Bashar al-Assad

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Bashar al-Assad
بشار حافظ الأسد
Bashar al-Assad (cropped).jpg
President of Syria
Incumbent
Assumed office
17 July 2000
Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Mero
Muhammad Naji al-Otari
Adel Safar
Riyad Farid Hijab
Omar Ibrahim Ghalawanji
Wael Nader al-Halqi
Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam
Zuhair Masharqa
Farouk al-Sharaa
Najah al-Attar
Preceded by Abdul Halim Khaddam (Acting)
Regional Secretary of the Regional Command of the Syrian Regional Branch
Incumbent
Assumed office
24 June 2000
Deputy Sulayman Qaddah
Mohammed Saeed Bekheitan
Hilal Hilal
Leader Abdullah al-Ahmar
Preceded by Hafez al-Assad
Personal details
Born Bashar Hafez al-Assad
(1965-09-11) 11 September 1965 (age 49)
Damascus, Syria
Political party Syrian Ba'ath Party
Other political
affiliations
National Progressive Front
Spouse(s) Asma al-Assad
Children Hafez
Zein
Karim
Alma mater Damascus University
Religion Shia Islam (Alawite)
Website Official website
Military service
Allegiance  Syria
Service/branch Syrian Armed Forces
Years of service 1988–present
Rank Syria-Mushir.jpg Marshal
Unit Republican Guard (Before 2000)
Commands Syrian Armed Forces
Battles/wars Syrian Civil War

Bashar Hafez al-Assad (Arabic: بشار حافظ الأسدBaššār Ḥāfiẓ al-ʾAsad, About this sound pronunciation  Levantine pronunciation: [baʃˈʃaːr ˈħaːfezˤ elˈʔasad]; born 11 September 1965)[1] is the President of Syria, commander-in-chief of Syrian Armed Forces, General Secretary of the ruling 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 doctor 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.[2][3] The form of government Assad presides over is an authoritarian regime.[4] The Assad regime has described itself as secular,[5] while experts have contended that the regime exploits ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country to remain in power.[6][7] The regime's narrow sectarian base relying upon the Alawite minority has also been noted.[8]

Initially seen by the domestic and international community as a potential reformer,[9] this expectation ceased when Assad ordered mass crackdowns and military sieges on Arab Spring protesters, leading to the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian opposition, the United States, Canada, the European Union and the majority of the Arab League have called for al-Assad's resignation from the presidency.[10][11] During the Syrian Civil War, Assad was personally implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity by the United Nations,[12] and was the top of a list of individuals indicted for the greatest responsibility in war crimes for prosecution by the International Criminal Court.[13] In November 2014, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced that evidence would be brought against Assad.[14] In January 2015, it was reported that 200,000 political prisoners were in jail in Syria for opposing the Assad regime.[15] 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.[16][17] He was sworn in for his third seven-year term, on July 16, 2014, in the presidential palace in Damascus.[18]

Early life[edit]

Childhood and education: 1965–1988[edit]

Further information: Al-Assad family

Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus on 11 September 1965, the second oldest son of Aniseh and Hafez al-Assad.[19] His last name in Arabic means "the lion"; Assad's peasant paternal grandfather had changed the family name from Wahhish (meaning "Savage") when acquiring minor noble status in 1927.[20] His father, born to an impoverished rural 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.[21] Hafez al-Assad promoted his supporters within the Ba'ath Party, many of whom were also of Alawite background.[19][22] After the coup, Alawite strongmen were installed and Sunni, Druze and Ismailis individuals were systematically arrested and purged from the army and Ba'ath party.[23]

Assad has five siblings, three of whom are deceased. A sister named Bushra died in infancy.[24] Assad's youngest brother, Majd al-Assad, was not a public figure and virtually nothing is known about him other than he was mentally or emotionally disabled,[25] and according to SANA he died in 2009 after a "long illness".[26] 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,[27] and the Assad regime's personality cult focused on Bassel prior to his death.[25] Bashar was said to have been bullied by his older brother Bassel.[28] The Assad children reportedly rarely saw their father,[29] 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.[30] Psychologists have noted that Assad grew up in an unhealthy environment, and his predisposition for violence stems from his early childhood development and family.[31] He received his primary and secondary education in the Arab-French al-Hurriya School in Damascus.[27] In 1982, he graduated from high school and went on to study medicine at Damascus University.[32]

Medicine: 1988–1994[edit]

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.[33][34] 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.[35] Bashar at the time had few political aspirations.[36] His father had been grooming Bashar's older brother Bassel as the future president.[37] Bashar, however, was recalled in 1994 to the Syrian Army, after Bassel's death in a car accident.

