بشار حافظ الأسد
|President of Syria|
17 July 2000
|Preceded by||Abdul Halim Khaddam (Acting)|
|Regional Secretary of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch|
24 June 2000
|Preceded by||Hafez al-Assad|
|Member of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch|
21 June 2000
|Born||Bashar Hafez al-Assad
11 September 1965
|Political party||Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party|
|National Progressive Front|
|Alma mater||Damascus University|
|Service/branch||Syrian Armed Forces|
|Years of service||1988–|
|Unit||Republican Guard (until 2000)|
|Commands||Syrian Armed Forces
|Battles/wars||Syrian Civil War (2011–)|
Bashar Hafez al-Assad (Arabic: بشار حافظ الأسد Baššār Ḥāfiẓ al-ʾAsad, pronunciation (help·info)Levantine pronunciation: [baʃˈʃaːr ˈħaːfezˤ elˈʔasad]; born 11 September 1965) is the President of Syria, General Secretary of the Ba'ath Party and Regional Secretary of the party's branch in Syria. He has served as President since 2000, when he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, who led Syria for 30 years until his death.
Assad graduated from the medical school of Damascus University in 1988, and started to work as a physician in the army. Four years later, he attended postgraduate studies at the Western Eye Hospital, in London, specializing in ophthalmology. In 1994, after his elder brother Bassel was killed in a car crash, Bashar was recalled to Syria to take over Bassel's role as heir apparent. He entered the military academy, taking charge of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 1998. In December 2000, Assad married Asma Assad, born Akhras. Assad was reconfirmed by the national electorate as President of Syria in 2000 and 2007, after the People's Council of Syria had voted to propose the incumbent uncontested each time. The Assad government has described itself as secular, while experts have contended that the government exploits ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country to remain in power.
Initially seen by the domestic and international community as a potential reformer, this expectation ceased after the short lived 2001 Damascus Spring. In 2011, a series of crackdowns and military sieges on Arab Spring protesters lead to the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian opposition, the United States, Canada, the European Union and the majority of the Arab League have subsequently called for al-Assad's resignation from the presidency. During the Syrian Civil War, Assad was personally implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity by the United Nations, and was the top of a list of individuals indicted for the greatest responsibility in war crimes for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. In late April 2014, Assad announced he would run for a third term in Syria's first multi-candidate direct presidential election in decades, amid serious concerns by the European Union, the United States and other countries regarding the legitimacy of this vote and the effect it will have on peace talks with the Syrian Opposition. He was sworn in for his third seven-year term, on July 16, 2014, in the presidential palace in Damascus.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Rise to power
- 3 Presidency: 2000–present
- 4 Syrian Civil War
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Honours and awards
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus on 11 September 1965, the son of Aniseh and Hafez al-Assad. His father, born to a poor family of Alawite background, rose through the Ba'ath Party ranks to take control of the Syrian branch of the Party in the 1970 Corrective Revolution, culminating in his rise to the Syrian presidency. Hafez al-Assad promoted his supporters within the Ba'ath Party, many of whom were of also Alawite background. His last name in Arabic means "the lion".
Unlike his brothers, Bassel and Maher, and sister, Bushra, Bashar was quiet and reserved and says that he lacked interest in politics or the military; he was said to have been bullied by his older brother Bassel. The Assad children reportly rarely saw their father, and Bashar later stated that he only entered his father's office once while he was in power and he never spoke about politics with him. He received his primary and secondary education in the Arab-French al-Hurriya School in Damascus. In 1982, he graduated from high school and went on to study medicine at Damascus University.
In 1988, Assad graduated from medical school and began working as an army doctor in the biggest military hospital, "Tishrin", on the outskirts of Damascus. Four years later, he went to the United Kingdom to begin postgraduate training in ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital, part of the St Mary's group of teaching hospitals in London. Bashar at the time had few political aspirations. His father had been grooming Bashar's older brother Bassel as the future president, but he never declared this intent. Bashar, however, was recalled in 1994 to the Syrian Army, after Bassel's death in a car accident.
Rise to power
Soon after the death of Bassel, Hafez Assad made the decision to make Bashar the new heir-apparent. Over the next six and half years, until his death in 2000, Hafez went about systematically preparing Bashar for taking over power. Preparations for a smooth transition were made on three levels. First, support was built up for Bashar in the military and security apparatus. Second, Bashar's image was established with the public. And lastly, Bashar was familiarized with the mechanisms of running the country.
