Syria 101: 4 attributes of Assad's authoritarian regime
The Assad family
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took over the presidency in 2000 when his father, Hafez al-Assad, died after ruling the country for three decades. The Syrian government has long been packed with family members with unshakable loyalty to their leadership.
Maher al-Assad, the youngest son of Hafez, is head of the Republican Guard, the regime's elite security force. He also commands the fourth division of the Syrian Army and is a member of one of the most important committees in the Baath party. By most accounts he is the second most powerful man in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad.
The president's first cousin, Rami Makhlouf, holds unrivaled economic clout in Syria. He controls the country’s main cell phone operator, a bank, a construction company, and an airline (among other things) and is the vice chairman of Syria’s largest private company. The US Treasury department accused him in 2008 of being one of the “primary centers of corruption” in the country and said “Makhlouf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate his business rivals.”
Bashar’s sister's husband also holds sway in the government as the chief of military intelligence. He used to be a liaison between the US and Syria on intelligence matters, but his relationship with the US has soured since the two countries cut ties. He is one of the Syrian government officials whose assets have already been frozen by the US.