Rise to power: 1994–2000[edit]

The Al-Assad family around 1994. At the front are Hafez al-Assad and his wife, Anisa. At the back row, from left to right: Maher (commander of the Republican Guard), Bashar, Bassel, Majid, and Bushra

Soon after the death of Bassel, Hafez Assad made the decision to make Bashar the new heir-apparent.[38] 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.[39]

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.[33][40][41] 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.[42]

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.[33]

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 regime, who had until then been a potential contender for president.[42] By taking charge of Syrian affairs in Lebanon, Bashar was able to push Khaddam aside and establish his own power base in Lebanon.[43] 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.[44]

To further weaken the old Syrian order in Lebanon, Bashar replaced the long serving de facto Syrian High Commissioner of Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, with Rustum Ghazali.[45]

Presidency[edit]

Damascus Spring and pre-Civil War: 2000–2011[edit]

Coat of arms of Syria.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Syria

Immediately after Assad took office a reform movement made cautious advances during the Damascus Spring, which led to the shut down of Mezzeh prison and the declaration of a wide ranging amnesty releasing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated political prisoners.[46] However, security crackdowns commenced again within the year.[47][48] The New York Times reported that soon after Assad assumed power, he "made Syria’s link with Hezbollah — and its patrons in Tehran — the central component of his security doctrine.[49]"

In 2005, the former prime minister of Lebanon was assassinated. The Christian Science Monitor reported that "Syria was widely blamed for Hariri’s murder. In the months leading to the assassination, relations between Hariri and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plummeted amid an atmosphere of threats and intimidation.[50]" The BBC reported in December 2005: "New Hariri report 'blames Syria.[51]'"

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.[52]

In his foreign policy, Assad is an outspoken critic of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.[53] 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.

Syrian Civil War: 2011–Present[edit]

Main article: Syrian Civil War
Protests in Douma, a Damascus suburb, 8 April 2011

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.[54] One attempt at a "day of rage" was set for 4–5 February, though it ended uneventfully.[55] 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.[56]

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 regime "to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people."[57] The sanctions effectively freeze any of the Syrian President's assets either in the United States proper or within U.S. jurisdiction.[58] 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.[59] On 24 May 2011, Canada imposed sanctions on Syrian leaders, including Assad.[60]

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.[61] Assad blamed the unrest on "conspiracies" and accused the Syrian opposition and protestors of "fitna", breaking with the Syrian Ba'ath Party's strict tradition of secularism.[62]

Destroyed vehicles on an Aleppo street in 2012.

In August, Syrian security forces attacked the country's best-known political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, a noted critic of Assad's regime 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.[63][64]

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-regime forces.[65]

Pro-Assad demonstration in Lattakia, 2011

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.[66]

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 regime figures.[67] 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.[68]

On 15 July 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross had officially declared Syria to be in a state of civil war,[69] as the nationwide death toll for all sides was reported to have neared 20,000.[70]

Assad gave several TV interviews during the Syrian crisis, appearing on Syria TV, Addounia TV, Syrian News Channel, RT, Russia-24, Fox News, ABC, ARD and Ulusal Kanal.

