Assad’s Death Defers Party Congress, Opens Door for Power Struggle

Published June 10th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

By Nabil Al Mulhem 

 

Damascus – Albawaba.com 

 

Sources close to the ruling Baath party in Syria said the death of president Hafez Assad came at a crucial time as the ruling Baath party was about to convene a congress that has not met for over 15 years and while the party was preparing for drastic changes in its structure. 

The sources said that a broad sector of the young generation in Syria has managed to reach the ranks of the congress with full support for Bashar Assad, the son of the late president who was tipped to win the seat of a member of the party’s leadership before proclaiming him vice president.  

But the sudden death of the president was bound to make the convening of the party congress on schedule a difficult matter if not impossible, a thing that will leave the door open for a power struggle particularly in the wake of painful blows which Bashar Assad had dealt to certain figures including military officials that had played prominent roles in the Syrian political life. 

Such figures included Ali Haidar commander of the private forces that for years maintained a strong shield for the power, Ali Duba, the influential intelligence official, Lt.General Mohammad Khouli and the brother of the late president, Rifaat Assad who still enjoys broad support in the Alawite sect.  

There were other influential figures who played major roles including vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, well known for his role in Lebanon and during its civil war. Khaddam was expected to be questioned along with former prime minister Mahmud Zu’bi (who recently committed suicide following corruption charges) and Hikmat Shihabi the former army chief of staff. 

Meanwhile, observers believe that Bashar remains the strongest in the Syrian political equation particularly after he managed to control the republican guard , one of the army’s elite units and the most qualified, and after Maher the younger brother of Bashar took control of a highly trained commando squad to form a back-up unit that supports his brother against any attempts by other powers to move or hold his advance to power. 

It is also impossible to overlook the decisive role that the son-in-law of president Assad Lt.General Assef Chawkat , one of the most important figures in the military security, can play in backing plans the party’s leadership was seeking to achieve.  

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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