. Hafez al-Assad was always wary of independent Palestinian organizations, as he aimed to bring the Palestinian issue under Syrian control in order to use it as a political tool. He soon developed an implacable animosity towards Yassir Arafat
, against which Syria fought bloody battles in Lebanon.
As Arafat allegedly moved the PLO in a more moderate direction, supposedly seeking compromise with Israel, al-Assad also feared regional isolation, and he resented the PLO underground's operations in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Arafat was depicted by Syria as a rogue madman and an American marionette, and after accusing him of supporting the Hama revolt, al-Assad backed the 1983 Abu Musa rebellion inside Arafat's Fatah-movement. A number of unsuccessful Syrian attempts to kill Arafat were also made. In 1999, Assad had his right-hand man, Mustafa Tlass, make an on-the-record statement labelling Arafat "the son of a whore", in addition to comparing him to a strip-tease dancer and a black cat, calling him a coward and, finally, pointing out that the Palestinian leader was getting uglier.
An effective strategy was undermining Arafat through support for radical groups both outside and inside the PLO. This way, Syria secured some influence over PLO politics, and was also able to literally blow up any attempts at negotiation with the US and Israel through pushing for terrorist attacks. The PLO's As-Sa'iqa faction was and is completely controlled by Syria, and under Hafez, groups such as the PFLP-GC were also turned into clients. In later years, Syria focused on supporting non-PLO Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Even though Iraq was ruled by another branch of the Baath Party, Assad's relations with Saddam Hussein were extremely strained. Hostile rhetoric was intense, and until Saddam's fall in 2003, Iraq was listed in Syrian passports as one of the two countries no Syrian citizen could visit (the other being Israel). But with the exception of a few border guard skirmishes and mutual support for cross-border raids by opposition groups, no heavy fighting broke out until 1991, when Syria joined the US-led UN coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait
Death and succession
Assad was president until his death in 2000 from a heart attack
while speaking on the telephone with Lebanese President Émile Lahoud
. Assad had originally groomed his son, Basil al-Assad
as his successor, but he died in a car accident in 1994. Assad then called back a second son, Bashar, and put him in intensive military and political training. Despite some concerns of unrest within the government, the succession ultimately went smoothly, and Bashar holds office today. Hafez al-Assad is buried together with Basil in a mausoleum
in his hometown of Qardaha.
Family connections are presently an important part of Syrian politics. Several members of Hafez al-Assad's closest family have held positions within the government since his ascent to power. Most of the al-Assad and Makhlouf families have also grown tremendously wealthy, and parts of that fortune has reached their Alawite tribe in Qardaha and environs.
- Rifaat al-Assad, brother. Formerly a powerful security chief; now in exile in France after attempting a coup in 1984
- Jamil al-Assad, brother. Parliamentarian, commander of a minor militia.
- Anisah Makhlouf, wife.
- Basil al-Assad, son. Original candidate for succession. Died in 1994.
- Dr.Bashar al-Assad, son. President of Syria, ophthalmologist and surgeon.
- Majd al-Assad, son. Electrical engineer; widely reported to have mental problems.
- Lt. Col. Maher al-Assad, son. Head of Presidential Guard.
- Dr. Bushra al-Assad, daughter. Pharmacist. Said to be a strong influence on both Hafez and Bashar, sometimes called the "brain" of Syrian politics. Married to Gen. Assef Shawqat.
- Gen. Adnan Makhlouf, cousin of Anisah Makhlouf. Commands the Republican Guard.
- Adnan al-Assad, cousin. Leader of "Struggle companies" militia in Damascus.
- Muhammad al-Assad, cousin. Another leader of the "Struggle companies".
- Gen. Assef Shawqat, son-in-law. Present head of military intelligence.
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