Died when: 69 years 248 days
Star Sign: Libra
Hafez al-Assad (Arabic: حافظ الأسد Ḥāfiẓ al-ʾAsad, Levantine Arabic: [ˈħaːfezˤ elˈʔasad], Modern Standard Arabic: [ħaːfɪðˤ al'ʔasad]; 6 October 1930 – 10 June 2000) was a Syrian politician who served as President of Syria from 1971 to 2000. He was also Prime Minister from 1970 to 1971, as well as Regional Secretary of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Secretary General of the National Command of the Ba'ath Party from 1970 to 2000. Assad participated in the 1963 Syrian coup d'état which brought the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party to power, and the new leadership appointed him Commander of the Syrian Air Force. In 1966, Assad participated in a second coup, which toppled the traditional leaders of the Ba'ath Party and brought a radical military faction headed by Salah Jadid to power. Assad was appointed defense minister by the new government. Four years later, Assad initiated a third coup which ousted Jadid, and appointed himself as the undisputed leader of Syria. Assad de-radicalised the Ba'ath government when he took power by giving more space to private property and by strengthening the country's foreign relations with countries which his predecessor had deemed reactionary. He sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in turn for support against Israel, and, while he had forsaken the pan-Arab concept of unifying the Arab world into one Arab nation, he sought to make Syria the defender of Arab interests against Israel. When he came to power, Assad organised state services along sectarian lines (the Sunnis became the heads of political institutions, while the Alawites took control of the military, intelligence, and security apparatuses). The formerly collegial powers of Ba'athist decision-making were curtailed, and were transferred to the Syrian presidency. The Syrian government ceased to be a one-party system in the normal sense of the word, and was turned into a one-party state with a strong presidency. To maintain this system, a cult of personality centered on Assad and his family was created by the president and Ba'ath party. Having become the main source of initiative inside the Syrian government, Assad began looking for a successor. His first choice was his brother Rifaat, but Rifaat attempted to seize power in 1983–84 when Hafez's health was in doubt. Rifaat was subsequently exiled when Hafez's health recovered. Hafez's next choice of successor was his eldest son, Bassel. However Bassel died in a car accident in 1994, and Hafez turned to his third choice—his younger son Bashar, who at that time had no political experience. This move was met with criticism within some quarters of the Syrian ruling class, but Assad persisted with his plan and demoted several officials who opposed this succession. Hafez died in 2000 and Bashar succeeded him as President.