BEIRUT – Syria’s minister for social affairs has been dismissed from her post only hours after a picture of her embracing Suheil al-Hassan, a top army commander who has achieved celebrity status among regime supporters.
The state SANA news agency reported Thursday that Kinda al-Shammat—who has been social affairs minister since early 2013—had been replaced by Rima al-Qadri, while Syria’s commerce minister had also been sacked.
The brief news bulletin did not explain the reason for the cabinet shuffle, nor did it clarify if Shammat had been reassigned to another position in the Syrian government.
Shammat’s firing comes only hours after a picture of her hugging Tiger Force commander Suheil al-Hassan—who is also known by his nickname the “Tiger”—made the rounds on social media.
Amid widespread opposition derision of the photo, a Facebook fan page dedicated to Hassan offered a “clarification” over the matter.
“The ‘Tiger’ is a beloved figure and everyone loves to take their picture with him, and Minister Kinda [al-Shammat] was expressing her love and [pride] for the ‘Tiger’,” the “Lovers of Colonel Suheil al-Hassan the Tiger” page claimed in a post Wednesday evening.
The picture was reportedly taken during Shammat’s visit to the Hama province on August 14, where Hassan has been playing a leading role in the regime’s defensive efforts against the rebel offensive in the Al-Ghab Plain.
Hassan has rose rapidly through the ranks of the Syrian army during the course of the civil war in the country, gaining prominence in 2013 when he was tasked with forming his own crack elite unit to conduct offensive operations.
His “Tiger Forces” gained fame for relieving regime troops besieged in the Aleppo Central Prison in early 2014 and retaking the Shaer gas field later that year from ISIS.
The battlefield successes boosted Hassan’s media profile, with a cult of personality emerging around the Syrian officer who has been feted by regime supporters as a hero that does not lose battles, despite recent reverses in the Idlib province and adjacent Al-Ghab Plain.
In a December 2014 report, leading French daily Le Monde postulated that Hassan’s celebrity status—especially among Syrian Alawites—could even put him in a position to rival Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.