In ruins, Syria marks 50 years of Assad family rule

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FILE - In this June 10, 2000 file photo, Syrian mourners wave portraits of President Hafez Assad, right, and his two sons Bashar, center, and Basil who died in a car accident in 1994 to mourn the death of their president, in Damascus, Syria. For fifty years, the Assad family has controlled Syria, overseeing transformations, modernization, uprisings and upheaval while becoming among the most divisive figures of their time. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT – On Nov. 13, 1970, a young air force officer from the coastal hills of Syria launched a bloodless coup. It was the latest in a succession of military takeovers since independence from France in 1946, and there was no reason to think it would be the last.

Yet 50 years later, Hafez Assad’s family still rules Syria.

The country is in ruins from a decade of civil war that killed a half million people, displaced half the population and wiped out the economy. Entire regions are lost from government control. But Hafez’s son, Bashar Assad, has an unquestioned grip on what remains.

His rule, half of it spent in war, is different from his father’s in some ways — dependent on allies like Iran and Russia rather than projecting Arab nationalism, run with a crony kleptocracy rather than socialism. The tools are the same: repression, rejection of compromise and brutal bloodshed.

Like the Castro family in Cuba and North Korea’s Kim dynasty, the Assads have attached their name to their country the way few non-monarchical rulers have done.

It wasn't clear whether the government intended to mark the 50-year milestone this year. While the anniversary has been marked with fanfare in previous years, it has been a more subdued celebration during the war.

“There can be no doubt that 50 years of Assad family rule, which has been ruthless, cruel and self-defeating, has left the country what can only be described as broken, failed and almost forgotten,” said Neil Quilliam, an associate fellow at Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa program.