The Belarusian authorities tried to keep his stay secret.
The New Arab published an article about the former vice-president of Syria Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of the dictator Bashar al-Assad who arrived in Minsk this July and went to Damascus in early October.
What is The New Arab? It is a well-known pan-Arab publication headquartered in London. The weekly itself is part of the Al Araby network owned by the Qatari media holding company Fadaat Media, writes German-Belarusian historian Alexander Friedman.
Who is Rifaat al-Asad? He is one of the most controversial figures in Syrian politics in recent decades. After his elder brother, Hafez came to power, Rifaat became the dictator's right-hand man and played an active role in the bloody suppression of the Islamist uprising in Hama in 1982. A year later, he attempted a coup, which failed, and went into exile in London and then Paris. When the Syrian civil war began, Rifaat opposed Bashar's nephew but withdrew from politics rather quickly, and in 2021 finally joined the side of the current Syrian leadership.
Back in June 2020, a Paris court sentenced Rifaat al-Assad to four years in prison for money laundering, financial fraud and other misdemeanours. In September 2021, an appeals court upheld the conviction but the 84-year-old al-Asad did not want to spend the rest of his years in prison and moved to Belarus beforehand.
What was the Syrian doing in Minsk? Sources in Rifaat's entourage told The New Arab that al-Assad had arrived in Belarus with no means and at the invitation of "Syrian friends". In Belarus, he allegedly felt overwhelming homesickness for his homeland, where he had not been for nearly 40 years, and Rifaat flew to Damascus.
One should not take this version seriously: official Minsk maintains close ties with the regime of Bashar al-Asad, and the uncle of the Syrian dictator, to all appearances, received guarantees that he would not be extradited from Belarus to France. The decision to welcome him must have been taken at the highest level, and his stay in Minsk was successfully kept in secret. Lukashenka, thus, did a personal favour to Bashar al-Asad, who took pity on his disgraced relative. Belarus has once again become a staging post for dubious politicians with a criminal background.