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Hafez al-Assad ( ) (October 6, 1930 – June 10, 2000) was the president of Syriamarker 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 in 2000.

Early life

Hafez al-Assad was born in the town of Qardahamarker in the Latakiamarker province of western Syriamarker (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 Unionmarker. 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 Egyptmarker which created the United Arab Republic (UAR). Stationed in Cairomarker, 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 Egyptianmarker 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 government

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.

Presidency

Police state

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 in general.

Syria under Assad never quite reached the levels of repression practiced in neighboring Iraqmarker, 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

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 Sovietmarker 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, Druze, 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.

Currency crisis

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 shocked by a chain of assassinations which took place starting in the artillery school in Aleppo. No one could identify who was responsible for these assassinations. After almost a year, a member from the group believed to be behind the assassinations was injured and taken into custody by the Syrian intelligence system. He was identified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood party. The party's goals were to eliminate all persons who had strong ties with the government or Baath party, focusing on Baathists who were educated and had a good reputation within the government, or army high ranking members who were relatives of Assad family or Alawites. It took The Syrian intelligence system a long time to penetrate the Muslim Brotherhood and diminish its power. Unfortunately, the Syrian security forces were, in some incidents, brutal. Many innocent civilians died in the battles between the army and the party members. Some sources estimate that the number of civilians killed was in between 150,000 to 200,000. The violence damaged the national growth of the Syrian economy. The Muslim Brotherhood organization aimed to weaken the government's authority, hoping that Sunni Muslims in the army would overthrow the Alawite-dominated government.

Challenge from Rifaat

Rifaat and Hafez-al Assad
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 Damascusmarker, 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 Francemarker.

Foreign policy

Israel

-Assad's foreign policy was shaped by the relation of Syria to Israelmarker, 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 Heightsmarker. 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 Statesmarker, he engaged in negotiations on the Israeli-annexed Golan Heightsmarker, but these talks ultimately failed. Al-Assad believed that what constituted Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, were an integral part of "Southern Syria."

Lebanon

Syria deployed troops to Lebanonmarker 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.

Palestinians

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's PLO, 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 Musamarker rebellion inside Arafat's Fatah-movement. A number of unsuccessful Syrian attempts to kill Arafat were also made.

Iraq

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 Kuwaitmarker.

Death and succession

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, with Bashar becoming a staff colonel in the military of Syria. 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

The Assad 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. Parts of the family fortune has reached their Alawite tribe in Qardaha and environs.

See also



Book References

  • Fisk, Robert (2001, 3rd edition). Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280130-9 (pp. 181–187)
  • Hitti Philip K. (2002).History of Syria Including Lebanon and Palestine, Vol. 2 (ISBN 1-931956-61-8)
  • Firzli, Nicola Y. (1973). Al-Baath wa-Lubnân [Arabic only] ("The Baath and Lebanon"), Beirut: Dar-al-Tali'a Books.
  • Firzli, Nicola Y. (1981). The Iraq-Iran Conflict. Paris: EMA. ISBN 2-86584-002-6
  • Friedman, Thomas (1990, British edition). From Beirut to Jerusalem. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-00-653070-2 (pp. 76–105)
  • Sallam, Qasim (1980). Al-Baath wal Watan Al-Arabi [Arabic, with French translation] ("The Baath and the Arab Homeland"). Paris: EMA. ISBN 2-86584-003-4
  • Seale, Patrick (1988). Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06976-5


References

External links




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