Hafez al-Assad

1966 – 1972
Heart attack, 2000
Ba'ath Party (Socialist)
Hafez al-Assad
حافظ الأسد
Hafez al-Assad.jpg
President of Syria
In office
12 March 1971 – 10 June 2000
Prime Minister
Vice President
Preceded by Ahmad al-Khatib
Succeeded by Abdul Halim Khaddam (acting)
Prime Minister of Syria
In office
21 November 1970 – 3 April 1971
Preceded by Nureddin al-Atassi
Succeeded by Abdul Rahman Khleifawi
Secretary of the Syrian Regional Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
In office
November 1970 – 10 June 2000
Preceded by Nureddin al-Atassi
Succeeded by Bashar al-Assad
Secretary General of the National Command of the Ba'ath Party
Assumed office
November 1970
Preceded by Nureddin al-Atassi
Succeeded by Abdullah al-Ahmar (de facto; al-Assad is still de jure Secretary General, even though he is dead.)
Minister of Defense of Syria
In office
23 February 1966 – 1972
Prime Minister
Preceded by Muhammad Umran
Succeeded by Mustafa Tlass
Personal details
Born Hafez ibn 'Ali ibn Sulayman al-Assad
(1930-10-06)6 October 1930
Qardaha, Alawite State, Syria
Died 10 June 2000(2000-06-10) (aged 69)
Damascus, Syria
Resting place Qardaha, Syria
Nationality Syrian
Political party Ba'ath Party (Syrian faction) (since 1966)
Other political
Ba'ath Party (1947–1966)
Arab Ba'ath Party (1946–1947)
Spouse(s) Aniseh (née Makhluf)
Relations Jamil al-Assad (brother)
Rifaat al-Assad (brother)
Alma mater Homs Military Academy
Occupation Statesman, politician
Profession Air Force Pilot officer
Religion Alawite
Military service
Allegiance  Syria
Service/branch Syrian Air Force
Years of service 1952–1972
Rank Syria-Feriq Awal.jpg General
Commands Syrian Air Force
Syrian Armed Forces

Hafez al-Assad (Arabic: حافظ الأسدḤāfiẓ al-ʾAsad, Levantine pronunciation: [ˈħaːfezˤ elˈʔasad]; 6 October 1930 – 10 June 2000) was a Syrian statesman, politician and general who served as President of Syria from 1971 to 2000, and Prime Minister from 1970 to 1971. He served as Secretary of the Syrian Regional Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Secretary General of the National Command of the Ba'ath Party from 1970 to 2000 and as Minister of Defense from 1966 to 1972. Politically a Ba'athist, Assad adhered to the ideologies of Arab nationalism, Arab socialism and secularism. Under his administration Syria saw increased stability with a program of secularisation and industrialisation designed to modernise and strengthen the country as a regional power.

Born to a poor Alawite family, Assad joined the Syrian wing of the Ba'ath Party in 1946 as a student activist. In 1952 he entered the Homs Military Academy, graduating three years later as a pilot. While exiled to Egypt (1959–1961) during Syria's short-lived union with Egypt in the United Arab Republic, Assad and other military officers formed a committee to resurrect the fortunes of the Syrian Ba'ath Party. After the Ba'athists took power in 1963, Assad became commander of the air force. In 1966, after taking part in a coup that overthrew the civilian leadership of the party and sent its founders into exile, he became Minister of Defense. During Assad’s ministry Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, dealing Assad a blow that shaped much of his future political career. Assad then engaged in a protracted power struggle with Salah al-Jadid, chief of staff of the armed forces, Assad's political mentor, and effective leader of Syria, until finally in November 1970 Assad seized control, arresting Jadid and other members of the government. He became prime minister and in 1971 was elected president.

In 1973 Assad changed Syria's Constitution in order to guarantee equal status for women and enable non-Muslims to become president; the latter change was reverted under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood. Assad set about building up the Syrian military with Soviet aid and gaining popular support with public works funded by Arab donors and international lending institutions. Political dissenters were eliminated by arrest, torture, and execution, and when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted a rebellion in Hama in 1982, Assad suppressed it, killing between 10,000–25,000 people. In foreign affairs Assad tried to establish Syria as a leader of the Arab world. A new alliance with Egypt culminated in the Yom Kippur War against Israel in October 1973, but Egypt's unexpected cessation of hostilities exposed Syria to military defeat. In 1976, with Lebanon racked by the civil war, Assad dispatched several divisions to that country and secured their permanent presence there as part of a peacekeeping force sponsored by the Arab League. After Israel's invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982–1985, Assad was able to reassert control of the country, eventually compelling Lebanese Christians to accept constitutional changes granting Muslims equal representation in government. Assad also aided Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups based in Lebanon and Syria. Assad supported Iran in its war against Iraq (1980–1988), and joined the US-led alliance against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1990–1991. Assad sought to establish peaceful relations with Israel in the mid-1990s, but his repeated call for the return of the Golan Heights stalled the talks. He died of a heart attack in 2000 and was succeeded as President by his son, Bashar al-Assad.

Assad was a controversial and highly divisive world figure, being lauded as a champion of secularism, women's rights and Syrian nationalism by his supporters, but his critics have accused him of being a dictator who constructed a cult of personality and whose authoritarian administration oversaw multiple human rights abuses both at home and abroad.