The Assad family, it is fair to say, now enjoy a kind of global infamy, largely thanks to the ongoing civil war which has gripped Syria since 2011. The Assad family have controlled Syria for many years, and are a well-established political dynasty which has been involved in politics in this particular part of the Arab world since the early 20th century. The Assads are part of the minority Alawite sect, and belong to the Kalbiyya tribe.
Origins of Power
The Assad family trace their origins to Sulayman al-Wahhish, who lived in northern Syria’s mountainous region, in the village of Qardaha. He acquired the name of Wahhish, Arabic for ‘wild beast’, from locals in the area, due to his supposed fighting prowess and physical strength. This remained the surname of the family until the 1920s. At that time, it was changed to al-Assad, which means ‘the Lion’. Sulayman was a prominent chieften, who fought the Ottomans during World War One. His son, Ali Sulayman, was a similarly charismatic and capable warrior and politician, who opposed the French occupation of Syria. His fourth son, Hafez, born in 1930, would begin the process of establishing the family in the natioal political scene in Syria.
Hafez took power in Syria in 1971, as the leader of the Ba’ath Party, a political organisation which is centred on pan-Arab nationalism and a rejection of multi-party political systems. He ruled Syria until 2000, when his son Bashar al-Assad took over power. Hafez was a former pilot, who had an eventful career as President of Syria. He established a more secular outlook in the country, with equal status granted to women during his era of control. Hafez Assad also used violent and brutal methods to suppress opposition though.
He died of a heart attack in 2000. His son, Bashar Assad, succeeded him, though he had not been marked for power. The death of Bashar’s older brother, Bassel, in a car crash in 1994 saw Bashar assume the position of heir to the Assad family’s power. He had trained as an ophthalmologist. Originally seen as something of a reforming president, Bashar responded with brutality to the events of the Arab Spring of 2011, using brutal force to suppress opposition. This, in turn, led to the onset of civil war, which started with the Syrian Uprising and got already supporters in the Hezbollah.