Aniseh Makhlouf, Syria’s former first lady and the mother of current President Bashar Assad, died Saturday, the presidency announced. She was 86.
A statement on the presidency’s official social media page says Makhlouf, the wife of the late President Hafez Assad, died in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Makhlouf was born in 1930 to a prominent and wealthy Alawite family from the coastal province of Latakia in the heartland of the religious minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
She married Hafez in 1957 when he was an air force lieutenant and rarely appeared in public after he became president in 1971. Although she kept a low profile, she was known to be the family matriarch and exerted strong influence over her husband and children.
“She was to prove a devoted wife and mother and Assad’s closest and most trusted confidante, providing him with a domestic environment of unquestioned respectability,” wrote Assad’s late biographer Patrick Seale in his book “Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East.”
Many considered her to be the first lady long after Hafez passed away in 2000.
At the beginning of the uprising against the Assad family rule in March 2011, she was reported to have pushed Assad to crack down hard on protesters. She was later reported to have left Syria to the United Arab Emirates, joining her only daughter, Bushra, who moved to the Emirates with her children after her husband, Assef Shawkat, was assassinated in a blast in the Syrian capital in July 2012. Shawkat was the deputy minister of defense.
Aniseh Makhlouf’s nephew, Rami Makhlouf, is one of Syria’s most prominent and wealthy businessmen. He controls the mobile phone network and other lucrative enterprises, and the protesters behind the 2011 uprising saw him as a symbol of corruption.
Makhlouf is survived by her daughter Bushra and her two sons, Bashar and Maher Assad. Two other sons passed away, one of them, Basil, in a car accident in 1994.