The absolute power of the Assad family
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gained control of Syria when his father Hafez died in 2000, but his leadership relies on the support of this close-knit family.
Facing unprecedented opposition from the streets and growing isolation on the international front, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can still rely on his family. The Assad clan, which comes from the minority Alawi community (around 12% of the Syrian population), has been at the helm of the country since 1970. Bashar took over from his father Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000, but his leadership relies on the unflinching support of his next-of-kin.
Maher al-Assad, the soldier
Born in 1968, the younger brother of Syria’s president is the head of the Republican Guard, an elite troop composed of 12,000 soldiers, as well as the army’s 4th Armoured Division. These two posts make Maher a major figure on both the domestic and international fronts, particularly in relation to Syria’s alliance with Iran. According to Bassam Jaara, a London-based Syrian journalist and critic of Bashar, Maher’s influence cannot be overstated: “He is the commander of the army’s two most powerful units. It is normal if he has the last word.”
If Bashar had, until recently, been considered the reformer within the family, Maher is by all accounts its hardliner. He is the “the ruthless face of power”, in the words of Ignatius Leverrier, a former diplomat and author of a blog about Syria on the French daily Le Monde’s website. Maher also oversees the commanders of the Shabiha militia. This armed group is made up almost exclusively of Alawites and is charged with defending the interests of the Assad clan.
When the European Union imposed sanctions against Maher in 2011, it did not hesitate to single him out as the “principal overseer of violence against demonstrators.” This has been highlighted by the fact that Syrian protesters often target Bashar’s younger brother directly in their slogans. Maher is described as angry, moody and cruel in several biographies. It has been reported that in November 1999, he shot his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat (see below) in the presidential palace during an argument.
He has also been mentioned as a suspect in an international investigation’s preliminary report into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri…
Read More on:
- Anisa and Buchra al-Assad, the regime’s leading ladies
- Asma al-Assad, the image of reform
- Rami Makhlouf, the financier
- Asef Shawkat, the brother-in-law
via France 24