Bassel al-Assad, c. 1992
|Birth name||Bassel al-Assad|
|Nickname(s)||The Golden Knight|
23 March 1962|
21 January 1994 (aged 31)|
|Service/||Syrian Arab Army|
|Years of service||1983–1994|
2nd Special Forces Regiment, 14th Airborne Division|
42nd Special Forces Regiment|
12th Armoured Battalion, Syrian Arab Republican Guard.
Hero of the Republic|
Order of Salahaddin
Bassel al-Assad (Arabic: باسل الأسد Bāssel al Assad; 23 March 1962 – 21 January 1994) was a Syrian engineer, colonel, and politician who was the eldest son of President of Syria Hafez al-Assad and the older brother of (later) President Bashar al-Assad. It was widely expected that he would succeed his father as President of Syria until he died in a car accident in 1994.
Early life and education
We saw father at home but he was so busy that three days could go by without us exchanging a word with him. We never had breakfast or dinner together, and I don't remember ever having lunch together as a family, or maybe we only did once or twice when state affairs were involved. As a family, we used to spend a day or two in Lattakia in the summer, but then too he used to work in the office and we didn't get to see much of him.
Career and succession
Trained in parachuting, he was commissioned in the Special Forces and later switched to the armoured corps after training in the Soviet Military Academies. He rapidly progressed through the ranks, becoming a major and then commander of a brigade in the Republican Guard.
After his father recovered from a serious illness in 1984, Bassel began to accompany him and he emerged on the national scene in 1987, when he won several equestrian medals at a regional tournament. The Ba'ath Party press in Syria eulogised him as the "Golden Knight" because of his prowess on horseback. He also had a reputation for his interest in fast cars, and his friends described him as charismatic and commanding. Assad was soon appointed Head of Presidential Security. In addition, he launched the Syrian Computer Society in 1989, which was later headed by Bashar.
Originally Assad's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, was Hafez's chosen successor but Rifaat attempted to usurp Hafez while he was in a coma in 1984, which led to Rifaat's exile. Following the incident, Bassel was groomed to succeed his father. Hafez's efforts intensified to make Bassel the next President of Syria in the early 1990s; after Hafez's election victory in 1991, the President was publicly referred to as "Abu Basil" (Father of Bassel). Assad was also being introduced to European and Arab leaders; he was a close friend of the children of King Hussein of Jordan and had been also introduced to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
Assad had a significant role in Lebanese affairs, and was known to Lebanese leaders of all sects. He organised a highly publicised anti-corruption campaign within the government and frequently appeared in full military uniform at official receptions to signal the government's commitment to the armed forces.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden has compared Bassel to Sonny in the novel The Godfather. "There is no doubt the Assads, along with the Makhloufs who are tied to them in bonds of marriage and partnerships, were just as busy with crime and committing particularly cruel acts as they were with ruling over Syria."
Bassel is said to have spoken French and Russian fluently. According to leaked United States diplomatic cables, he had a relationship with a Lebanese woman, Siham Asseily who later married Lebanese journalist and deputy Gebran Tueni.
Death and burial
On 21 January 1994, while he was driving his Mercedes at a high speed through fog to Damascus International Airport for a flight to Germany in the early hours of the morning, Bassel collided with a motorway roundabout without wearing a seatbelt, and died instantly. Hafez Makhlouf was with him and was hospitalized with injuries after the accident, and a chauffeur in the back seat was unhurt.
After his death, shops, schools and public offices in Syria closed for three days, and luxury hotels suspended the sale of alcohol in respect. He was elevated by the state into "the martyr of the country, the martyr of the nation and the symbol for its youth".
A great number of squares and streets were named after him. The new international swimming complex, various hospitals, sporting clubs and a military academy were named after him. The international airport in Latakia was named after him, Bassel Al-Assad International Airport. His statue is found in several Syrian cities, and even after his death, he is often pictured on billboards with his father and brother.
Bassel Assad's death led to his lesser-known brother, Bashar al-Assad, who was then undertaking postgraduate training in ophthalmology in London, to assume the mantle of president-in-waiting. Bashar became President following the death of his father, on 10 June 2000. Bassel Assad's posters and his name were also used to secure a smooth transition after Hafez Assad introduced the slogan "Basil, the Example: Bashar, the Future."
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