Bassel al-Assad

Bassel al-Assad (Arabic: بَاسِلُ حَافِظِ ٱلْأَسَدِ‎, Bāsil Ḥāfiẓ al-ʾAsad; 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.

Bassel al-Assad
بَاسِلُ ٱلْأَسَدِ
Basil al-Assad.jpg
Bassel al-Assad, c. 1992
Birth nameBassel al-Assad
Nickname(s)The Golden Knight
Born23 March 1962
Damascus, Syria
Died21 January 1994(1994-01-21) (aged 31)
Damascus, Syria
Allegiance Syria
Service/branchSyrian Arab Army
Years of service1983–1994
RankSyria-Army-Aqid.svg Colonel
Unit2nd Special Forces Regiment, 14th Airborne Division
Republican Guard
Commands held42nd Special Forces Regiment
12th Armoured Battalion, Syrian Arab Republican Guard.
AwardsHero of the Republic
Order of Salahaddin

Early life and educationEdit

Bassel al-Assad was born on 23 March 1962.[1] He was trained as a civil engineer, and he held a PhD in military sciences.[2][3]

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.

— Bassel al-Assad, in conversation with Patrick Seale, 1988[4]

Career and successionEdit

Trained in parachuting, he was commissioned in the Special Forces and later switched to the armoured corps after training in the Soviet Military Academies.[3] He rapidly progressed through the ranks, becoming a major and then commander of a brigade in the Republican Guard.[1][5]

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.[6][5] The Ba'ath Party press in Syria eulogised him as the "Golden Knight" because of his prowess on horseback.[7] He also had a reputation for an interest in fast cars, and his friends described him as charismatic and commanding.[8][9] Assad was soon appointed Head of Presidential Security.[10][11] In addition, he launched the Syrian Computer Society in 1989, which was later headed by Bashar.[12]

Originally Assad's uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, was Hafez's chosen successor but Rifaat attempted to usurp power from Hafez while the latter was in a coma in 1984. This led to Rifaat's exile.[3] Following the incident, Bassel was groomed to succeed his father.[13][14] Hafez's efforts intensified to make Bassel the next President of Syria in the early 1990s;[3] after Hafez's election victory in 1991, the President was publicly referred to as "Abu Basil" (Father of Bassel).[15] Assad was also being introduced to European and Arab leaders; he was a close friend of the children of King Hussein of Jordan, especially Haya bint Hussein who also enjoyed equestrianism,[16] and had been also introduced to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.[7]

Assad had a significant role in Lebanese affairs, and was known to Lebanese leaders of all sects.[17] 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.[8]

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has compared Bassel to Sonny Corleone 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."[18]

Personal lifeEdit

Bassel is said to have spoken French and Russian fluently.[7] According to leaked United States diplomatic cables, he had a relationship with a Lebanese woman, Siham Asseily[19] who later married Lebanese journalist and deputy Gebran Tueni.[20]

His older sister, Bushra, could not marry Assef Shawkat until his death, as he rejected that marriage.

Death and burialEdit

On 21 January 1994, while he was driving his Mercedes at a high speed (author Paul Theroux reports 240 kilometers per hour (150 mph)) through fog to Damascus International Airport for a flight to Frankfurt, Germany on his way to a ski vacation in the Alps in the early hours of the morning,[21][22][23] Bassel collided with a barrier and, not wearing a seatbelt, died instantly.[8][24] Hafez Makhlouf was with him and was hospitalized with injuries after the accident, and a chauffeur in the back seat was unhurt.[24][8]

Assad's body was taken to Al Assad University Hospital and then buried in Qardaha, where his father's body was also later buried.[22][25]


After his death, shops, schools and public offices in Syria closed, and the sale of alcohol was suspended in respect.[5][dead link] He was elevated by the state into "the martyr of the country, the martyr of the nation and the symbol for its youth".[5]

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.[5] He also has an equestrian statue in Aleppo,[26] and formerly in Chtaura, Lebanon.[27]

On 17 November 2020, a museum dedicated to him was inaugurated at the Latakia Sports City.[28]


