AL-ASSAD, Rifaat

Young brother, born in 1936, of Hafez Al-Assad (Syrian President from 1970 to 2000).

Rifaat Al-Assad played an important military role in Syria in the 1970s and early 1980s as commander of the Defence Brigade (Saraya Al-Difaah), an elite force very well trained and equiped.

Some people think that he wanted to succeed his brother in 1984, a time when the President’s health was apparently seriously deteriorating. There were even rumors of clashes between his Brigade and the regular army. What is certain is that Rifaat left Syria from May till November 1984. His brother then call him back and made him one of the country’s Vice-President, in charge of security.

Although he remained nominally Vice-President until 1998, Rifaat was abroad most of the time since 1986, living mostly in France, Switzerland and Spain. He was finally deprived of his title of Vice-President of the Syrian Arab Republic in February 1998 by Hafez Al-Assad, a gesture which was interpreted as a step to prepare the way for Bashar Al-Assad as a possible successor to his father.

Rifaat is considered as a liberal favouring opening Syria politically and economically.

His son Soumar Al-Assad owns a satellite television company in London – ANN – taking more and more critical positions about the situation in Syria.

Challenging the raising to power of his nephew Bashar after the death of Hafez Al-Assad, Rifaat, who lives now in the Southern Spanish city of Marbella, made known that he still considered himself as « representing the true legitimacy and (that he was) ready to take up his responsabilities at any moment ».