Rifaat al-Assad : biography
Rifaat Ali al-Assad ( born 22 August 1937) is the younger brother of the former President of Syria, Hafez Assad and Jamil Assad, and the uncle of the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, all of whom come from the Alawite minority. He is best known for being the commanding military officer that all known sources point to overseeing the Hama massacre of 1982. He currently lives in France.
Early life and education
Rifaat al-Assad was born in the village of Qardaha, near Lattakia in western Syria on 22 August 1937. He studied Political Science and Economics at Damascus University and later, earned an honorary PhD in Politics from the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Attempted coup d’état
When Hafez al-Assad suffered from heart problems in late 1983, he established a six-member committee to run the country. Rifaat was not included, and the council consisted entirely of close Sunni Muslim loyalists to Hafez, who were mostly lightweights in the military-security establishment. This caused unease in the Alawi-dominated officer corps, and several high-ranking officers began rallying around Rifaat, while others remained loyal to Hafez’s instructions.
3rd Armoured Division Republican Guard various Intelligence services (commanded by Generals Mohamed Khouli and Ali Duba), the National Police, and the Special Forces
Rifaat joined the Syrian Arab Army in 1958 as a First Lieutenant, and was rapidly promoted after training in various Soviet military academies (mainly in the Yekaterinburg Artillery school). In 1965, he became commander of a special security force loyal to the military wing of the Ba’ath and soon, supported Hafez al-Assad’s overthrow of Salah Jadid and seizure of power in 1970. He was allowed to form his own paramilitary group, the Defense Companies, in 1971, which soon transformed into a powerful and regular Military force trained and armed by the Soviet Union. He was a qualified paratrooper.
Under Hafez’s rule
Rifaat al-Assad played a key role in his brother’s takeover of executive power in 1970, dubbed the Corrective Revolution, and ran the elite internal security forces and the Defense Companies (Saraya al-Difaa) in the 1970s and early 1980s. He had a pivotal role throughout the 1970s and, until 1984, many saw him as the likely successor to his elder brother. Hafez Assad appointed him second vice president in March 1984.
In 1976, he visited Lebanon as a guest of Tony Frangiyeh since they had close and personal ties. Referring to their conversation later, he stated “ultimately, you [Christians] are okay as tolerated dhimmis living under Islam; but we [the Alawites] are khawarij [secessionists] who have left Islam. Our reward for apostasy is death: Muslims will not tolerate us the way they might do you; they will kill us as offenders of their religion.”
In February 1982, as commander of the Defense Companies, he allegedly commanded the forces that put down a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in the central city of Hama, by instructing his forces to shell the city with BM-21 Grad rockets, killing thousands of its inhabitants (reports range from between 5,000 and 40,000, the most common suggestion being around 15-20,000). This became known as the Hama Massacre. The United States journalist Thomas Friedman claims in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem that Rifaat later said that the total number of victims was 38,000.Friedman, p. 90 Rifaat has denied having a leading role in the Hama massacre.
Rifaat Assad clarified his version for the Hama massacre during the conference in Paris to form the Syrian National Democratic Council on 15 November 2011., via Youtube
Groups and organizations
Rifaat’s son Sumer is the head of a minor pan-Arab TV channel, the Arab News Network (ANN), which functions as his father’s political mouthpiece. He also claims to run a political party, of uncertain fortunes. Rifaat himself heads the United National Group (al-tajammu` al-qawmi al-muwahhid), which is another political party or alliance; it is known to have self-professed members among Rifaat’s fellow exiles from Syria, but neither can be considered an active organization, even if they will regularly release statements in favor of Rifaat’s return to Syria and protesting president Bashar al-Assad. Further, Rifaat founded the Arab Democratic Party in Lebanon in the early 1970s, a small Alawite sectarian/political group in Lebanon, which during the Lebanese Civil War acted as an armed militia loyal to the Syrian regime (through Rifaat)."Rifaat founded the Red Knights in northern Lebanon in the early 1970s and they were eventually instrumental in helping Yasser Arafat to slip by sea to Tripoli in 1983…" Ali Eid the general secretary of the party today, supports the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.