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ARTICLES on this PAGE:    Hafez,   Bashar,  Rafaat


Hafez al-Assad

   Arabic: hafizu l-'assad


                                    (Qardaha, Syria 1930- Damascus 2000) President

              hafez a-assad.jpg                      of Syria (1971-2000).

                                    All through his rule, he was the most valued

                        ally of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, but he

                                    also became slightly more pro-Western in his last

                                    years in power. But even if he has been in contact

                                    with the main leaders of the West several times, he

                                    remained an outcast in their eyes.



The main reasons for this were several: His

   stalemate position towards Israel, where he claimed that every inch

   of occupied Syrian land from 1967 should be returned to Syria (a

   position that was against historical records and even many Qu'ranic verses).

   Second, Syria's presence in Lebanon (which outlived the

   Israel control over the southern parts of the country). Third,

   repeated allegations that Syria is strongly involved in international

   terrorism fostered the image of him as a problematic political figure.

   Fourth, because of repeated reports of political oppression inside


       Assad worked on making Syria into a leading nation in the Arab

   world. In this effort he never became very successful, and he is more

   remembered for a negative relationship with the leader of Iraq,

   Saddam Hussayn and the king of Jordan, King Hussein, as well as his

   support of radical and often violent Muslim groups that are based in

   Lebanon and Syria.



   While accusations against Assad have been manifold, few have

   accused him of lack of shrewdness, political cleverness, intelligence

   and charisma. He has been one of the best informed, and hardest

   working politicians in the Middle East. He was famous for his long

   sessions and working days — 18 hours a day — as well as

   self-deprecating humor. Henry Kissinger (who was the first American

   foreign minister to visit Syria in 20 years, when he came in 1973)



      His tactic was to open with a statement of the most extreme

      position to test what the traffic would bear. He might then

      allow himself to be driven back to the attainable, fighting a

      dogged rear-guard action that made clear that concessions

      could be exacted only at a heavy price and that discouraged

      excessive expectations of them.



   Assad was well-known for a modest life style, without much excess.

   He lived in a normal villa in a residential neighbourhood in Damascus.

   But around him, there were several people who got rich thanks to

   nepotism in the Syrian society.



   Assad belonged to the Alawites, a small Shi'i group, that through the

   centuries has not had national political power. Among the main group

   of Syrians, the Sunnis, many will say that the Alawites are heretics.

       This means that Assad lacked a backbone in the Syrian

   population, and his survival as a political leader has rested on control

   and suppression of contending groups. Assad early made sure that

   many of the important positions in the Syrian society were filled with

   fellow Alawites. It is also believed that this is one of the main reasons

   for Assad's continued politics of state control over the economy: A

   liberalization would have meant that other groups in the society

   (Sunnis and Christians) would have gained economical force, and

   through this, also political force.

       Assad built a political system, where the army was both a symbol

   of Syria's power, as well as a technique of controlling the country. At

   more than one occasion, the army was used against Syria's own

   population in order to protect political stability.

       Assad also saw to the construction of an effective police state,

   where there where no less than 15 competing intelligence agencies.



   Internally, Assad's politics have not resulted in much economical

   progress. The country has had a system of strong political control

   with almost all aspects of the economy, and many businessmen have

   found it hard to establish companies and run them.

       Syria is in several fields the least developed country in the

   region. Only recently have the country opened up for computer

   technology, telecommunications and there was until the end of this

   rule, minimal possibilities for private initiative in the economical life of

   the country. The society is dominated by agriculture, which employs

   25% of the workforce, but this is only made possible through heavy

   state subsidies.

       The Syria that he died from, faced economical stagnation, high

   growth in population (3,3% a year) and high unemployment rates

   (20% or more). It is also a country with several scenarios of coming

   conflicts and even civil war, even if the transition of power to his son

   Bashar, turned out to be tranquil.



   1930 Ocotber 6: Born in the small village of Qardaha, as the ninth of

   what would be eleven children, in a family of respected Alawites.

   1946: Assad joins the Ba'th Party as a student activist.

   1951: Assad starts at the Homs Military Academy.

   1955: Assad graduates from the Homs Military Academy as an air

   force pilot.

   1958: Assad receives flying training in the Soviet Union.

   1960: Assad is one of 4 founders of the Military Committee.

   1963 March 8: After the Ba'th Party takes power in Syria, with the

   Military Committee as a driving force, Assad becomes commander of

   the air force.

   1966: Assad becomes minister of defence, after participating in a

   coup against the civilian leaders of Syria.