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."[71][72]

After the fall of four regime military bases in September 2014,[73] which were the last government footholds in Raqqa province, Assad received significant criticism from his Alawite base of support.[74] 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.[75] This was shortly followed by Alawite protests in Homs demanding the resignation of the governor,[76] and the dismissal of Assad's cousin Hafez Makhlouf from his security position leading to his subsequent exile to Belarus.[77] Growing resentment towards Assad among Alawites is fuelled by the disproportionate number of soldiers killed in fighting hailing from Alawite areas,[78] a sense that the Assad regime has abandoned them,[79] as well as the failing economic situation exacerbated by government corruption.[80] 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."[73]

After a 20 January 2015 interview with Foreign Policy, the editor who conducted the interview, Jonathan Tepperman, told NPR that Assad "voiced untruths with confidence", and questioned “whether [Assad] is a spectacularly competent liar and this was all being done for domestic consumption, in which case he’s merely a sociopath, or he really believes what he’s saying. This is like Hitler in his bunker when the Russians were an hour outside Berlin".[81] Tepperman further stated that he believed a political compromise with Assad was impossible, as Assad remains as "unrepentant and inflexible" as when the Syrian Civil War began and is convinced he is winning the war militarily despite "seem[ing] to have no idea how badly the war is going".[82]

Several members of the Assad family who were once considered untouchable have died in Latakia under unclear circumstances.[83] On 14 March 2015, an influential cousin of Bashar Assad and founder of the shabiha, Mohammed Toufic Assad, was assassinated with five bullets to the head in a dispute over influence in Qardaha. The village is the ancestral home of the Assad family, and the cousin had been previously injured in a dispute in 2012, raising questions about the Assad family's influence in the pro regime bastion.[84] In April 2015 Assad ordered the arrest of his cousin Munther al-Assad in Alzirah, Lattakia.[85]

Syria under Bashar Assad's rule[edit]

Economy[edit]

As a result of the Syrian Civil War, "government-controlled Syria is truncated in size, battered and impoverished".[86] Economic sanctions (the Syria Accountability Act) were applied long before the Syrian Civil War by the United States, and were joined by the European Union and other countries at the outbreak of the civil war, causing the regime to slowly disintegrate.[87] These sanctions were reinforced in October 2014 by the EU and US.[88][89] Industry in parts of the country that are still Assad regime held is heavily state-controlled, with economic liberalization being reversed during the current conflict.[90] The London School of Economics has stated that as a result of the Syrian Civil War, a war economy has developed in Syria.[91]

A 2014 European Council on Foreign Relations report found that:

"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[92]

A United Nations commissioned report by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research states that two thirds of the Syrian population now lives in "extreme poverty".[93] Unemployment stands at 50 percent.[94] In October 2014 a $50 million mall opened in Tartus provoked criticism from regime supporters, and was seen as part of the Assad regime's policy of attempting to project a sense of normalcy throughout the civil war.[95] A regime policy to give preference to families of slain soldiers for government jobs was cancelled after it caused an uproar,[78] while rising fuel prices and corruption caused protests in regime controlled areas.[80] In December 2014 the EU banned sales of jet fuel to the Assad regime, forcing the regime to buy more expensive uninsured jet fuel shipments in future.[96]

Economic ties with ISIL[edit]

Since 2014, the Assad regime has bought oil directly from ISIL.[97] A business man operating in both regime and ISIL controlled territory has stated; “Honestly speaking, the regime has always had dealings with ISIS, out of necessity.”[98] Rising fuel prices were exacerbated by the airstrikes of the American-led intervention in Syria on ISIS controlled oil fields, as the Assad regime was no longer able to buy oil from ISIS at favorable rates, thus forcing the regime further into survival mode.[94]

No longer able to directly purchase oil from ISIL, the regime now relies on a network of middle men, with oil workers in ISIL held areas remaining on the payrole of the Syrian Oil Ministry. George Haswan—a Syrian-Greek citizen and owner of HESCO, one of the largest engineering companies operating in Syria—has direct access to Assad and negotiates oil and gas contracts between the Assad regime and ISIL.[99] As a result of further EU economic sanctions in March 2015, it came to light that the Assad regime and ISIL joinly run a HESCO gas plant in Tabqa, central Syria. The facility continues to supply regime held areas, and electricity continues to be supplied to ISIL held areas from regime power plants.[100]

Human rights[edit]

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text 'God protects Syria' on the old city wall of Damascus in 2006

