Al-Assad family

The al-Assad family (Arabic: عَائِلَة الْأَسَد ʿāʾilat al-ʾAsad) has ruled Syria since Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria in 1971 and established an authoritarian to totalitarian regime under the control of the Ba'ath Party. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him.[1]

Al-Assad Family
عَائِلَة الْأَسَد
ʿāʾilat al-ʾAsad
The al-Assad family, c.1993. Front: Hafez al-Assad and his wife, Anisa Makhlouf. Rear, left to right: Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd, and Bushra al-Assad
Current regionLatakia
Place of originSyria
MembersHafez al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad
Maher al-Assad
Rifaat al-Assad
Connected familiesMakhlouf, Shalish
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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.[2] The family name Assad goes back to 1927, when Ali Sulayman (1875–1963) changed his last name to al-Assad, Arabic for "the lion", 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.[3]

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.[4][5]


The Assad family originates from Sulayman al-Wahhish, Hafez Assad's grandfather, who lived in the northern Syrian mountains in the village of Qardaha. The locals reportedly nicknamed him "Wahhish", Arabic for "wild beast", because he was physically strong and a good fighter. Al-Wahhish remained the family name until the 1920s when it was changed to al-Assad, Arabic for "lion". Because of Sulayman's reported strength and marksmanship, he was respected in his village. At the outbreak of the World War I, the Ottoman governor of the Aleppo Vilayet sent troops to the area to collect taxes and round up recruits. The troops reportedly were fought off by Sulayman and his friends who were only armed with sabres and old muskets.[6] Because Sulayman was respected, he was a local mediator between quarreling families. He was also one of the local chieftains who were the de facto rulers of the area. The chieftains from the powerful families would provide protection to their neighbours and in return they gained loyalty and respect.[7]

Hafez al-Assad's father Ali Sulayman al-Assad, who was born in 1875, inherited many similar characteristics of his own father and became well-respected among the locals. For his accomplishments, he was called al-Assad, the lion, by the locals.[8] He made his nickname a surname in 1927.[9] He lived until 1963, long enough to see his son's rise to power. He married twice and over three decades had eleven children. His first wife Sa'ada was from the district of Haffeh. They had three sons and two daughters. His second wife was Na'isa, twenty years younger than him. She was the daughter of Uthman Abbud from the village of Al-Qutailibiyah, a dozen kilometres further up the mountain. They had a daughter and five sons. Hafez was born on 6 October 1930 and was the fourth child.[10]

Al-Assad family religion is Islam, more specifically Alawite. Despite being Alawite with the Syrian Civil War ongoing, part of the Alawite community is starting to distance themselves from the Al-Assad government.[11]

Hafez's family

Hafez al-Assad

  • Hafez al-Assad (1930–2000). President of Syria 1971–2000.
    Anisa Makhlouf (1930–2016), wife of Hafez and First Lady.[12]
    • Bushra al-Assad, died as an infant before 1960.[13]
    • Bushra al-Assad (born 1960) is a pharmacist and married with five children[14] to:
      Gen. Assef Shawkat (1950–2012), was deputy-chief of staff of the Syrian army and the former head of military intelligence. He was killed on 18 July 2012 in a bombing in Damascus, during the Syrian Civil War.
    • Bassel al-Assad (1962–1994), was the original candidate for presidential succession, however, he died in a car accident.[15]
    • Bashar al-Assad (born 1965), is the President of Syria since 2000. Before Bassel's death he was an ophthalmologist. He is married to Asma al-Assad (born 1975). She is the First Lady of Syria and takes a prominent public role. Before being married she was an investment banker. They have three children.[5]
    • Majid al-Assad (1966–2009), was an electrical engineer with a reported history of severe mental problems. Died after a long, unspecified illness.[16][17][18] He was married to Ru’a Ayyoub (born 1976) and had no children.[19] Majid died in Damascus on December 12, 2009.
    • Maher al-Assad (born 1967), is the commander of the Republican Guard, which are also known as the Presidential Guard, and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division, which together with Syria's secret police form the core of the country's security forces.[20] He is also a member of the Ba'ath Party central command and is said to have an aggressive and uncontrollable personality. He is married and has two daughters.[16][21] He is reported to have been severely disabled in a 2012 bombing in Damascus during the Syrian Civil War.[22][23] He reportedly shot Assef Shawkat in the stomach in October 1999, during an argument. Maher is also known by many to be the most ruthless in the Al-Assad family.[24]

