Basil Assad also seemed to have won the affection of many in the Syrian public. Though he was a free spender and enjoyed fast cars, acquaintances said he was not a spoiled son of privilege.
In Damascus, where people are wary of offering opinions on the politically mighty, they were quick yesterday to volunteer their view that Basil Assad was an honest son in a family with other less savory members.
He was seen as a possible counterweight to the president's troublesome younger brother Rifaat.
In 1984, Rifaat Assad brought the country to the brink of civil war when he led his own special security forces onto the city streets in a bid to force Hafez Assad, who had suffered a heart attack, from office.
When Rifaat's effort failed, he was exiled to Europe but returned to Syria two years ago.
Damascus radio gave no details of the accident in which Basil Assad died, but sources close to his family said he was driving to the airport for a flight to Germany when his car crashed in early-morning fog.
His 19-year-old cousin, Hafez Makhlouf, was hospitalized with injuries, the sources said. His condition was not known.
Upon the announcement of Basil Assad's death, Syria went into national mourning. Syrians crowded into the streets near Assad University Hospital, where his body was taken. Church bells were rung around the country and bars stopped serving alcohol.
Regular programming was canceled on both Syrian television stations, which instead broadcast readings from the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at various
mosques around Damascus.
The television newscaster, a woman usually dressed in stylish European fashions, appeared on the nightly broadcast wearing black with a black scarf draped over her head. Half the newscast was devoted to Basil Assad, his military and educational awards and his triumphs as an equestrian champion.
The mourning also extended to Lebanon, where Syria is the main power.
Lebanese President Elias Hrawi canceled all his appointments through tomorrow, and the Lebanese government ordered that radio stations broadcast only classical music and news updates for the next three days.
Hrawi, Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri gathered at the presidential palace near Beirut and were expected to arrive in Damascus to pay respects.
A funeral was scheduled after noon prayers today in the Assads' home town, Kardahah, in northwest Syria.