To establish his credentials in the military, Bashar entered in 1994 the military academy at Homs, north of Damascus, and was propelled through the ranks to become a colonel in January 1999. To establish a power base for Bashar in the military, old divisional commanders were pushed into retirement, and new, young, Alawite officers with loyalties to him took their place.
Parallel to his military career, Bashar was engaged in public affairs. He was granted wide powers and became a political adviser to President Hafez al-Assad, head of the bureau to receive complaints and appeals of citizens, and led a campaign against corruption. As a result of his campaign against corruption, Bashar was able to remove his potential rivals for president.
In 1998, Bashar took charge of Syria's Lebanon file, which had since the 1970s been handled by Vice President Abdul Khaddam, one of the few Sunni officials in the Assad government, who had until then been a potential contender for president. By taking charge of Syrian affairs in Lebanon, Bashar was able to push Khaddam aside and establish his own power base in Lebanon. In that same year after minor consultation with Lebanese politicians, Bashar installed Emile Lahoud, a loyal ally of his, as the President of Lebanon and pushed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri aside, by not placing his political weight behind his nomination as prime minister.
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On 27 May 2007, Bashar was approved as president for another seven-year term, with the official result of 97.6% of the votes in a referendum without another candidate.
In his foreign policy, Assad is an outspoken critic of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Until he became president, Assad was not greatly involved in politics; his only public role was head of the Syrian Computer Society, which introduced the Internet to Syria in 2001. Al-Assad was confirmed as president by an unopposed referendum in 2000. He was expected to take a more liberal approach than his father.
Immediately after he took office a reform movement made cautious advances during the Damascus Spring, which led al-Assad to shut down Mezzeh prison and declare a wide ranging amnesty releasing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated political prisoners. However, security crackdowns commenced again within the year.
Industry in parts of the country that are still regime held are heavily state-controlled, with economic liberalization being reversed during the Syrian Civil War. Economic sanctions (the Syria Accountability Act) were applied long before the Syrian Civil War by the United States.
As a result of the Syrian Civil War a war economy has developed in Syria:
"The Syrian economy lies in ruins. Assets and infrastructure have been destroyed, half of the population lives below the poverty line, and the human development index has fallen back to where it stood 37 years ago. It is estimated that even with average annual growth rate of 5 percent it would take nearly 30 years to recover Syria’s 2010 GDP value."—Jihad Yazigi
A United Nations commissioned report by the The Syrian Centre for Policy Research states that two thirds of the Syrian population now lives in "extreme poverty". In October 2014 a $50 million mall opened in Tartous provoked criticism from regime supports, and was seen as part of the Assad regime's policy of attempting to project a sense of normalcy throughout the civil war.
A 2007 law required internet cafes to record all the comments users post on chat forums. Websites such as Wikipedia Arabic, YouTube and Facebook were blocked intermittently between 2008 and February 2011.
Human Rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have detailed how Assads's government and secret police routinely tortured, imprisoned, and killed political opponents, and those who speak out against the government. Since 2006 it expanded the use of travel bans against dissidents. In that regard, Syria is the worst offender among Arab states.
In an interview with ABC News in 2007 he stated: "We don't have such [things as] political prisoners," yet the New York Times reported the arrest of 30 political prisoners in Syria in December 2007.[who?] Foreign Policy magazine editorialized on his position in the wake of the 2011 protests:
- "During its decades of rule... the Assad family developed a strong political safety net by firmly integrating the military into the government. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, seized power after rising through the ranks of the Syrian armed forces, during which time he established a network of loyal Alawites by installing them in key posts. In fact, the military, ruling elite, and ruthless secret police are so intertwined that it is now impossible to separate the Assad government from the security establishment.... So... the government and its loyal forces have been able to deter all but the most resolute and fearless oppositional activists. In this respect, the situation in Syria is to a certain degree comparable to Saddam Hussein’s strong Sunni minority rule in Iraq."
||This section of a biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2013)|
The Middle East Quarterly noted that "As in the case of Iraq, there are lingering questions of Syrian payments to French politicians. Many French politicians join associations and charitable boards both for financial and political gain."[clarification needed]
The United States, European Union, the March 14 Alliance, Israel, and France accuse Assad of providing practical support to militant groups active against Israel and against opposition political groups. The latter category would include most political parties other than Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, Assad claimed the United States could benefit from the Syrian experience in fighting organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood at the Hama Massacre.