Hafez's siblings

Jamil al-Assad

  • Jamil al-Assad (1932–2004), parliamentarian and commander of a minor militia. Politically marginalized years before his death.[5]
    • Mundhir al-Assad (born 1961), was arrested in 2005 at the Beirut Airport while entering Lebanon.[5] He was reported to have been involved in arms smuggling to the Iraqi insurgents.[25] In 2011, the EU placed sanctions on him for being involved with the Shabbiha militia in the repression of protestors during the Syrian Civil War.[21][26]
    • Fawwaz al-Assad (1962–2015), was the first real Shabiha and gave the meaning known today to the word Shabiha and the concept of Tashbeeh that is to act like a thug.[27] He had sanctions placed on him in 2011 by the EU for being involved with the Shabbiha militia in the repression of protestors during the Syrian Civil War.[25][26]
    • One daughter is married to Yarob Kanaan, whose father is:
      Ghazi Kanaan (1942–2005) who in 2005 during his term as interior minister presumably killed himself. The Kanaans come from the Kalabiyya tribe.[28]

Rifaat al-Assad

  • Rifaat al-Assad (born 1937). Formerly a powerful security chief and commander of the Defense Companies, who was responsible for the 1982 Hama massacre. After attempting a coup d'état in 1987, he went into exile in France and now lives in London.[29] He is married with four wives:
    Amira al-Assad, a cousin[28]
    Sana' Makhlouf, from the family of Hafez's wife[28]
    Raja Barakat, from a wealthy Sunni Damascene family[28]
    Lina al-Khayer, sister in law of the late Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz[28]
    Rifaat has a number of children from these marriages, including:
    • Ribal al-Assad, has lived abroad since he was nine years old, currently he lives in the United States. In an interview in 2010, he denied that his father was involved in the massacre of Hama or that his family's branch was connected to Abdul Halim Khaddam or Ghazi Kanaan.[29]
    • Somar al-Assad, supports his father actively in his opposition to Bashar.[28]
    • Lamia, is married to 'Ala al-Fayad, the son of Shafiq al-Fayad (former Syrian General).[25][28][30]
    • Mudar al-Assad, is married to May Haydar, daughter of the Syrian multimillionaire Muhammad Haydar.[31]
    • Tumadhir, is married to Mu'ein Nasef Kheir Bek also from the Kalabiyya tribe and related to Mohammed Nasif Kheirbek, who is indirectly related by marriage and blood to Abd al-Halim Khaddam, Rafik Hariri and the influential Homs al-Atassi family.[28]

Shalish family

  • Sister of Hafez al-Assad married into the Shalish family. The family through paternal cousin General Dhu al Himma al-Shalish maintains a significant level of influence in the Bashar al-Assad government. The Shalishes are mainly active in the automobile and construction sectors. American government sources also report that the Shalish family has engaged in a wide range of illicit activities including smuggling and money laundering.[32]
    • Gen. Dhu al-Himma Shalish (born 1956), a cousin of Bashar al-Assad, is the head of presidential security and is part of the inner circle of leadership of the Bashar al-Assad government.[33][34] He had sanctions placed on him by the US government for supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein and his government.[33][35] On 24 June 2011, the EU sanctioned him for being involved in violence against demonstrators during the Syrian Civil War.[36]
      • Asef Isa Shalish, nephew of Dhu al-Himma, is the manager of SES, a company that was involved in the weapons trade with Iraq and Iran.[16][30][37]
    • Riyad Shalish is a cousin of Bashar Assad and the director of the governmental construction organization the Military Housing Establishment, which during the 1990s he managed to transform into his own company. He made a fortune on construction and contracting deals in Syria involving large scale projects financed by other Arab states. On 24 June 2011, the EU sanctioned him for providing funding to the regime to repress protesters of the Syrian Civil War.[36][38]

Ahmed al-Assad

  • Ahmed al-Assad, was an older half-brother of Hafez al-Assad from Ali Sulayman's first wife Sa'ada.[39]
    • Anwar al-Assad,
      • Hilal al-Assad, was the president of the Syrian Arabian Horse Association. Hilal was killed on 22 March 2014, in the battle for a border crossing with Turkey in the north of Latakia.
        • Suleiman al-Assad, Hilal's son, was arrested in August 2015 after allegedly murdering an off-duty colonel in a 'road rage' incident in Latakia.[40]
      • Hael al-Assad, is the head of the Military Police of the army's 4th Armoured Division, whose official commander is General Ali Ammar, but whose de facto commander is Maher al-Assad. He is also the director of the prison in which Maher al-Assad keeps his personal prisoners outside of state jurisdiction.[39]
      • Haroun al-Assad, is an elected municipal official of the village of Qardaha.[39]
      • Daad al-Assad, is married to General Zouheir al-Assad, who was born in 1958 and is a distant cousin. General Zouheir al-Assad commanded the 90th Regiment, a unit of some 10,000 men, charged with protecting the capital.[39]
        • Karam Al Assad, leads a group of Shabiha. He and his group of shabiha led an assault against the peaceful protests during the "night of destiny". The assault ended in two deaths and dozens injured.[39]

