The al-Assad family (Arabic: عائِلَة الأَسَد) has ruled Syria since Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria in 1971 and established an authoritarian government under the control of the Ba'ath Party. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him.
The Assads are originally from Qardaha, just east of Latakia in north-west Syria. They are members of the minority Alawite sect and belong to the Kalbiyya tribe. The family name Assad goes back to 1927, when Ali Sulayman (1875–1963) changed his last name to al Assad, which means "the lion" in Arabic, possibly in connection with his social standing as a local mediator and his political activities. All members of the extended Assad family stem from Ali Sulayman and his second wife Naissa, who came from a village in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains.
Family connections continue to be important in Syrian politics. Several close family members of Hafez al-Assad have held important positions in the government since his rise to power and continuing after his death, including members of his wife’s (Anissa) family, the Makhloufs who belong to the Haddad tribe.
In March 2011, the bloody crackdown unleashed by Bashar Al-Assad against the nonviolent prodemocracy protest that swept across the country eventually plunged it into a sectarian civil war in which various regional players are supporting various proxies. The war continues to date and has led to the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the Cold War.
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The Syrian Revolution is the first major popular revolution of the 21st Century. Like most popular revolutions, the erstwhile ideals of its early leaders, a group of secular nonviolence activists, were soon set aside as the violent crackdown unleashed by the Assad regime, with the support of its regional and international backers, most notably Iran and Russia, produced a similar violent backlash among its opponents. Consequently, the country was plunged into a civil war in which various regional and international players cultivated their proxies along sectarian and ideological lines. The indifference of the international community and the unwillingness of major powers to push for a quick political solution, or to at least back moderate rebels at a time when they formed the majority of rebel fighters, have called into question the very legal and intellectual foundations of the new global order that seemed to be emerging following the end of the Cold War and the formulation of such legal doctrine as the Responsibility to Protect. The Syrian Civil War has so far claimed close to 250,000 deaths by conservative estimates, dislocated more than half the country’s population of 23 million, with an estimated 5 million becoming refugees in neighboring countries and the European Union, and destroyed the majority of the country’s infrastructure. The result is the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st Century, so far.
“There are many in the opposition who believe that Israeli concerns over change in Syria are, in part at least, behind the lack of a more proactive response by the international community to the situation in Syria,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian pro-democracy activist. Abdulhamid is a fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan Washington think tank that serves as an academic home for many neo-conservative thinkers. The group has emerged as one of the key players in forging ties with the budding Syrian opposition and urging a more active U.S. role in bringing about the demise of the Assad regime… “The agreed line by the opposition is that the status quo in the Golan Heights will be maintained until conditions permit for organizing peace talks,” said Abdulhamid, referring to Israel’s occupation of that area since the 1967 Six Day War. This approach could satisfy Jewish and pro-Israel groups whose focus on Syria’s future government in any event prioritizes other concerns.
© 2013, Ammar Abdulhamid. All rights reserved.