After the July 18 bombing of a meeting of the planners of the Syrian government’s response to the rebellion, we learned that three top members of the al Assad regime had been killed: Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister and former intelligence chief General Asef Shawkat (husband of Bushra al Assad, the President’s older sister) and Assistant Vice President General Hassan Turkmani. Among the injured was Interior Minister Major General Mohammad Ibrahim Shaar. It has now been confirmed that one other top member of the government was injured in the bombing, President Bashar al Assad’s younger brother Maher. He is head of the security forces, consisting of the Republican Guard, the Fourth Armored Division, the secret police and militias and lost a leg in the bombing.
During the rule of Hafez al Assad, his heir-apparent was eldest son Bassel. When Bassel died in an auto accident in 1994, it was assumed that third son Maher, who had pursued a military career would be elevated to heir status since second son Bashar was an ophthalmologist living in London, and secretly courting an ex-patriot Syrian Sunni investment banker named Asma al Akhras. But, Maher was not chosen and Bashar was called home to prepare for the Presidency. Hafez died in 2000, and the Syrian Constitution was amended to allow Bashar to be elected president though he was five years younger than the previous age threshold for presidents. Bashar married the love-of-his-life in December of that year, defying family and Alawite tribal objections to his marrying a Sunni Muslim.
Whereas Bashar was, until 17 months ago, considered Syria’s best hope for reform, Maher has been feared for his secret police activities and repressions of Syrian citizens even before the rebellion started.
The news that Maher was injured in the bombing, and the public appearances of a very un-injured Bashar al Assad raise the question of who is in charge in Syria. Bashar has often appeared to be out of the loop with his insistence that it is foreign terrorists that he is fighting, and his assertion that his regime had committed no atrocities against civilians in the early stages of the rebellion. When asked about a particular incident, when a young boy’s tortured and mutilated body had been dumped on his parents’ doorstep, Bashar told Barbara Walters that he had met with the parents and been assured that the boy was not tortured by his regime. Reaction to the interview at the time was that Bashar was either a pathological liar who could fool a lie detector or he was being “protected” from the truth of the rebellion.
The July 18 meeting involved all the major planners and directors of the military and security forces actions against the rebels. If Bashar al Assad was not there, is he really in control of what his government is doing?