Hafez al-Assad (6 October 1930 – 10 June 2000) was a Syrian statesman, politician and general who was President of Syria from 1971 to 2000, Prime Minister from 1970 to 1971, Regional Secretary of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch and Secretary General of the National Command of the Ba'ath Party from 1971 to 2000. Al-Assad is a title with the meaning of lion.
In November 1983 Assad, a diabetic, had a major heart attack complicated by phlebitis. On 13 November, after visiting his brother in the hospital,Rifaat al-Assad, brother of Hafez al-Assad reportedly announced his candidacy for president as he felt Hafez would not be able to continue ruling the country.But he did not receive support from Assad's inner circle, despite "abominably lavish" promises to win them over.
He did not abandon the hope of succeeding his brother, opting to take control of the country through his post as Commander of Defense Companies. In what became known as the "poster war", personnel from the Defense Companies replaced posters of Hafez Assad in Damascus with those of Rifaat al-Assad. The security service, still loyal to Assad, responded by replacing Rifaat al-Assad's posters with Assad's. The poster war lasted for a week, until Assad's health improved.
Shortly after the poster war, all Rifaat al-Assad's proteges were removed from positions of power.This decree nearly sparked a clash between the Defense Companies and the Republican Guard on 27 February 1984, but conflict was avoided by Rifaat al-Assad's appointment as one of three Vice Presidents on 11 March. He acquired this post by surrendering his position as Commander of Defense Companies to an Assad supporter. Rifaat al-Assad was succeeded as Defense Companies head by his son-in-law. During the night of 30 March, he ordered Defense Company loyalists to seal Damascus off and advance to the city. The Republican Guard was put on alert in Damascus, and 3rd Armored Division commander Shafiq Fayyad ordered troops outside Damascus to encircle the Defense Companies blocking the roads into the city.Rifaat al-Assad's plan might have succeeded if Special Forces commander Ali Haydar supported him, but Haydar sided with the president.Assad punished Rifaat al-Assad with exile, allowing him to return in later years without a political role.The Defense Companies were reduced by 30–35,000 people, and their role was assumed by the Republican Guard. Makhluf, the Republican Guard commander, was promoted to major general, and Bassel al-Assad (Assad's son, an army major) was given more influence in the guard.
Hafez gave a larger role to Bassel al-Assad, who was rumored to be his father's planned successor. There was some opposition to this dynastic succession.
Bassel al-Assad became a security officer at the Presidential Palace in 1986, and a year later he was appointed Commander of the Defense Companies. Bassel al-Assad went on his first foreign mission representing his country, traveling to Saudi Arabia to visit King Fahd. On 21 January 1994, Bassel al-Assad died in a car accident. Almost immediately after Bassel's death, Assad began to groom his 29-year-old son Bashar al-Assad for succession.
Bashar al-Assad was enrolled in the Homs Military Academy. He was quickly promoted to Brigadier Commander, and served for a time in the Republican Guard. He studied most military subjects, "including tank battalion commander, command and staff" Bashar al-Assad was promoted to lieutenant general in July 1997, and to colonel in January 1999. Along with Bashar's training, Assad appointed a new generation of Alawite security officers to secure his succession plans. By 1998 Bashar al-Assad had made inroads into the Ba'ath Party, taking over Lebanon portfolio. By December 1998 Bashar al-Assad had replaced Rafiq al-Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon with Selim Hoss.
Several new appointments were made. Among the new appointees (Bashar loyalists) were Bahjat Sulayman, Major General Halan Khalil and Major General Asaf Shawkat (Assad's son-in-law).
By the late 1990s, Assad's health had deteriorated. But, he visited Moscow in July 1999. On 10 June 2000, at age 69, Assad died of a heart attack while on the telephone with Lebanese prime minister Hoss. His funeral was held three days later.Assad was buried in a mausoleum in his hometown of Qardaha.
Bashar al-Assad was confirmed as president by an unopposed referendum in 2000 after his father's death. On 27 May 2007, Bashar was approved as president for another seven-year term, with the official result of 97.6% of the votes in a referendum without another candidate.
The Assad family comes from the minority Alawite religious group, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that comprises an estimated 12 percent of the total Syrian population. It has maintained tight control on Syria's security services, generating resentment among some Sunni Muslims,a religious group that makes up about three-quarters of Syria's population. Ethnic minority Syrian Kurds have also protested and complained over ethnic discrimination and denial of their cultural and language rights.
The present Syrian crisis is the fight between Sunni majority and the government headed by a minority community even though Sunnis have a share of power in it especially in civil political positions.
The opposition was initially secular and democratic and therefore received some support from USA. But subsequently, Islamic fundamental groups have gained an upper hand making things difficult for USA.
Russia which had earlier relations with communist party and socialist parties of Syria (Baath is a socialist party and Hafez al- Assad is a member and leader of this party) still support Bashar al-Assad and it is of the opinion that overthrowing Bashar will only increase terrorism in the region and the world.
American Point of View
Bashar al-Assad is critical of USA and its allies in the West Asia and Arab World. He also has a socialist past. Hence it wants to support forces which are against him. Also, the civil war created a human problem by displacing millions of people in total population of 22 million. But it is in a dilemma because there is no opposition force which is in favor of democracy and secularism. It is providing humanitarian assistance and also providing some arms to some groups. But its strategy is weak in the area.
Russian Point of View
Russia is an old friend of Syria as the present government came out of the socialist party of the country the Baath party. Russia is also currently fighting muslim terrorism in its territory. It feels overthrowing Bashar al-Assad's regime will only aggravate terrorist problem in the world. Hence it is supporting Bashar to remain in power. But as at the time Bashar is in control of 40% territory only and the rebel forces have control of the rest of the area, the conflict is not coming to an end.
The actual situation is that both Russia and USA do not have winning options in Syria. The crisis seems to linger for a longer period.