Rifaat Ali al-Assad (Arabic: رفعت عالي الأسد; born 22 August 1937) is the younger brother of the former President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, and the uncle of the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, all of whom come from the minority Alawite Muslim sect. He was born in the village of Qardaha, near Lattakia in western Syria. He is perhaps best known for personally overseeing the Hama massacre of 1982.
Under Hafez's rule
He 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). He had a pivotal role throughout the 1970s and, until 1984, many saw him as the likely successor to his elder brother.
In February 1982, as commanding general of the Syrian Army, he commanded the forces that put down a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in the central city of Hama, by instructing his forces to shell the city, 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 bragged that the total number of victims was no less than 38,000.
Attempted coup d'état
When Hafez al-Assad suffered from heart problems in 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. Rifaat's troops, now numbering more than 55,000 with tanks, artillery, aircraft and helicopters, began asserting control over Damascus, putting up posters of him; he was clearly launching a bid to succeed his brother. Tensions between forces loyal to Hafez and those loyal to Rifaat were extreme, but by early 1984 Hafez had returned from his sick bed and assumed full control, at which point most officers rallied around him. In what at first seemed a compromise, Rifaat was made vice-president with responsibility for security affairs, but this proved a wholly nominal post. Command of the 'Defense Companies' was transferred to another officer, and Rifaat was then sent abroad on "an open-ended working visit". His closest supporters and others who had failed to prove their loyalty to Hafez were purged from the army and Baath Party in the years that followed.
During the 1990s
Although he returned for his mother's funeral in 1992, and for some time lived in Syria, Rifaat was thereafter confined to exile in France and Spain. He nominally retained the post of vice president until 1998, when he was stripped of this. He had retained a large business empire both in Syria and abroad, partly through his son Sumer. However, the 1999 crackdown, involving armed clashes in Lattakia, destroyed much of his remaining network in Syria; large numbers of Rifaat's supporters were arrested. This was seen as tied to the issue of succession, with Rifaat having begun to position himself to succeed the ailing Hafez, who in his turn sought to eliminate all potential competition for his designated successor, his son Bashar al-Assad.
In France, Rifaat has loudly protested the succession of Bashar to the post of president, claiming that he himself embodies the "only constitutional legality" (as vice president, alleging his dismissal was unconstitutional). He has made threatening remarks about planning to return to Syria at a time of his choosing to assume "his responsibilities and fulfill the will of the people", and that while he will rule benevolently and democratically, he will do so with "the power of the people and the army" behind him.
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-Asad. 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). Ali Eid the general secretary of the party today, supports the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.
Foreign support for Rifaat
Numerous rumors tie Rifaat al-Assad to various foreign interests.
Rifaat is considered close, by some observers, to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah is married to a sister of Rifaat's wife, and Rifaat has on occasions—even after his public estrangement from the rulers in Syria—been invited to Saudi Arabia, with pictures of him and the royal family displayed in the state-controlled press.
It is claimed that Rifaat is reputed to have turned even to Israel asking for assistance, and that he has initiated contacts with exiled representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the Iraq war, there were press reports that he had started talks with US government representatives on helping to form a coalition with other anti-Assad groups to provide an alternative Syrian leadership, on the model of the Iraqi National Congress. Rifaat has held a meeting with the former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Yossef Bodansky, the director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has stated that Rifaat enjoys support from both America and Saudi Arabia; he has been featured in the Saudi press as visiting the royal family in 2007. The Bashar regime remains wary of his intentions and carefully monitors his activities.
Rifaat was mentioned by the influential American think tank Stratfor as a possible suspect for the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the string of attacks that has struck Beirut after the subsequent Syrian withdrawal. The goal would be to destabilize the Syrian regime. However, there has been no mention of Rifaat in the United Nations Mehlis reports on the crime.
As of 2010[update] Rifaat is living in Mayfair, London.
As of 2011[update] Rifaat is living in Avenue Foch, Paris, while trying to sell off his real estate properties.
From : www.wikipedia.org