Assad opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite a long-standing animosity between the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Assad used Syria's seat in one of rotating positions on the United Nations Security Council to try to prevent the invasion of Iraq. Following the Iraq invasion by US and allied forces, Assad was accused of supporting the Shia insurgency in Iraq. A US general accused him of providing funding, logistics, and training to Iraqi and foreign Shia fundamentalists to launch attacks against U.S. and allied forces occupying Iraq.
Assad argued that Syria's gradual withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, beginning in 2000, was precipitated as a result of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and ended in May 2005.
Assad met with U.S. scientists and policy leaders during a science diplomacy visit in 2009 and he expressed interest in building research universities and using science and technology to promote innovation and economic growth.
Involvement in Lebanon
Despite gaining re-election in 2007, Assad’s position was considered by some to have been weakened by the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon following the Cedar Revolution in 2005. There has also been pressure from the U.S. concerning claims that Syria is linked to terrorist networks, exacerbated by Syrian condemnation of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah military leader, in Damascus in 2008. Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majeed stated that, "Syria, which condemns this cowardly terrorist act, expresses condolences to the martyr family and to the Lebanese people.”
In April 2008, Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. This was confirmed in May 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As well as a peace treaty, the future of the Golan Heights is being discussed. Assad was quoted in The Guardian as telling the Qatari paper:
... there would be no direct negotiations with Israel until a new US president takes office. The US was the only party qualified to sponsor any direct talks, [Assad] told the paper, but added that the Bush administration "does not have the vision or will for the peace process. It does not have anything."
According to leaked American cables, Assad called Hamas an "uninvited guest" and said "If you want me to be effective and active, I have to have a relationship with all parties. Hamas is Muslim Brotherhood, but we have to deal with the reality of their presence," comparing Hamas to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood which was crushed by his father Hafez al-Assad. He then claimed Hamas would disappear if peace was brought to the Middle East.
Assad has indicated that the peace treaty that he envisions would not be the same kind of peace treaty Israel has with Egypt where there is a legal border crossing and open trade. In a 2006 interview with Charlie Rose, Assad said "There is a big difference between talking about a peace treaty and peace. A peace treaty is like a permanent ceasefire. There's no war, maybe you have an embassy, but you actually won’t have trade, you won't have normal relations because people will not be sympathetic to this relation as long as they are sympathetic with the Palestinians: half a million who live in Syria and half a million in Lebanon and another few millions in other Arab countries."
During the visit of Pope John Paul II to Syria in 2001, Assad requested an apology to Muslims for the medieval Crusades and criticised Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Comparing their suffering to that endured by Jesus Christ in Palestine, Assad claimed that followers of Judaism "tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad." Responding to claims that his comment was antisemitic, Assad said that whereas Judaism is a racially heterogeneous religion, the Syrian people are the core of the Semitic race and therefore are opposed to the term antisemitism. When offered to retract his comment implying that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' suffering, Assad replied, "As always, these are historical facts that we cannot deny," and stressed that his remarks were not anti-Jewish. In February 2011, Bashar backed an initiative to restore 10 synagogues in Syria, which had a Jewish community numbering 30,000 in 1947 but has only 200 Jews today.
International public relations
In order to promote their image and media-portrayal overseas, Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad hired American and United Kingdom based PR firms and consultants. Notably, these secured photoshoots for Asma al-Assad with fashion and celebrity magazines. These firms included Bell Pottinger Group and Brown Lloyd James, with the latter being paid $5,000 a month for their services.
At the outset of the Syrian Civil War, Syrian government networks were hacked by the group Anonymous, revealing that an ex-Al Jazeera journalist had been hired to advise Assad on how to manipulate the public opinion of the United States. Among the advice was the suggestion to compare the popular uprising against the government to the Occupy Wall Street protests. In a seperate e-mail leak several months later by the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution, it was revealed that Assad's consultants had coordinated with an Iranian government media advisor.
