For years, Bashar al-Assad’s regime subjected Syrians to a routine of good cop, bad cop. Maher al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother and the head of the brutal Republican Guard, has played the bad cop. Although Maher was not seen much in public, he established a reputation for brutal repression. The good cop, ironically, was Bashar al-Assad himself. Educated in the West and an ophthalmologist by trade, he projected an image of benevolence, wearing blue jeans in public and, in a Vogue profile of his wife this past February, boasted of driving through Damascus without any security.
That same Vogue article referenced the well-manicured fingernails of Assad’s wife, “lacquered a dark blue-green.” In mid-March, the focus shifted to the hands of 15 children in the southern Syrian city of Deraa whose nails were removed by torture. Their crime was scribbling the famous words of the Arab Spring -- “The people want to bring down the regime” -- on their school’s wall, an act that began the ongoing Syrian revolt against Assad.
Now that Assad’s regime has killed hundreds of protesters since the students drew their graffiti, few Syrians harbor any illusions about the true nature of their president. Yet in standing against Assad’s security forces, the demonstrators face a secretive, complex, and ruthless apparatus.
Syria has four security directorates: Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, State Security, and Political Security. The heads of Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence -- Abdulfatah Qudsiah and Jamil Hasan, respectively -- are both Alawites. Meanwhile, Ali Mamlouk, the head of State Security, and Deeb Zaitoun, head of Political Security, are both Sunni, likely appointed over Alawites to help the regime diffuse tensions with the general populace, who interact most often with the security chiefs. These four directorates operate under the umbrella of the National Security Council headed by General Hisham Ikhtiyar, who reports directly to Assad.
However structured they are in theory, the security agencies are dominated by the Assad family in