Who is Bashar al-Assad?
Bashar al-Assad is the current President of Syria; he is in the office since 2000. The second son of former President Hafez al-Assad, he has continued the legacy of his father's brutal rule of Syria. Never the first choice to succeed his father, he was studying ophthalmology in London when his older brother and heir apparent, Bassel, was killed in a car accident. Despite his lack of military and political experience, he was immediately called back to Syria, where he was groomed to take his brother’s place. He was enrolled in the military academy and intensively trained to succeed his father. He came into power in 2000 after the death of his father. Although his early initiatives contributed to a brief period of relative openness, his regime changed course within months, using threats and arrests to extinguish pro-reform activism. In recent years his government faced a major uprising in Syria that evolved into a civil war, and despite international protests, he has continued to demonstrate tremendous disregard for human life in his efforts to hold onto power. In spite of promising to be a transformational figure who would propel Syria into the 21st century, he failed, and has instead followed in the footsteps of his father.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on September 11, 1965, in Damascus, Syria, to Hafez al-Assad, and his wife, Aniseh. He is the second son among the five children of his parents. His father was a politician who eventually rose to become the President of Syria. He had an older brother, Bassel, who later died in a car accident.
He received his early education from the ‘Arab-French al Hurriya School’ in Damascus. After graduating from high school he enrolled to study medicine at the University of Damascus in 1982.
After completing his graduation, he served for four years as an army doctor at the ‘Tishrin’ military hospital. In 1992, he traveled to Western Eye Hospital in London, England, to obtain a post graduate degree in ophthalmology.
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In 1994, his elder brother, Bassel—his father’s heir apparent—was killed in a car accident. Bashar was summoned to Damascus by his father, Hafez, who systematically started preparing Bashar for succeeding him as the President of Syria.
He entered the military academy at Homs, and was quickly promoted through the ranks to become a colonel in just five years. During this time, he served as an advisor to his father, hearing complaints and appeals from citizens, and also led a campaign against corruption.
On June 10, 2000, Hafez died and a few days later, Bashar was elected for a seven-year term as the President of Syria. He was also chosen to be the leader of the Ba'ath Party and ‘Commander-in- Chief’ of the military.
In his first year as president, he promised to reform the corrupt government of Syria, and spoke of moving his country towards modernisation.
At the end of his first year as president, many of his promised economic reforms were yet to materialize. The largely corrupt government bureaucracy made it difficult for the private sector to emerge, and he seemed incapable of making the necessary systemic changes.
He maintained his father’s firm stance in Syria’s decades-long conflict with Israel, allegedly giving support to Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups. For nearly a decade, he successfully suppressed internal dissention, due mostly to the close relationship between the Syrian military and intelligence agencies.
In 2007, he was re-elected by a nearly unanimous majority for a second term as president. His critics and opponents alleged that the elections were rigged.
In January 2011, following the pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, protests began in Syria, demanding political reforms, a reinstatement of civil rights and an end to the state of emergency, which had been in place since 1963.
In May 2011, the Syrian military retorted with violent protests in the town of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus. The following month, he promised a national dialogue and new parliamentary elections, but no change came, and the protests continued.
By the late 2011, many countries called for his resignation and the Arab League suspended Syria, which forced the Syrian government to agree to allow Arab observers into the country.
In 2013, his government used chemical weapons against civilians which resulted in the deaths of hundreds including women and children. It prompted a debate among some Western countries over what steps should be taken against him and his regime.
Even today, the conflict continues with daily reports of the killing of scores of civilians by government forces, and counter-claims by the al-Assad regime of the killings being staged.
With rebels and government troops seemingly locked in a bloody deadlock and security conditions deteriorating day by day, his public appearances have become increasingly rare and consist mainly of staged events to rally troops and civilian supporters.
Personal Life & Legacy
In December 2000, he married Asma Assad, a British woman of Syrian origin from London. The couple is blessed with three children; Hafez, Zein and Karim.