Arabic: bashar ‘al-‘assad
(1965-) President of Syria (2000-).
Assad is a politician who got in power much against his own will. Initially, he was not thought of as his father, Hafez al-Assad‘s successor. This was a role originally filled by his brother Basil who died in an accident in 1994. Then Bashar was called back to Syria and was gradually trained to become a politician.
Some reports describe him as not as strong and autocratic as his father (and his late brother). Friends have averred that he is a meek and awkward figure, while others say that he is a nice and friendly person and very polite. He is also reported to be a good listener.
Some say that he is pragmatic and open to modern society’s possibilities. He has also been very successful at making changes in the ranks in Syrian institutions, central in bringing computer technology and Internet access to Syria, as well as facilitating the introduction of mobile telephones.
Bashar has struggled with inherited unresolved international political questions (water quarrels with Turkey, which controls the main sources of river water that streams through Syria; Lebanon, which has difficult relations to what still must be considered Syrian influence; Israel, which continues to occupy the Golan Heights; and a long-lasting animosity with the king of Jordan).
New problems have occurred in his presidency, like the war in Iraq and change of leadership, Syria being accused of facilitating militant groups active in Iraq, and a loss of Syria’s strong control over Lebanon.
Internally, Syria is just as much divided into groups as before. There is the large Sunni majority in the country, there are all the people who are never touched by the nepotism of Hafez al-Assaf’s Syria, there are the Islamists, and then there are all of Bashar’s own enemies. Bashar has been quite effective in removing old officers from the ranks in the Syrian army.
Still, it is a fact that Bashar must not destroy the basis for his power, which are his father’s closest allies and the Alawite society. This is probably the major impediment to the democratization of Syrian politics and economics.
Prior to becoming president, Bashar made himself well-known for some campaigns, like dealing with the introduction of different consumer technologies.
The most respect, however, he earned from his anti-corruption campaign, which resulted in the fall of several leading personalities in the Syrian society, like former prime minister Mahmoud Zoubi. He has also declared that he will lift restrictions that have hindered Syrian media from employing the slightest form of critical journalism.
He also acted as the personal representative for his father, when meeting with Jacques Chirac of France and Emile Lahoud of Lebanon.
1965 September 11: Born in Damascus as a son of the commander of the Syrian Air Force, Hafez al-Assad.
1980’s: Bashar moves to London, United Kingdom, to study ophthalmology.
1994 February: As his brother, Basil dies, Bashar returns to Syria. Although no one expects him to become Hafez’s successor, he takes over Basil’s position as commander of the Syrian army’s armored division. Bashar uses this position to remove several of the old officers and possible enemies.
1999: Bashar is appointed colonel, and becomes more involved in the state’s affairs.
2000 June 10: The same day as Hafez al-Assad dies, the People’s Assembly alters the constitution so that Syria’s president can be 34 (contrary to 40 earlier). The two top committees of the ruling party meet, and nominate Bashar for the presidency and declare his commander-in-chief.
— June 25: The parliament nominates him for the presidency.
— July 10: Bashar is elected president from a referendum.