As fighting rages in Damascus, the Assad family that has ruled Syria for four decades emerges as a tight inner group determined to fight its way out of the crisis, even as support for the government falls.
At its head is President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000 and who friend and opponent alike say appears increasingly detached from reality, convinced he is fighting a conspiracy against him and Syria.
Around Assad is a circle of family and clan members, and a security establishment staffed mainly by adherents of the Alawite minority to which the Assads belong, a branch of Shi’ite Islam in a country that is three quarters Sunni.
“Even those who love him feel he can no longer provide security,” said Ayman Abdel-Nour, an adviser to Assad until 2007 and now an opposition figure. “They think he is useless and living in a cocoon. Many of his close friends and advisers have either left him or distanced themselves from him. He thinks of himself as God’s messenger to rule Syria.”Assad has taken charge of a military crisis unit and takes all the daily decisions, from deployment of army units to tasks assigned to security services, as well as mobilisation of the Alawite Shabbiha, the feared militia accused of a series of massacres.