Whilst discussing current news at a cafe with a Syrian friend, we trip upon an interesting subject; the exiled uncle.
Rifaat al Assad is well known in Syria as the ‘Butcher of Hama’ who gained his big break in the Syrian political scene by horrifically leading the Syrian army and the defence brigades into Hama in 1982 and butchering over 20,000 people. This massacre was justified openly by Hafez al Assad as an attempt to crush the Sunni uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Rifaat al Assad continued to gain momentum in the 1980’s by challenging the leadership of his brother Hafez al Assad. During 1983 Hafez al Assad began to suffer from heart problems causing the government to speculate as to who would takeover. However, the committee formed by Hafez al Assad during his illness did not include Rifaat. In response Rifaat al Assad rallied a large number of the army around him and began his campaign in Damascus which failed dramatically. Having been given the title of vice-president, which was taken away from him, slowly but surely by Hafez al Assad, who saw to it that his brother was exiled to Europe and that all his loyalists paid the price for attempting a coup. But by 1998 he no longer held the position of vice president and the 1999 crackdown removed any traces of Rifaat al Assad.
Of course we all know the story of ‘The Lion King’ and the special relationship between uncle Scar and nephew Simba. But the political connotations that can be derived from this moral story can be easily traced in the Syrian political realm. And so as a Syrian friend and I discuss the controversy of the exiled uncle in low voices, I wonder whether will we see the unanticipated return of this banished (rejected) uncle, who Al Assad senior worked so hard to outcast and who Al Assad junior worked even harder to make sure that he does not return in addition to painstakingly monitoring his activities. However, by gaining a considerable amount of support over the years, from the royal Saudi family, the U.S and to some extent Israel, Rifaat al Assad could be seen as a threat to the current undermined regime, especially with the ongoing upheaval.
In the past Rifaat al Assad has candidly expressed his anger against the succession of Bashar al Assad and threatened to return to assume ‘his responsibilities and fulfill the will of the people’ and that he will rule democratically with ‘the power of the people and the army’ supporting him as stated by the World News network. Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent states in an article that he personally believes that Ribal al Assad (the son of Rifaat al Assad) wants to be ‘a political opponent in a democratic Syria.’ And in 2000 reports by World News and The Guardian reported that Rifaat al Assad had begun to open talks with US government representatives on forming a coalition with other anti-Assad groups to present an alternative Syrian leadership. So, the question remains is it possible that one of the forces behind the protests is the exiled Rifaat al Assad? Moreover, will he return to take the position he believes is so rightly his?
Nevertheless, it remains crucial to take a look into the network of the Al Assad family to begin to understand the corroding political state of Syria. Over the past 43 years Syria has been reigned by the al Assad family and corruption has been carefully sewed into the Syrian political system. Removing the corruption means removing a family that has firmly cemented itself in the Syrian government. The silent majority must consider whether Bashar al Assad genuinely wants to remove corruption and adopt reform? And if so, is he then willing to uproot his infamous family members such as, Assef Shawkat (his brother in law) who is the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, his brother Maher al Assad who is in command of two elite military units who are regarded as the old guards, and Rami Makhlouf, who owns large financial operations in Syria, from the Syrian political system?
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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