   1967 June: Under the leadership of Assad, Syria loses the Golan

   Heights to Israel, as a result of the Six-Day War.

   End of 1960's: Assad's rivalry with effective leader of Syria, Salah

   al-Jadid, becomes more and more central to Syrian politics. Assad

   focused on improved military force, while Jadid focused on a socialist

   reformation of the Syrian society.

   1969 February: Assad becomes the real ruler of Syria, but he keeps

   Nuriddin Attasi as president of Syria.

   1970 November 12: Assad has his opponents arrested, and takes

   full control over Syria. Once again, he does not enter any official

   leading position, leaving Ahamd Khatib as president.

   1971 February: Assad stages the referendum in which he receives

   and official 99,2% in support of him becoming the country's new


   1973 January: A new constitution for Syria is presented, declaring

   that the country is a "democratic, popular, socialist state".

   — October: Closer relationship between Syria and Egypt, results in a

   military attack on Israel, which at first brings victory to Syria and

   Egypt, but ends with the defeat of both states.

   1974: Assad performs the umra in Mecca.

   1976: Assad intervenes in the ongoing civil war of Lebanon. He takes

   the Christian side, after the Muslims rejected a peace proposal from

   him January this same year.

   1980 June: Assasination attempt on Assad's life.

   1982: Assad cracks down on Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood in


   1983 November: Assad suffers from a heart attack. His rivals,

   among them his brother Rifaat, tries to seize control of Syria.

   1984 February: Tensions between Rifaat's forces and elite forces

   from the army that are loyal to Hafez.

   — March 30: On the verge of an armed conflicts between the two

   military groups, a meeting is held with Rifaat, Hafez and their old

   mother. The outcome of this meeting, and other meetings, is that

   Rifaat is sent abroad as a Syrian representative, while Hafez can

   return to office without the challenge of Rifaat's troops. Hafez uses

   the following time to weaken his brother's position and strengthening

   his own.

   End of the 1980's: With decline of the Soviet Union, Assad starts to

   orient himself more in the direction of the West.

   1991 October: Assad participates in the Middle East peace

   conference, where there were direct talks with Israel's

   representatives. Assad insisted on a uncompromising land for

   peace-line, involving that Israel would have to withdraw from the

   Golan Heights before any details could be decided upon.

   December: In the fourth plebiscite on his continuation as president,

   Assad received 99,9% of the votes.

   1999 February: Assad participates in the funeral of King Hussein of

   Jordan, to the surprise of world medias.

   — February 11: Assad is reelected in a referendum for a new

   constitutional term.

   — September: Hundreds of supporters of Hafez' brother, Rifaat, are

   arrested in Damascus and Latakia. This is interpreted as a way of

   helping his son, Bashar, to get rid of all possible opponents when

   Hafez dies.

   2000 June 10: After repeated reports on his ill health, Assad dies

   from heart attack. Few days after his passing away, his son, Bashar,

   took office and was elected Syria's new president. This was all

   according to Hafez' plans.


ARTICLES on this PAGE:    Hafez,   Bashar,  Rafaat




   Bashar al-Assad

   Arabic: basharu l-'assad


                                                      (Damascus 1965- ) President of Syria (2000- ).

bashar al-assad.jpg                              Assad is the politician who got in power much

                  against his own will. Initially he was not thought of

                  as his father, Hafez al-Assad's successor. This was

                  a role originally filled by his brother Basil who died in

                  an accident in 1994. Then Bashar was called back

                  to Syria, and was gradually trained to become a



      Bashar is still unmarried.



   This article is written only 3 months after the death of Hafez al-Assad

   (June 10, 2000), and it is too early to say what kind of person Bashar

   is. Some reports describe him as not as strong and autocratic as his

   father (and his late brother). Friends have admitted him being a meek

   and awkward figure, while others tell that he is a nice and friendly

   person and very polite. Other reports tell that he has been most

   successful of changing leading people from the ranks in Syrian


       Some say that he is pragmatic and open for the modern society's

   possibilities. This is well reflected in his involvement in bringing

   computer technology and Internet to Syria, as well as cellular

   telephones. He is also reported to be a good listener.

       But since Syria is a country with many unresolved international

   political questions (water quarrels with Turkey, which controls the

   main sources of river water that streams through Syria; Lebanon,

   which still is very much under Syrian control; Israel, which continues

   to occupy the Golan Heights; and a long-lasting animosity to the

   leaders of Jordan and Iraq), much of the world eagerly awaits

   Bashar's first moves.

       Internally, Syria is just as much divided into groups as before.