After the Syrian Civil War began, the Assad regime began a social media campaign which included an online presence on Facebook, YouTube, and most notably Instagram. A Twitter account for Assad was reportedly activated, however it remained unverified. This resulted in much criticism, and was described as "a propaganda campaign that ultimately has made the [Assad] family look worse". The Assad regime has arrested and forced disappeared pro-regime activists for creating Facebook groups that the regime disproved of, as well as appealed directly to Twitter to remove accounts it disliked. The social media campaign as well as the previously leaked e-mails lead to comparisons with Hannah Arendt's A Report on the Banality of Evil.
In the Summer of 2014, the Syrian Ministry of Defense provided photos to the Material Evidence. Syria. Ukraine exhibition that took place in Berlin and New York City, a self described "photo journalism" exhibition critical of democracy efforts in Ukraine and Syria that sought to ask questions such as "Who is taking advantage of the Syrian war and of what happened to this country?”.
In October 2014, images from some 27,000 photographs of torture committed by the Assad regime and smuggled out of the country by a Syrian Army defector during the Syrian Civil war were put on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Al Qaeda and ISIS
Assad's relationship with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State has been subject to much attention. Terrorism expert Peter Neumann has stated that "In the years that preceded the uprising, Assad and his intelligence services took the view that jihad could be nurtured and manipulated to serve the Syrian government’s aims". During the Iraq War, the Assad regime was accused of training jihadis and facilitating their passage into Iraq, with these infiltration routes remaining active until the Syrian Civil War; US general Jack Keane has stated that “Al Qaeda fighters who are back in Syria, I am confident, they are relying on much they learned in moving through Syria into Iraq for more than five years when they were waging war against the U.S. and Iraq Security Assistance Force". Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki threatened Assad with an international tribunal over the matter, and ultimately lead to the 2008 Abu Kamal raid and United States airstrikes within Syria during the Iraq War.
During the Syrian Civil War, multiple parties in the conflict have accused Assad of collusion with the Islamic State to some degree. Several sources have claimed that ISIS prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The Assad regime has bought oil directly from both ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front. United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Assad regime has tactically avoided Islamic State forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army, as well as "even purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIS] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them". The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Assad regime has operatives inside ISIS, as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham. ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Assad regime operatives.
The U.K.’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant concluded at the outset of the American-led coalition intervention in Syria that “ISIS is a monster that the Frankenstein of Assad has largely created”. French President Francois Hollande stated regarding the airstrikes, "Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism, he is the de facto ally of jihadists".
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi disputes such assertions, arguing that "ISIS has a record of fighting the regime on multiple fronts", many rebel factions have engaged in oil sales to the Syrian government because it is "now largely dependent on Iraqi oil imports via Lebanese and Egyptian third-party intermediaries", and while "the regime is focusing its airstrikes [on areas] where it has some real expectations of advancing" claims that it "has not hit ISIS strongholds" are "untrue". He concluded: "Attempting to prove an ISIS-regime conspiracy without any conclusive evidence is unhelpful, because it draws attention away from the real reasons why ISIS grew and gained such prominence: namely, rebel groups tolerated ISIS."
The Syrian Arab Army and other loyalist forces clashed most recently with ISIS forces at the strategic battle of Tabqa Military Airbase, where ISIS won.
Syrian Civil War
Protests in Syria started on 26 January 2011. Protesters called for political reforms and the re-instatement of civil rights, as well as an end to the state of emergency which had been in place since 1963. One attempt at a "day of rage" was set for 4–5 February, though it ended uneventfully. Protests on 18–19 March were the largest to take place in Syria for decades and the Syrian authority responded with violence against its protesting citizens.
On 18 May 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an Executive order putting into effect sanctions against Assad in an effort to pressure his government "to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people." The sanctions effectively freeze any of the Syrian President's assets either in the United States proper or within U.S. jurisdiction. On 23 May 2011, EU Foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to add Assad and nine other officials to a list affected by travel bans and asset freezes. On 24 May 2011, Canada imposed sanctions on Syrian leaders, including Assad.
On 20 June, in a speech lasting nearly an hour, in response to the demands of protesters and foreign pressure, Assad promised a national dialogue involving movement toward reform, new parliamentary elections, and greater freedoms. He also urged refugees to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty and blaming all unrest on a small number of saboteurs.
In August, Syrian security forces attacked the country's best-known political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, a noted critic of Syria's government and its five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and dissent. Relatives of the severely beaten humorist told Western media that the attackers threatened to break Farzat's bones as a warning for him to stop drawing cartoons of government officials, particularly Assad. Farzat was hospitalized with fractures in both hands and blunt force trauma to the head.
