Baath Party official Faisal Mekdad was appointed on Sunday as Syrian Foreign Minister, a post that has historically been given to loyalist Sunnis who acted as the public face of the regime since the Assad family rule began five decades ago.
The official news agency said President Bashar Al Assad issued a decree naming Mr Mekdad to succeed former foreign minister Walid Al Moalem, who died last week.
Mr Mekdad was Mr Moalem’s deputy and like his boss, he championed the crushing of peaceful protests against the regime, which started in 2011 in the southern province of Deraa.
Deraa is the home province of Mr Mekdad, who joined the Baath Party, becoming a high-ranking member of the student union, the mission of which was to help the regime to destroy dissent at universities in Syria and abroad.
Mr Mekdad was also the country’s representative at the UN in New York and led the Syrian delegation to the failed Annapolis Conference in 2007 to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks.
He is protege of former deputy president Farouq Al Shara, who is also from Deraa but who angered the regime and was dismissed for not supporting the crackdown on the revolt. The vice presidency is a nominal position.
Mr Mekdad kept rising in regime ranks although Mr Shara has disappeared from public view since 2012 and he is believed to be unable to leave Damascus.
One European official described Mr Shara as “a dead man walking”.
Since Hafez Al Assad took power in a 1970 coup that furthered the grip of Alawite officers, Syria has had four foreign ministers and they have been all Sunni.
Former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam, who died this year, was foreign minister from 1970 to 1984. He was succeeded by Mr Shara until 2006.