The death of Abdel Halim Khaddam, former Syrian vice-president

Former Syrian vice-president Abdel-Halim Khaddam, in Brussels, in 2011. Thierry Roge / REUTERS

Former Syrian vice-president Abdel Halim Khaddam, who served Baathist rule for more than thirty-five years, under Hafez Al-Assad and then under his son Bashar, before going into exile in France in the mid-2000s and rally opposition to the Damascus regime, died Tuesday March 31 in Paris, at the age of 87 years.

Born September 15, 1932, in a Sunni home on the coast, he joined in the early 1950s the Baath, a small pan-Arab, secularizing and socializing party, which gradually extended its influence and seized power in 1963. Its proximity with one of the instigators of this coup, the ambitious colonel Hafez Al-Assad, from the Alawite minority, propelled him to the heart of the state apparatus.

A lawyer by training, he was appointed governor of Hama and Damascus, then minister of the economy in the late 1960s. During the heartbreak that the Baath experienced at that time, he remained loyal to Hafez Al-Assad, who ousted his rivals and took control of the country in 1970. Abdel Halim Khaddam was rewarded for his loyalty by a post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, which he kept until 1984.

Sunni regime bond

That year, he was promoted to vice-president. A Sunni surety for a predominantly Alawite regime, he became the voice of Hafez Al-Assad on the international scene, notably at the summits of the Arab League. At the same time, he manages the Syrian game in Lebanon, the neighboring country in the midst of a civil war, where Damascus deployed troops in 1976. He forged alliances with all the belligerents in turn, to better control them and establish his domination over this State tattered.

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In the 1990s, Khaddam became close to the Lebanese business man Rafic Hariri, the strong man of the post-war period, with whom he shared the reconstruction cake. The Syrian proconsul, "Who Controls the Lebanese Judiciary, Removes Legal Barriers to Hariri's Businesses", while the latter, who became prime minister, "Facilitates the hidden participation of Khaddam in rapidly expanding sectors, such as mobile telephony", writes political scientist Elizabeth Picard in Lebanon-Syria, intimate foreigners (Actes Sud, 2016).

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In 1998, Hafez Al-Assad's decision to entrust the Lebanese file to his son Bashar, whom he is preparing to take over, began the decline of Khaddam. In position to claim the succession, the number two of the Syrian regime is forced to follow the movement. When the "Damascus lion" died in 2000, he served as president for a few weeks while Bashar Al-Assad was elected. Guardian of the Baathist temple, he participated in bringing the “Damascus spring”, the brief phase of democratic thaw that followed the transition, to life.

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