A 2007 law required internet cafes to record all the comments users post on chat forums.[101] Websites such as Wikipedia Arabic, YouTube and Facebook were blocked intermittently between 2008 and February 2011.[102][103][104]

Human Rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have detailed how the Assads regime's secret police routinely tortured, imprisoned, and killed political opponents, and those who speak out against the regime.[105][106] Since 2006 it expanded the use of travel bans against dissidents. In that regard, Syria is the worst offender among Arab states.[107] The Syrian mukhabarat is Alawite dominated.[108]

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 Syrian political dissidents who were organizing a joint opposition front in December 2007, with 3 members of this group considered to be opposition leaders being remanded in custody.[109] Foreign Policy magazine editorialized on his position in the wake of the 2011 protests:[110]

"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."

In 2010, Syria banned face veils at universities.[111][112] Following the uprising against Assad rule in 2011, Assad partially relaxed the veil ban.[113]

The FBI has said that at least 10 European citizens were tortured by the Assad regime while detained during the Syrian Civil War, potentially leaving Assad open to prosecution by individual European countries for war crimes committed under his rule.[114] Stephen Rapp, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, has argued that Assad's crimes are the worst seen since those of Nazi Germany.[115] In March 2015, Rapp further stated that the case against Syrian President Bashar Assad is "much better" than those against Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia or Charles Taylor of Liberia, both of whom were indicted by international tribunals.[116]

In a February 2015 interview with the BBC, Assad described the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian Arab Air Force as "childish", claiming that his forces have never used these types of bombs and responding with a joke about not using "cooking pots" either.[117] The BBC Middle East editor conducting the interview, Jeremy Bowen, later described Assad's claim regarding barrel bombs as "patently not true".[118] The Syrian Arab Air Force's use of barrel bombs is well documented.[119]

In March 2015 a report published by Physicians for Human Rights documented that the Assad regime was responsible for the vast majority of the deaths of 600 medical workers since the Syrian Civil War began; 88% of recorded attacks on hospitals and 97% of killings of medical workers were attributed to Assad's forces.[120]

Foreign relations[edit]

Assad meets with U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman in 2009.
Assad with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

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."[121][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.[122] 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.[123]

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.[124] 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.[125]

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.[126]

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.[127]

At the outset of the Arab Spring, Syrian state media focused primarily upon Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, demonizing him as pro U.S. and comparing him unfavorably with Assad.[128] Assad told the Wall Street Journal in this same period that he considered himself "anti-Israel" and "anti-West", and that because of these policies he was not in danger of being overthrown.[53]

While hosting an 8 March 2015 delegation from North Korea lead by North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Sin Hong Chol, Assad stated that Syria and North Korea were being "targeted" because they are "among those few countries which enjoy real independence".[129]

Involvement in Lebanon[edit]

According to evidence testified to at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, during a meeting with Rafic Hariri at the Presidential Palace in Damascus in 2004 Assad threatened that "I will break Lebanon over your [Hariri's] head and over Walid Jumblatt's head" if Émile Lahoud was not allowed to remain in office despite Hariri's objections; it is thought this event is linked to Hariri's subsequent assassination.[130]

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."[131]

Arab–Israeli conflict[edit]

In a speech about the 2006 Lebanon War in August 2006, Assad said that Hezbollah had "hoisted the banner of victory," hailing its actions as a "successful resistance."[132]

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."[133]

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.[134][135]

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."[126]

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."[136][137][138][139][140] 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.[141] 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.[142]

Al Qaeda and ISIL[edit]







Circle frame.svg

Syrian Arab Armed Forces "counter-terrorism operations": Jan 1–Nov 21, 2014 [143]

  Attacks against ISIL (6%)
  Attacks against other groups (FSA, etc.) (94%)

Assad's relationship with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been subject to much attention. Terrorism expert Peter R. 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".[144] 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".[145] 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.[146]

