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He is an Alawite Muslim and as the youngest son of President Hafez al-Assad, he was born in 1968, only two years before his father took power. He studied Mechanical Engineering at Damascus University, but then chose a military career. After the death of his brother Basil al-Assad in a 1994 car accident, he was mentioned as a possible successor to Hafez, but in the end, Bashar succeeded his father. It has been speculated that Maher's reputation as unstable influenced the decision in favour of Bashar.Maher al-Assad is a member of the ruling Baath Party's central committee and is said to be a close advisor of Bashar. He is head of Syria's Presidential Guard. In October 1999, he is rumoured to have shot General Assef Shawqat (who is married to his sister Bushra al-Assad) in the stomach during an argument Assef survived, and the two are said to have good relations now.