January 30, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6763

Reports In Arab Media: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad Is Gravely Ill

January 30, 2017
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 6763

In the last few days, news and rumors have been circulating in the media that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is gravely ill or critically wounded. The rumors – whose credibility is unclear and which were initially posted on social media – said that one of his bodyguards had made an attempt on his life, or else that he had suffered a stroke or had a brain tumor. Some also stated Maher Al-Assad, the president's brother, was filling in for Bashar while he was receiving treatment.

Reports to the same effect later appeared in the Arab media, including in a Lebanese daily close to Assad, as well as in the non-Arab media. It is interesting to note that many of the Arab press reports on this matter were removed from the papers' websites shortly after their publication.

The stream of reports about Assad's health in the Arab media and on social media led writers on Syrian opposition websites to discuss the issue, and particularly to speculate on possible scenarios if the news is accurate.

The Syrian regime and its supporters, for their part, denied the rumors of Assad's illness, calling them ridiculous lies and stressing that Assad is in excellent health.

The following are excerpts from some of the reports on Assad's illness that appeared in the non-Arab and Arab media, and from the articles on the opposition websites speculating about what happens post-Assad. 


Saudi Official Daily 'Okaz: Assad Has A Brain Tumor Or Has Suffered A Stoke

The Saud daily 'Okaz reported on January 27 that, according to "exclusive information" it had received, Assad had a brain tumor and was trying unsuccessfully to conceal the visible symptoms of his disease. Citing "sources," the report noted that, although Assad had met recently (on January 26) with Amir Abdollahian, an advisor to Iran's Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, he had been absent from other major meetings with decision-makers. Furthermore, he had been undergoing regular tests at the Al-Shami hospital in Damascus, especially in the recent period, and his case was being handled by a team of Russian doctors. The sources also assessed that Assad underwent medical tests in Moscow when he last visited there. The daily also mentioned that, according to a different unconfirmed report, Assad has suffered a stroke, adding that the goings-on in the presidential palace were shrouded in heavy secrecy because it was under the control of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). [1]

The report on 'Okaz:[2] "Has Assad Suffered a Stroke?"

Gulf Papers Publish And Then Remove Reports About Assad's Illness

Reports on Assad's health situation also appeared in the Gulf press, only to be removed from the papers' websites after a short time; it is unclear whether they were removed due to their unconfirmed nature or for some other reason. On January 27, the Khalij Online news website posted a report headlined "Has Assad Been Assassinated? Paper Claims His Bodyguard Shot Him,"[3] and on the next day the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas carried a report headlined "Has Assad Suffered a Stroke or Been Shot by One of his Bodyguards?" [4] Both reports were subsequently deleted.

The Khalij Online report: "Has Assad Been Assassinated? Paper Claims His Bodyguard Shot Him"

Report In Pro-Assad Lebanese Daily: Assad Has Suffered A Stroke, His Brother Maher Is Running The War

The Lebanese press also addressed the issue of Assad's health. In a January 27 report, likewise removed after its posting, the pro-Assad Lebanese daily Al-Diyar stated, citing "semi-official sources in Damascus," that Assad had been hospitalized following a stroke  that affected one of his eyes and part of his body, and had been brought about by a state of exhaustion. The report claimed that the Syrian president was out of danger but was being kept in the hospital for observation; that the doctors had warned him to rest, lest he suffer another, more serious stroke, and that Russian President Putin had sent three brain specialists to oversee his treatment. According to the report, the Syrian security apparatuses had instructed the hospital to divulge no information about Assad's condition, but he was expected to return to full activity within a week or two.

Later that day, the daily's website reported that Assad's brother Maher was acting as president while Bashar was undergoing treatment and would continue to fulfill this role until Bashar recovered. Maher Al-Assad, said the daily, was overseeing the movement of the Syrian forces and the fighting on the ground, in coordination with the Syrian chief-of-staff and defense minister, as well as the Russian experts and the Iranian and Hizbullah commanders in Syria.[5]

Interestingly, in the two days following this, Al-Diyar published reports denying the "absurd rumors" regarding Assad's health and assessed that he would make a television appearance to dispel the rumors.[6]

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, known for its opposition to the Syrian regime, quoted a prominent Syrian oppositionist as saying that reliable sources confirm that Assad has suffered a stroke and was taken to Al-Shami hospital under heavy guard.[7]

On Social Media, Posts About Assad's Illness And His Possible Replacement By His Brother Maher Al-Assad

As noted, on social media there are a great many reports on Assad's health situation. For example, leading Al-Jazeera Syrian journalist Faisal Al-Qassem, a vehement opponent of the Assad regime, posted yesterday on his Facebook page, along with a large red "Breaking News" notice: "I have been trying for several days to verify information about the illness of the tyrant Bashar Al-Assad. I have received conflicting information about this. Yesterday, I received information that was 90% certain that he has had a stroke... At this point, I can say, based on information from my personal sources, that Bashar Al-Assad is lying in bed but is conscious, and that he is in 70% danger of dying..."[8]

Faisal Al-Qassem's Facebook post, January 29, 2017.

Political commentator Amjad Taha, who resides in the UK, wrote, in a series of tweets, that "a source inside occupied Damascus" has confirmed that Assad is seriously ill and that there is a Russian military presence there. He also tweeted that a large number of doctors had arrived from Iran and from an Eastern European country in order to treat Assad, and that Russia was refusing to provide medical treatment and was only handling security for him.[9]

Amjad Taha's tweet about the arrival of doctors from Iran, January 29, 2017.

