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Aniseh Assad, mother of Syria’s president, dies at 86

Regime statement claims wife of former ruler Hafez Assad died in Damascus, despite claims that she fled years ago

The Assad family in a photo taken at un unknown date. Hafez Assad and his wife, Aniseh Makhlouf are seated in front. behind them, from left to right: Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd, and Bushra Assad. (Public Domain
The Assad family in a photo taken at un unknown date. Hafez Assad and his wife, Aniseh Makhlouf are seated in front. behind them, from left to right: Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd, and Bushra Assad. (Public Domain

Aniseh Makhlouf, the mother of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has died at the age of 86, the presidency said Saturday.

A statement on the presidency’s official Facebook page said Makhlouf, the wife of the late president Hafez Assad, died Saturday in Damascus.

Makhlouf was born in 1930 to a powerful and wealthy family from the coastal province of Latakia. She married Hafez in 1957 and rarely appeared in public after he became president in 1971.

Her nephew, Rami Makhlouf, is one of Syria’s most prominent businessmen. He controls the mobile phone network and other lucrative enterprises, and the protesters behind the 2011 uprising saw him as a symbol of corruption.

Hafez Assad ruled the country with an iron fist from 1970 to his death in 2000. Aniseh, who married him in 1957, accompanied him throughout his entire career, from his appointment as defense minister in 1966 to his taking over the presidency four years later.

Aniseh gave birth to five children. Bushra, the eldest daughter, died as a baby sometime in the 1950s. Another daughter born in 1960 was also named Bushra.

Former Syrian president Hafez Assad with his family in the early 1970s. Left to right: Bashar, Maher, Mrs Aniseh Makhlouf, Majd, Bushra, and Bassel. (Public domain/Wikipedia)
Former Syrian president Hafez Assad with his family in the early 1970s. Left to right: Bashar, Maher, Mrs Aniseh Makhlouf, Majd, Bushra, and Bassel. (Public domain/Wikipedia)

A first son, Bassel, was born in 1962 and died in a car crash in 1994. Western analysts earlier assumed Assad senior was grooming Bassel to take over the presidency.

Bashar Assad, who eventually assumed the presidency, was born in 1965 and another boy, Maher, was born in 1967. Majd, the youngest, was born in 1966 but died in 2009 from an unspecified disease.

The statement by the Syrian presidency said Aniseh died in her home in Damascus. Aniseh “accompanied Hafez Assad in all developments and events in Syria over the years and also was at his side on many visits abroad,” the statement said. She “was interested in many issues relating to women and families and also the bereaved and their lost ones in Syria,” it continued.

Other sources, however, said Aniseh fled Syria as long as three years ago. In January 2013 the pan-Arab, UK-based paper Asharq al-Awsat said Aniseh joined her daughter Bushra in Dubai. Other reports said she escaped to Belarus.

The regime recently published a photo of Aniseh, allegedly taken in Syria, in order to put an end to the rumors that she had fled.

According to Hebrew-language website Ynet, opponents of the regime swamped social media after the announcement of Aniseh’s death with hashtags ridiculing and cursing her, and expressing the wish that her soul would end up in hell.

— AP contributed to this report.

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