Hafez al-Assad Biography
Claim to Fame: Former President of Syria
DOB: October 6, 1930
Date of Death: June 10, 2000
Diabetes Type: Unknown
A progressive leader, President Hafez al-Assad was responsible for strengthening the central government of Syria, as well as ushering in a period of modernization and increasing relations between Syria and the Western world. Due to anti-Israeli sentiments, alleged ties to terrorism, human rights violations, and his violent acquisition and abuse of power, Assad was, and remains, a deeply controversial figure in Syrian and Cold War era world politics.
Born in 1930 in Qarda, Syria, to a poor Alawi family, Assad developed an activist attitude at an early age. The Alawi are a religious group centered in Syria who have been oppressed since the time of the Ottoman Empire. As a member of this group, Assad became passionate about combating the injustices imposed on his people. The first in his family to pursue a higher education, Assad attended Jules Jummal High School in Lattakia and in 1946 joined the Ba'ath Party, a political party calling for a revitalization of the Arab World.
In 1952, Assad joined the Military Air Academy and surpassed his peers in both ability and learning, In 1955, he graduated as a pilot lieutenant and went on to attend several military training courses abroad as a fighter pilot. In 1959, Assad had enough military experience to become a squadron leader. With his new rank came a degree of authority and during the same year, he established a Ba'ath Party Committee in Cairo.
In 1963, Assad and key members of the Ba'ath Party organized a successful coup d'etat. Though the country continued to be officially ruled by Amin Hafiz, a Sunni Muslim, the Ba'athists held complete authority over the government. Over the next two years, Assad would quickly reach the top in regard to military title, becoming a major, general, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force and Minister of Defense, all before 1966.
In 1971, Assad was elected President and inherited a semi-dictatorial government that he did little to change. He developed a cult of personality around his image and instituted a powerful, oppressive police force. Despite bringing stability, Assad generated great suspicion in regards to policy due to his ever-expanding military and obsession with the idea of a unified Arab state. Accusations of human right's violations and cruelty arose in 1982, when Assad ordered his army to suppress a revolt of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hema, in what would later be known as the "Hemma Massacre."
In 1984, while recovering from a heart attack, Assad's brother attempted to gain control, only to have Assad address the nation from his hospital bed, stating that he had no intention of passing leadership to his brother. Assad's brother was exiled as a result of his unfaithfulness. Assad had originally planned for his eldest son, Basil al-Assad, to be his successor, but Basil died as a result of a car accident in 1994. Assad then put his second son, Bashar, in line to succeed him, a position he still holds. In 2000, Assad died due to a combination of diabetes, phlebitis, and a heart attack.
Reviewed by dLife staff 02/15.
- Country Studies - Syria. http://countrystudies.us/syria/57.htm (Accessed 5/22/13)
- The New York Times. Hafez al-Assad, Who Turned Syria Into a Power in the Middle East, Dies at 69. http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/asadd3.htm (Accessed 10/28/11)
- The Guardian. Hafez al-Assad obituary. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2000/jun/15/guardianweekly.guardianweekly1 (Accessed 10/28/11)
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