Ibrahim al-Assad

  • Ibrahim al-Assad, was an older half-brother of Hafez al-Assad from Ali Sulayman's first wife Sa'ada. He was married to Umm Anwar who took over the smuggling business of her son Malek.[41]
    • Malek al-Assad was the first known smuggler in the Assad family.[41]

About Hafez's siblings who died early: Bayat, Bahijat and an unknown sister almost nothing is known.[3]

Anisa's siblings

Makhlouf family

The Makhloufs belong to the Alawi Haddad tribe,[28][42] both Hafez and Rifaat are related through marriage to the Makhloufs. The Makhlouf family rose from humble beginnings to become the financial advisor to Hafez al-Assad after the former President married Makhlouf's sister. The family headed by Mohammad Makhlouf has established a vast financial empire in the telecommunication, retail, banking, power generation, and oil and gas sectors.[32] The net worth of the family was estimated in 2010 to be at least five billion dollars.[16][43]

  • Muhammad Makhlouf (born 1932), made a fortune, both through management of state companies and in the private sector[44]
    • Rami Makhlouf (born 1969), is a wealthy businessman and the main owner of SyriaTel.[16] According to the Financial Times he is thought to control as much as 60% of the economy through his web of business interests that include telecommunications, oil and gas, construction, banking, airlines and retail, and he is widely seen as the business arm of the Assad government.[21][45] American government sources report that Rami Makhlouf has used the Syrian security services and his personal relationship to President Assad to intimidate and steal promising business ventures from other businessmen.[32] He is regarded as Syria's wealthiest man – worth approximately 5 billion dollars.[46]
    • Col. Hafez Makhlouf (1971), is the deputy director of the General Security Directorate and intelligence chief of the Damascus branch.[47][21][45][48][49] He works under Ali Mamlouk but enjoys far greater influence with his cousin, Bashar al-Assad. He, along with Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat and Dhu al-Himma Shalish, comprise the inner circle of leadership.[33]
    • Iyad Makhlouf (born 1973), twin of Ihab Makhlouf, is a General Security Directorate officer. The EU sanctioned him for being involved in violence against the civilian population during the Syrian Civil War.[26]
    • Ihab Makhlouf (born 1973), twin of Iyad Makhlouf, is Vice-President of SyriaTel and caretaker for Rami Makhlouf's US company. The EU sanctioned him for providing funding to the Assad government and allowing violence against demonstrators in the Syrian Civil War.[26] He is believed to be in charge of the sniper units that are being used to shoot at protestors in the uprising.[50]
  • Fatma Makhlouf, sister of Anisa Makhlouf.
  • General Adnan Makhlouf, first cousin of Anisa, former commander of the Republican Guard.[52]

Hafez's cousins

  • Namir al-Assad, reportedly established with Rifaat al-Assad in the 1980s the shabiha who controlled the organized smuggling networks, anchored in Lattakia's port.[53]
  • Adnan al-Assad, leader of "Struggle Companies" militia in Damascus.[54]
  • Muhammad Tawfiq al-Assad, another leader of the "Struggle companies". He was killed in a dispute with a powerful person over control in the al-Qerdaha area of Latakia province, on March 14, 2015.[55]
    • Hussein Tawfiq al-Assad, son of Muhammed. He took over the criminal network of his father and reorganized it into a paramilitary unit, the Lions of Hussein.[56]
  • Gen. Shafiq Fayyad, cousin of Hafez from his aunt in the village of Ayn al-Arus in Jableh. Commander of the 7th Mechanized Infantry Division 1973–78.[57] Commander of the 3rd Armored Division since 1978.[58] Reportedly incapacitated in 1991/92 due to a heart attack.[57] Batatu describes him as an army corps general.

Other relatives

  • Numeir al-Assad, second degree cousin of Hafez's children, led the Shabiha in Latakia.[5]
  • Nizar al-Assad, is a cousin of Bashar Al-Assad. He was the head of the Nizar Oilfield Supplies company. He was sanctioned by the EU for being very close to key government officials and for financing Shabiha in the region of Latakia.[36]
  • Fawaz al-Assad, nephew of Hafez, leader of Shabiha[59]
  • Mundhir al-Assad, nephew of Hafez, leader of Shabiha[59]


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