Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who was replaced in the ruling Baath party’s leadership Monday, was the only top Syrian official to advocate a political compromise to the country’s bloody civil war.
President Bashar al-Assad appointed Sharaa, now 74, to the Baath party’s leadership in 2000.
He was one of the last vestiges of the regime’s old guard and the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, but will retain his office as vice-president, a post he has held since 2006.
In an interview with Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar in December 2012, Sharaa spoke out against Assad’s military campaign to crush the uprising, saying that Assad “does not hide his desire for a military solution that achieves a decisive victory”.
“No rebellion can bring an end to the battle militarily. Just as (operations) of the security forces and units of the army will not bring an end to the battle,” he said.
In the interview, he also revealed that while Assad held all the key powers in Syria, there were differences of opinion within the political elite, but not to the extent that they were “deep divisions”.
Sharaa comes from Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising that erupted in March 2011.
He found himself torn between his loyalty to the regime and the bloodshed and destruction suffered by his home town, European diplomats say.
He had sought to serve as a mediator at the beginning of the crisis but was blocked by regime hardliners including Assad’s feared younger brother Maher, the diplomats said.
It was Sharaa’s undying loyalty to the Baath regime and his staunch opposition to the United States and Israel that propelled him through the ranks, becoming foreign minister in 1984.
The married father of two served on the ruling Baath party’s central committee since it seized power in 1963.
He was named vice president in charge of foreign affairs in a major reshuffle in February 2006.
Sharaa is a fierce critic of Israel and has long insisted there can be no compromise over the return of the strategic Golan Heights, which the Jewish state captured in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981.
He is seen as a pragmatic but tough negotiator in a beleaguered regime which even before the uprising had faced increasing isolation over the implication of senior officials in the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
Sharaa enjoyed the confidence of Hafez al-Assad, who entrusted him with secret negotiations with Israel launched in 1991. He headed the Syrian delegation during both the abortive rounds of open peace talks that followed.
His sharp tongue solidified his reputation for vehemently opposing US policies in the Middle East.
Days after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when Washington accused Damascus of allowing military supplies to transit its territory into Iraq, Sharaa shot back that he hoped US and British forces would be defeated.
Western diplomats based in the Syrian capital say Sharaa had become the champion of hardliners within the regime in the past few years, particularly on Lebanon.
His elevation to the vice presidency followed the resignation in June 2005 of veteran incumbent Abdel Halim Khaddam, who broke with the regime soon afterwards and went into self-imposed exile in France.
Sharaa was born on December 10, 1938. A fluent English speaker, he studied English literature at Damascus university before pursuing a doctorate in international law at the University of London.
Before embarking on a diplomatic career, Sharaa did a 13-year stint as head of state-owned Syrian Arab Airlines in London.
He joined the diplomatic corps in 1977 as ambassador to Rome, a post he held for three years before becoming minister of state for foreign affairs. In 1983 he briefly took over as acting information minister before being appointed foreign minister the following year.
Farouk al-Sharaa, Syrian leader who wanted compromise