By the end of January 2012, it was reported that over 5,000 civilians and protesters (including armed militants) had been killed by the Syrian army, militia (Shabiha) and security agents, while 1,100 people had been killed by the anti-government forces.
On 10 January 2012, Assad gave a speech in which he accused the uprising of being plotted by foreign countries and claimed that "victory [was] near". He also said that the Arab League, by suspending Syria, revealed that it was no longer Arab. However, Assad also said the country would not "close doors" to an Arab-brokered solution if "national sovereignty" was respected. He also said a referendum on a new constitution could be held in March.
On 27 February, Syria claimed that a referendum on an update to the nation's constitution, hailed as 'a showpiece of reform' received 90% support. The referendum imposes a fourteen-year cumulative term limit for the president of Syria. The referendum has been claimed as meaningless by foreign nations including the US and Turkey, and the European Union announced fresh sanctions against key government figures. On 16 July 2012, Russia voicing concern at the blackmail on Syria by the western nations, laid to rest any speculations that it was distancing itself from Assad. Moscow also vowed not to allow a UN resolution pass that aims at sanctions against Syria.
On 15 July 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross had officially declared Syria to be in a state of civil war, as the nationwide death toll for all sides was reported to have neared 20,000.
On 6 January 2013, Assad, in his first major speech since June, said that the conflict in his country was due to "enemies" outside of Syria who would "go to Hell" and that they would "be taught a lesson". However he said that he was still open to a political solution saying that failed attempts at a solution "does not mean we are not interested in a political solution."
After the fall of four regime military bases in September 2014, which were the last regime footholds in Raqqa province, Assad received significant criticism from his Alawite base of support. This included remarks and symbolic gestures made by Douraid al-Assad, cousin of Bashar al-Assad, demanding the resignation of the Syrian Defence Minister following the massacre by the Islamic State of hundreds of regime troops captured after the ISIS victory at Tabqa Air base. This was shortly followed by Alawite protests in Homs demanding the resignation of the governor, and the dismissal of Assad's cousin Hafez Makhlouf from his security position leading to his subsequent exile to Belarus. Figures close to the Assad regime have begun voicing concerns regarding the likelihood of its survival, with one recently stating; “I don’t see the current situation as sustainable ... I think Damascus will collapse at some point."
Assad speaks fluent English and basic conversational French, having studied at the Franco-Arab al-Hurriyah school in Damascus. In December 2000, Assad married Asma Assad, née Akhras, a British citizen of Syrian origin, from Acton, London. On 3 December 2001, they became the parents of their first-born child, named Hafez after the child's grandfather Hafez al-Assad. Zein was born on 5 November 2003, and Karim on 16 December 2004. Assad resides in the Presidential Palace.
Honours and awards
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- Bashar Al-Assad (Major World Leaders) by Susan Muaddi Darraj, (June 2005, Chelsea House Publications) ISBN 0-7910-8262-8 for young adults
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Bashar al-Assad|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bashar al-Assad.|
- Official website
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- Bashar al-Assad at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about Bashar al-Assad in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Bashar al-Assad collected news and commentary at Al Jazeera English
- Bashar al-Assad collected news and commentary at The Guardian
- Bashar al-Assad collected news and commentary at Ha'aretz
- Bashar al-Assad collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Bashar al-Assad at the Notable Names Database
- Profile at the LookLex Encyclopedia
- Unofficial website
- Syria’s Proxy Forces in Iraq, Al-Hayat (London), 12 April 2003 at Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
- Profile: Syria's Bashar al-Assad BBC News, 10 March 2005
- Bashar al-Assad's Lebanon Gamble, William Harris, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2005
- Assad on the Brink, David Hirst, The Nation, 21 November 2005
- Syria's Leaders, Esther Pan, Council on Foreign Relations, 10 March 2006
- The Assad Dynasty in Syria: From Father to Son, Kristin Helberg, Deutsche Welle, 2009 at qantara.de
- Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, The Wall Street Journal, 31 January 2011
- Profile: Bashar al-Assad, Al Jazeera English, 25 March 2011
- PBS Interview on YouTube with Charlie Rose, PBS, aired 9 September 2013
- Bashar Al Assad| BY ANNIA CIEZADLO| TNR.com| DECEMBER 19, 2013