The al-Assads are probably the most westernized ruling family in the Middle East. As any other regular family they have their own fortunes and misfortunes, but politics gives this family a whole new look.
Hafez al-Assad, who was born into a poor family, joined the Ba'ath party as a student and later became a lieutenant in the Syrian Air Force. After the 1963 coup in Syria, which established Ba'athist military control over the country, Hafez al-Assad was put in charge if the Syrian Air Force. In 1966, after yet another coup, he became minister of defense. From that point, he was gaining mass popularity in domestic politics, which allowed him to overthrow Salah Jadid, chief of staff of the armed forces. Hafez became prime minister in 1970, and in 1971 he was elected president.
(Photo: Hafez al-Assad after his inauguration ceremony standing with the leader of the Ba'ath party and the prime minister).
In April of 1971, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's Hafez Assad gathered in Benghazi to sign an agreement on the creation of the Federation of Arab Republics. This union could potentially become a very strong alliance in politics. Although the idea was positively received among the population of these countries, the Federation lasted for only five years due to disagreements between the parties, and never led to full integration of the three.
The Hama Massacre occurred in February of 1982, when the Syrian army besieged the town of Hama in order to quell an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. The operation was ordered by the president, Hafez al-Assad and perpetrated by the Syrian Arab Army under the command of General Rifaat al-Assad, the president's brother. Experts say that the casualty rate was as high as 40,000 civilians.
In November of 1983, Hafez al-Assad had a heart attack. Rifaat al-Assad, his brother, tried to stage a coup to oust him in mid 1984. Before banishing him into exile, Hafez al-Assad relieved him of his duties as commander of the Special Forces and appointed him ceremonial vice president. He was then sent to Moscow, after which he headed to Europe where he spent a life in exile, returning briefly to Syria in the late 1990s.
In January 1994, Hafez's eldest son, Bassel, died in a car accident on his way to the airport at the age of 30. Bassel was regarded as the Hafez's heir al-Assad, and his death was considered a threat to the country's stability. By that time, President Assad was having serious health issues and his son could have taken over the presidency at any moment. 1994 marked a turning point for Syria, because Bashar al-Assad, the current president, came into the picture.
In June, 2000 Syria's president passed away, having held power for almost three decades. Hafez al-Assad prepared Bashar to become the leader of the nation by securing support for him among the army chiefs and high-ranking government officials. As a result of this, transition of power was very smooth with Bashar al-Assad first becoming the leader of the Ba'ath party and later elected president of Syria.
When he assumed power in 2000, Bashar was still single, but later that year he got married to his London sweetheart, Asma al-Akhras, whom he'd met during his postgraduate studies at a hospital in London. A western first lady gave a new look to Assad's rule, as she's known for her immaculate taste and very democratic approach to politics. An article on Asma al-Assad was even featured in Vogue, but as it later turned out it was part of a PR campaign ordered by the al-Assads. Asma al-Assad gave birth to three children, one of whom was named after Bashar's father Hafez.
After the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005, which led to the collapse of the pro-Syrian government and withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country, Bashar's position was significantly undermined, even though he was re-elected in 2007.
The photo from Bashar's official Instagram account shows Asma al-Assad embracing a relative of a man killed during the conflict. There were rumors that she had fled the country and went to Russia, but they were later refuted when she made a public appearance. However, other members of the family, including Bashar's sister Bushra with her children and his mother Anisa, are now living in Dubai. Bashar's brother Masher is the second most powerful man in Syria, and his troops play a key role in suppressing the rebels.