A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Amin al-Hafez, President of Syria 1963-66

The Guardian's obituary of Amin al-Hafez (Hafiz), President of Syria 1963-66, who died at age 88 in December, but this is the first obit I've seen. (Here's one in Arabic from December, which I didn't catch at the time.)

Amin al-Hafez (Wikipedia bio here; photo is also from Wikipedia) was one of those revolving-door Syrian Presidents in the days when coups were frequent, at least to someone just beginning to follow Middle East politics. I was just starting college when he was overthrown. He spent much of the past 44 years in Baghdad where Saddam long kept him (and Michel Aflaq) as irritants to the rival Syrian wing of the Ba‘ath Party. He was allowed to return to Syria as an octogenarian after the fall of Saddam. He died in his native Aleppo.

As both the Guardian piece and the Wikipedia bio note, he was the leader who cultivated one of the more famous high-level Israeli spies in the Arab world [at least of those ever caught]: Israeli agent Elie Cohen, who was later executed.

As the obits also note, Amin al-Hafez was in effect the last real President of Syria from the Sunni Muslim community. Though the President who succeeded him, Nureddin al-Atassi, was a Sunni he was but a figurehead, with the real power lying with ‘Alawite Chief of Staff Salah Jadid, while a rising Air Force chief named Hafiz al-Asad, also an ‘Alawite, was getting ideas.

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