Another tweet, from the "Abu Rakan Al-Dafari" account, stated: "There is news that Assad is seriously ill and that for this reason there is a security alert and Russian forces presence and doctors from Iran."[10] 

Twitter user @90Drkurdy tweeted: "It appears that [the news that] Bashar Al-Assad has had a cerebral infarction is correct. Russian military police have surrounded Damascus and pictures of Maher Al-Assad are appearing all over Al-Latakia."[11] 

Drkurdy's tweet about Assad's cerebral infarction, January 29, 2017.

Private individuals also tweeted news about the appointment of Assad's brother Maher as acting Syrian president.[12]

Muhammad Darkoushi, vice president of the Syrian Writers' Union, tweeted: "Is a revolution led by Maher Al-Assad being organized in Syria on instructions from Russia[?] In another few days the smoke will clear."[13]

Muhammad Darkoushi's tweet, January 28, 2017.

Syrian Presidency And Lebanese Officials Close To Assad Regime Deny Reports About Assad's Illness

On January 27, 2017, the office of the Syrian presidency denied the rumors of Assad's illness. A statement issued by the Syrian government news agency SANA and tweeted by the Syrian presidency's official Twitter account stated: "The presidency of the Republic denies outright the rumors and news about the health of President Bashar Al-Assad and emphasizes that they are completely untrue and that President Assad is in excellent health and is carrying out his functions absolutely naturally."

The statement added: "The Syrian people have become immune to such lies, of which there have been many from the beginning of the war on Syria to this day. These lies are no more than dreams and an attempt to raise the low morale [of the Syrian opposition and its supporters], and they prompt only mockery and ridicule... The source of these rumors are elements and newspapers whose affiliation, funding, and bias are known to all. These lies come at the same time as changes that began in the field and on the political level, that are opposed to everything that they [the rumormongers] have wanted for Syria in recent years."[14] It should be noted that Russian news agencies also tweeted SANA's denial.

Tweets by the office of the Syrian presidency, January 27, 2017

Denials came also from senior Lebanese officials known to be close to the Assad regime. For example, Gen. (ret.) Jamil Al-Sayyed, an Assad affiliate who once headed the Lebanese general security apparatus and who was once arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, tweeted: "Rumors that President Assad has a brain tumor! They are bankrupt in the war against him [and now] have moved on to fortunetelling and wishes [for] a fateful [event to take place]. Rest assured! [Assad] will continue to trouble you..."[15]

Al-Sayyed's tweet, January 26, 2017.


On his Facebook page, former Lebanese minister Wiam Wahhab, also known to be close to President Assad, denied the reports of Assad's illness, writing, on January 29: "To all those who are in anticipation, President Assad feels fine. He is overseeing the battles and monitoring the restoring of the [drinking] water [supply] to the residents of Damascus."[16]

Wahhab's Facebook post, January 29, 2017.

Following Reports On Assad's Health, Articles On Opposition Websites Discuss What Happens Post-Assad

The stream of reports about Assad's health in the Arab media and on social media led writers on Syrian opposition websites to discuss the issue, and particularly to speculate on possible scenarios if the news is accurate.

For example, writer Ayman Muhammad, in an article headlined "Is Assad's Death Sufficient [to Declare that] the Regime Has Fallen?" on the opposition website, stated that even if the rumors that Assad was either dead or paralyzed were true, and even if the regime and its allies acknowledged this, "this will not be sufficient [in order to declare that] the regime has fallen." He said that the Alawites had a firm grip on the regime, and that a successor for Assad would quickly be found, in order to ensure its continuation. Muhammad added that Assad's death would not mean that much for the Syrian rebels, and certainly would not assure the revolution's victory, because of the rebels' dreadful situation on the battlefield. He noted that even if Assad is neutralized, Russia can only alter the face of the regime superficially: it will remove several figures and bring in several others from the opposition with whom it is comfortable working, and thus create a situation in which those who are voted in in "democratic" elections that will be held in Syria will be people that the Russians want and who will allow the Russians to control them. He concluded by stating: "Even if there is a change in the external [image] of the regime after Bashar Al-Assad's death, his nucleus, which is based on the Syrian security apparatuses, will remain" and it will serve as a means for Russia to rule Syria.[17]

Similarly, journalist Fuad 'Abd Al-'Aziz, in an article titled "What Will Happen If Bashar Dies?" on the opposition website, analyzed what awaits Syria if the news of Assad's death turned out to be true. He presented two scenarios he said were likely in such a situation: Either Iran and Russia take over the region, or Syria is divided into regions of international influence, with each region controlled by a different state – the U.S., Russia, Turkey, or Iran. He concluded with a call for the opposition to appeal to Western Europe for help.[18]



[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 27, 2017.

[2], January 27, 2017.

[3] Alkhalijonline, January 27, 2017.

[4], January 28, 2017.

[5] Al-Diyar (Lebanon), January 27, 2017.

[6] Al-Diyar (Lebanon), January 28, 29, 2017.

[7] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 27, 2017.

[8], January 29, 2016.

[9], January 29, 30, 2017.

[10], January 29, 2017.

[11], January 29, 2017.

[12] ,, January 29, 2017.

[13], January 28, 2017.

[14], SANA news agency (Syria), January 27, 2017.

[15], January 26, 2017.

[16], January 29, 2017.

[17], January 30, 2017.

[18], January 30, 2017.

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