   There is the large Sunni majority in the country, there are all the

   people who never are touched by the nepotism of Hafez al-Assaf's

   Syria, there are the Islamists, and then there are all of Bashar's own

   enemies. Bashar has been quite effective in removing old officers from

   the ranks in the Syrian army.

       Still it is a fact that Bashar must not destroy the basis for his

   power, which is his father's closest allies and the Alawite society.

   This is probably the major impediment for a democratization of Syrian

   politics and economy.



   Bashar has already made himself well-known for some campaigns. The

   introduction of PC's, Internet and cellular telephones have already

   been mentioned. But most respect has he earned from his

   anti-corruption campaign. To what extent this will be continued, is

   still uncertain, but it has resulted in the fall of several leading

   personalities in the Syrian society, like former prime minister Mahmoud

   Zoubi. He has also declared that he will lift restrictions that have

   hindered Syrian media from the slightest form of critical journalism.

       He also acted as the personal representative for his father, when

   meeting with Jacques Chirac of France and Emile Lahoud of Lebanon.



   1965 September 11: Born in Damascus as son of the commander of

   the Syrian Air Force, Hafez al-Assad.

   1980's: Bashar moves to London, United Kingdom, to study


   1994 February: As his brother Basil dies, Bashar returns to Syria.

   While nobody still expects him to become Hafez' successor, he takes

   over Basil's position as commander of the Syrian army's armored

   division. Bashar used this position to remove several of the old

   officers, and possible enemies.

   1999: Bashar is appointed colonel, and becomes more involved in the

   state's affairs.

   2000 June 10: The same day as Hafez al-Assad dies, the People's

   Assembly alters the constitution so that Syria's president can be 34

   (contrary to 40 earlier). The two top committees of the ruling party

   meets, and nominate Bashar for presidency and declares him


   — June 25: The parliament nominates him for presidency.

   — July 10: Bashar is elected president from a referendum.


ARTICLES on this PAGE:    Hafez,   Bashar,  Rafaat



Rifaat al-Assad

   Arabic: rifβtu l-'assad



(Qardaha, Syria 1930- ) Syrian politician, brother of former President Hafez al-Assad, and uncle of active President Bashar al-Assad.

Rifaat has through his life gone from being an important ally of his brother, into becoming                          contender to his position as well as his nephew's present position.

   Rifaat enjoys support from large groups in the Syrian army, and until

   1999 — when many of his supporters were arrested — he was a

   possible successor of his brother. This however, would have been

   against the plans of Hafez and Bashar.

       Rifaat has also been active in business, especially after his return

   to Syria in 1992. Together with his son, Shawmar, he has had quite a

   bit of success, and it is believed that he also has been active in

   organizing his supportes.



   1937: Born into a respected family of Alawites in Qurdaha near


   1952: Joins the Ba'th party.

   1963: Rifaat gets intensive military training at the Homs military


   1965: Rifaat becomes commander of a special security force that

   only answered to the Syrian Military Committee.

   1969/70: Rifaat and his troops are central in the actions against the

   de facto ruler of Syria at the time, Salah Jadid. At this point he was

   his brother's most important ally, and his force changed name to the

   Defense Companies, and it had its powers extended to maintaining

   internal security.

   1982: Rifaat's troops are active in the massacre of Homs where more

   than 10,000 people are slain.

   1983 November: When Hafez al-Assad suffers from a heart attack,

   Rifaat establishes a 6-member committee (without himself as member)

   to run the country. At the same time, his troops, now counting more

   than 55,000 with tanks, artillery aircrafts and helicopters, take

   control over Damascus.

   1984 February: Tensions between Rifaat's forces and elite forces

   from the army that are loyal to Hafez.

   — March 30: On the verge of an armed conflicts between the two

   military groups, a meeting is held with Rifaat, Hafez and their old

   mother. The outcome of this meeting, and other meetings, is that

   Rifaat is sent abroad as a Syrian representative, while Hafez can

   return to office without the challenge of Rifaat's troops.

   — November: After spending months abroad, Rifaat is appointed

   vice-president in charge of security, but this proves to be an empty

   position. Soon after he leaves for Paris where he settles.

   1992: Rifaat is allowed to return from Paris, to attend the funeral of

   his mother.

   1999 September: Hundreds of supporters of Rifaat's supporters are

   arrested in Damascus and Latakia. This is interpreted as a way of

   helping his son, Bashar, to get rid of all possible opponents when

   Hafez dies.



 ARTICLES on this PAGE:    Hafez,   Bashar,  Rafaat