(1930-) Syrian politician, brother of former President Hafez al-Assad, and uncle of active President Bashar al-Assad.
Rifaat has during his lifetime moved from being an important ally of his brother, into becoming contender to his, later his nephew, Bashar's, as position as president. Rifaat enjoys support from large groups in the Syrian army, and until 1999 when many of his supporters were arrested he was a potential successor of his brother.
Rifaat has also been active in business, especially after his return to Syria in 1992. Together with his son, Shawmar, he has been quite successful, and it is believed that since then he has been active in organizing his supportes.
1937: Born into a respected family of Alawites in Qardaha near Latakia.
1952: Joins the Ba'th party.
1963: Rifaat gets intensive military training at the Homs military academy.
1965: Rifaat becomes commander of a special security force that answers only to the Syrian Military Committee.
1969/70: Rifaat and his troops are of central importance in the actions against the de facto ruler of Syria at the time, Salah Jadid. At this point he is his brother's most important ally, and his force changes its name to the Defence Companies, and it has its powers extended to maintaining internal security.
1982: Rifaat's troops are active in the massacre of Homs where more than 10,000 people are slain.
1983 November: When Hafez al-Assad suffers from a heart attack, Rifaat establishes a 6-member committee (of which he is not a member) to run the country. At the same time, his troops, now numbering more than 55,000 with tanks, artillery, aircraft and helicopters, take control over Damascus.
1984 February: Tensions between Rifaat's forces and elite forces from the army that are loyal to Hafez.
March 30: On the verge of an armed conflict between the two military groups, a meeting is held with Rifaat, Hafez and their aged mother. The outcome of this meeting, and other meetings, is that Rifaat is sent abroad as a Syrian representative, while Hafez returns to office without the challenge from Rifaat's troops.
November: After spending months abroad, Rifaat is appointed vice-president in charge of security, but this proves to be a hollow role. Soon after he leaves for Paris where he settles.
1992: Rifaat is allowed to return from Paris to attend the funeral of his mother.
1999 September: Hundreds of Rifaat's supporters are arrested in Damascus and Latakia. This is interpreted as a way of helping Hafez's son, Bashar, to rid himself of all possible opponents when the president dies.