Bashar al-Assad has led Syria and the Syrian Ba’ath Party since his father’s death in 2000. Following the death of his brother, Bashar al-Assad was hastily groomed to take the leadership position after his father. Mr. Assad was exposed to westernization, and at the start of his regime, he visualized a modern and prosperous Syria. After years of economic and political reforms not taking shape, a significant population of Syrians are visibly discontent.
5. Early Life, Education, and Military Medical Career -
Bashar al-Assad was born on September 11, 1965, in Damascus Syria, the second son of the former President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, who led the country from 1971 until 2000. He was educated at the Hurriya School in Damascus, and at 14 he became active in the Ba’ath Youth Movement. He joined the College of Medicine at the University of Damascus, and later attended Tishrin military hospital and specialized in ophthalmology. He then left the country for London to pursue a medical residency at the Western Eye Hospital.
4. Rise to Power -
After his brother’s death, Mr. Assad returned to Syria and joined the military academy at Homs, where he rose through the ranks to become a Colonel in 1999. Mr. Assad became a champion for modernization and the internet, and he became the president of the Syrian Computer Society while also leading campaigns against corruption. After his father’s death on June 10, 2000, he was selected unopposed into office, aided by the military, loyalists, and the Ba’ath Party. The Alawite Sect, a secretive Shia sect dominant in Syria’s government, played a significant role in Mr. Assad’s rise to power such as altering the constitution to allow a 34-year-old to be elected President. Assad was re-elected again in 2007 for another 7-year term.
3. Contributions to Syria -
When he took office, Assad promised Syrians a number of reforms, ranging from modernization to fighting corruption. He relaxed government restrictions on freedom of the press and expression and independent newspapers, after more than three decades of being shut, the paper began to the published again. He also ordered the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Mr. Assad attempted economic reforms through forums which brought together technocrats and European advisers. Privatization was however hampered by a corrupt and bureaucratic system of government. The gap between the rich and the poor only seemed to widen, and the economic discontent sowed the seeds for a full-blown civil war in the country.
2. Challenges and Criticisms -
Throughout his term in office, Assad has faced both internal and external opposition. Discontent in Syria is rife, and political opponents abound. Mr. Assad is globally criticized for human rights’ violations in dealing with opposition. Enjoying close ties with the Syrian intelligence and military, Mr. Assad successfully clamped down on opposition. He has routinely been accused of torture, imprisonment, and killing opponents. Protests in Syria began in 2011, inspired by the Arab spring which had swept through Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Protesters agitated for economic reforms, civil rights and an end to the state of emergency. Protests were however met with violence from the regime forces and anti-regime forces subsequently resorted to the use of weaponry. Mr. Assad has also come under global disapproval for the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Mr. Assad remains with only a few allies, notably Russia, as Western forces hail him as a dictator and Syria is increasingly facing sanctions.
1. Current Position in a War-Torn Country -
Syria is in the throes of a full-scale war which has dramatically changed the country’s socioeconomic and cultural landscapes. Territories are either held by the rebel or controlled by the government. Mr. Assad’s forces are in pursuit of recapturing rebel-held areas including Aleppo. Mr. Assad was elected for a third term in 2014 in government-controlled regions, a situation which further intensified the activities of rebel groups. His forces are equipped with heavy artillery, air weaponry, and tankers which cause large-scale damage. Mr. Assad remains critical if peace in Syria is to be realized, amidst global calls for him to resign.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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