Bassel Assad's death led to his lesser-known brother Bashar al-Assad, who was then undertaking postgraduate training in ophthalmology in London, assuming the mantle of president-in-waiting. Bashar became President following the death of his father, on 10 June 2000.[29] Bassel Assad's posters and his name were also used to secure a smooth transition after Hafez Assad introduced the slogan "[Bassel], the Example: [Bashar], the Future."[30]


  1. ^ a b Zisser, Eyal (September 1995). "The Succession Struggle in Damascus". Middle East Forum. 2 (3): 57–64. Retrieved 14 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Assad son dies in car accident". Rome News Tribune. 21 June 1994. Retrieved 13 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Ghadbian, Najib (Autumn 2001). "The New Asad: Dynamics of Continuity and Change in Syria" (PDF). Middle East Journal. 55 (4). Retrieved 19 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Mid-East Realities". Middle East. 11 June 2000. Retrieved 9 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e Sipress, Alan (8 November 1996). "Syria Creates Cult Around Its President's Dead Son Bassel Assad". Inquirer. Retrieved 13 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Kathy A. Zahler (1 August 2009). The Assads' Syria. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-8225-9095-8. Retrieved 12 March 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b c Fisk, Robert (22 January 1994). "Syria mourns death of a 'golden son'". The Independent. Retrieved 13 June 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ a b c d Schmidt, William E. (22 January 1994). "Assad's Son Killed in Auto Crash". New York Times. Retrieved 27 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Bennet, James (10 July 2005). "The Enigma of Damascus" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Boustany, Nora (22 January 1994). "Car crash kills Assad's son". The Daily Gazette. Retrieved 24 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Edwards, Alex (July–August 2012). "Understanding Dictators" (PDF). The Majalla. 1574: 32–37. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 July 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Alterman, Jon B. (1998). "New Media New Politics?" (PDF). The Washington Institute. 48. Retrieved 7 April 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Brownlee, Jason (Fall 2007). "The Heir Apparency of Gamal Mubarak" (PDF). Arab Studies Journal: 36–56. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ Hemmer, Christopher (n.d.). Syria Under Bashar Asad: Clinging To His Roots? (PDF). CPC. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  15. ^ Cook, Steven A. (December 1996). "On the Road: In Asad's Damascus". Middle East Quarterly: 39–43. Retrieved 24 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Basel al-Assad with Princess Haya of Jordan in an equestrian tournament - 1993". Syrian History.
  17. ^ "Asad insider sees Bashar coming to help, wants to sell US airplanes". Wikileaks. 19 December 1994. Retrieved 25 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ Ronen Bergman (30 December 2016). "Ex-CIA director: I was sure if we didn't strike Syria's nuclear reactor, Israel would". Yedioth Ahronoth. Archived from the original on 31 December 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ "Biography; from wiki (Gebran Tueni) ref for 'His second spouse was Siham Asseily'". Naharnet. Archived from the original on 7 June 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "Daily "An Nahar" reeling from publisher's assassination, in-house feuding". Wikileaks. 2 February 2006. Retrieved 25 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ Theroux, Paul (1996). The Pillars of Hercules, page 416. ISBN 978-0-14-025314-6.
  22. ^ a b Bell, Don (November 2009). "Shadowland". National Geographic. Retrieved 9 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ "Basil Assad killed in car crash". The Press Courier. 21 January 1994. Retrieved 27 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  24. ^ a b Sipress, Alan (22 January 1994). "Assad's Son is Killed in a Car". Inquirer. Retrieved 27 August 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  25. ^ "Hafez Al Assad passes away". Ain al Yaqeen. 16 June 2000. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ "Bassel al-Assad in Syria". Equestrian Statue.
  27. ^ "Bassel al-Assad in Lebanon". Equestrian Statue.
  28. ^ "افتتاح متحف الشهيد الفارس الذهبي باسل الأسد في المدينة الرياضية باللاذقية". SANA (in Arabic). 17 November 2020.
  29. ^ Zisser, Eyal (June 2006). "What does the future hold for Syria?" (PDF). MERIA. 10 (2). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  30. ^ "Nepotism, cronyism, and weakness in Arabdom". MER. 7 September 1998. Retrieved 13 July 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit