brother of Syrian President Bashar Assad
Maher Assad, the youngest of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad's four sons, has come into the spotlight since the ascension of his older brother Bashar to the helm of Syria. Recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and appointed to the ruling Ba'ath party's Central Committee, Maher's star is on the rise, though he is seen by most as too hot-tempered to be a serious political contender. While he has publicly supported Bashar, there is a long record of power-sharing among brothers in the Arab world degenerating into fierce political rivalries.1
Maher was born in Damascus in 1968 and, like his three brothers and sister, was raised outside of the public spotlight. He received his secondary education at the Academy of Freedom School (later renamed Basil Assad High School for it was the institution where all the Assad sons studied). He studied business at Damascus University and then entered the military service, following in the footsteps of his older brother Basil (with whom he bears a remarkable physical resemblance). When Basil died in 1994, many speculated that Maher would be next in line for the succession, for his older brother Majd had a history of mental problems, while Bashar lacked Maher's military background and political ambitions. Nevertheless, his father chose Bashar, who was studying ophthalmology in London at the time, to be his successor.
One of the reasons for this decision was no doubt Maher's reputation for flying off the handle. In October 1994, Maher was involved in a violent altercation with his cousin Ribal Assad outside the Sheraton complex in Damascus (the details of which are a bit sketchy). Several years later, in October 1999, Maher got into an argument with his brother-in-law, Gen. Assef Shawkat (the husband of his older sister Bushra) and shot him in the stomach.2 Shawkat's injuries were serious enough for him to be sent to Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris for several weeks after the shooting. Maher was never punished for the incident.
About four years ago, Maher assumed command of a brigade in the Republican Guard and has, by all accounts, distinguished himself tremendously. After the death of his father, Maher was promoted from the rank of major to lieutenant colonel. On June 20, he was elected to the ruling Ba'ath party's Central Committee at the conclusion of its ninth congress. He has often appeared in public with Bashar and is said to be one of his closest advisors.
1 Examples of past political rivalries between brothers in the Arab world include the late President Hafez Assad of Syria and his brother Rifaat; the former Saudi Kings Faisal and Saud (who was was ousted by Faisal); and the former Iraqi President Abdul Salam Aref and his brother Abdul Rahman Aref.
2 Liberation, 29 November 1999.