Power in Syria is centred in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s extended family and top figures within the security apparatus, according to observers.
Various rumours of disputes and power struggles between family members have circulated during Assad’s rule. Due to the closed nature of the Syrian system, such reports have remained unverified, and no cracks have appeared in the open.
Joshua Landis, director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says rumours of internal conflicts, mostly stemming from the Lebanese press and the opposition, originate in a “tremendous amount of wishful thinking that the Assad family will collapse on its own”.
He says that contrary to rumours, the ruling dynasty has proven to be an “extraordinarily well-functioning family”, with regard to avoiding splits from within.
“They have stuck together through thick and thin,” Landis says.
“Disputes have been resolved peacefully, with great care, because staying together is the key to this regime’s longevity. The moment they really fall out, and shoot at each other, the regime is going to collapse.
“When Rifaat al-Assad in 1984 tried to overthrow his brother, Hafez, what did Hafez al-Assad do? He demoted him, he exiled him three times, and brought him back, trying to reintegrate him into the family.”
Rifaat now lives in exile in London.