The Assads of Syria — Part 2: war with the Brotherhood

John Wight
5 min readMay 22
Hama, Syria, 2020

Just over 200 miles north of Damascus on the banks of the Orontes River lies Hama, Syria’s fourth largest city with a pre-2011 population of 800,000. It’s an ancient city; its biblical name was Hamath and is thought to have been the capital of the Caananite kingdom, thus tracing its origins all the way back to antiquity. Over succeeding centuries the city came under Greek, Roman, and subsequently Muslim/Arab control, thereby cementing Hama’s unofficial status as a barometer of the shifting sands of empire in this part of the world.

In February 1982 Hafez al-Assd Assad launched a three-week military offensive against Hama with the aim of completely eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood’s power base there.

The assault was unleashed in response to the armed uprising the Brotherhood had begun against the local Baath Party, designed to be the catalyst for a nationwide revolt against the regime under the auspices of the broader Fighting Vanguard Sunni Islamist militant group. Foreshadowing the conflict that would rage across Syria four decades later, in Hama the Islamists slaughtered anything and anyone associated with the state. They cut the throats of the entire families of government employees, beheaded schoolteachers for advocating secular education, and butchered Baath Party officials.

Hama in 1982 after the assault by Syrian government forces

In response, Syrian Special Forces, led by Hafez al-Assad’s younger brother Rifaat, entered the city and brooked no resistance as they set about meting out summary justice.

Liberal use of artillery had been made by the Syrian armed forces beforehand, reducing large sections of the city to rubble and ensuring that many civilians were among the 20,000 or so who were killed in the assault. Interestingly, around the same time as these ugly events were unfolding in Hama, Islamic militants were also engaged in savage violence in Algeria, attracting an equally brutal response from the state there.

Comparing the international reaction to the eruption of Islamist violence in both countries, along with the actions of their respective governments in crushing it, UK Middle East reporter, Robert…

John Wight

Writing on politics, culture, sport and whatever else. Please consider taking out a subscription at