During the Syrian Civil War, multiple parties in the conflict have accused Assad of collusion with ISIL to some degree. Several sources have claimed that ISIL prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.[147] The Assad regime has bought oil directly from both ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.[97] United States Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Assad regime has tactically avoided ISIL forces in order to weaken moderate opposition such as the Free Syrian Army,[148] 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".[149] An IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center database analysis confirmed that only a small percentage of Assad regime attacks were targeted at ISIL in 2014.[143] The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has stated that the Assad regime has operatives inside ISIS,[150] as has the leadership of Ahrar ash-Sham.[151] ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Assad regime operatives.[152]

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".[153] 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".[154] Analyst Noah Bonsey of the International Crisis Group has suggested that ISIL are politically expedient for Assad, as "the threat of ISIS provides a way out [for Assad] because the regime believes that over time the U.S. and other countries backing the opposition will eventually conclude that the regime is a necessary partner on the ground in confronting this jihadi threat", while Robin Wright of the Middle East studies at the Wilson Center has stated "the outside world’s decision to focus on ISIS has ironically lessened the pressure on Assad. And he’s getting away literally with murder on a daily basis".[155]

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 regime 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."[156]

Public and personal life[edit]

International support[edit]

Far-right[edit]

Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner was sheltered in Syria by both Bashar Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad

Assad has attracted support from the far-right both before and during the Syrian Civil War. Former leader of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke hosted a televised speech on Syrian national television in 2005.[157] The Ukrainian far right figure Georgy Shchokin was invited to Syria in 2006 by the Syrian foreign minister and awarded a medal by the Ba'ath party, while Shchokin's institution the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management awarded Assad with an honorary doctorate.[158] In 2014, research by the Simon Wiesenthal Center concluded that Bashar al-Assad had, like his father Hafez al-Assad, sheltered Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner in Syria. Brunner was Adolf Eichmann’s top lieutenant and was believed to have advised the Assad regime on torture techniques[159] and on purging Syria's Jewish community.[160] Brunner is thought to have died in Syria of natural causes in 2010.

The National Front in France has been a prominent supporter of Assad since the civil war,[161] as has the former leader of the neo-fascist Third Way (Troisième voie) organization.[157] In Italy, the far right parties Forza Nuova and CasaPound have both been supportive of Assad, with Forza Nuova putting up pro-Assad posters and the party's leader praising Assad's commitment to the ideology of Arab nationalism in 2013,[162] while CasaPound has issued statements of support for Assad.[163] Syrian Social Nationalist Party representative Ouday Ramadan has worked in Italy to organize support movements for Assad.[164] The National Revival of Poland also has a positive view of the Assad regime.[157] The Greek Neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn has spoken out in favor of the Assad regime,[165] and the more radical Strasserist group Black Lily has claimed to have sent mercenaries to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian regime, specifically mentioning their participation in the Battle of al-Qusayr.[166]

Far-right politician Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party, has been chosen by the Assad regime to represent the United Kingdom as an ambassador and at regime-held conferences; Griffin had been an official guest of the Assad regime three times since the outbreak of the civil war.[167] The European Solidarity Front for Syria, representing several extreme right political groups from across Europe, has had their delegations received by the Syrian national parliament, with one particular delegation being met by Syrian head of parliament Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.[164] Most recently, Assad met with Filip Dewinter of the Belgian far-right party Vlaams Belang.[168]

Left-wing[edit]

Left wing support for Assad has been split since the start of the Syrian Civil War;[169] the Assad regime has been accused of cynically manipulating sectarian identity and anti-imperialism to continue its worst activities.[170] Before the Civil War, British Member of Parliament George Galloway said of Bashar al-Assad, and the country he leads, during a visit to the University of Damascus in November 2005: "For me he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs,"[171] and a "breath of fresh air,"[172] Galloway later criticized the Assad regime at the outset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, dismissing the Assad regime's "gross distortions" regarding the uprising.[173]

Hadash has expressed support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.[174] The leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, reiterated his full support for the Syrian people in their struggle for peace and reiterates its strong condemnation of "the destabilizing actions that are still in Syria, with encouragement from members of NATO".[175] The leader of the National Liberation Front, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has sent a cable of congratulations to President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, on the occasion of winning the presidential elections.[176] The leader of the People's Progressive Party, Donald Ramotar, said that al-Assad's win in the presidential election is a great victory for Syria.[177] The leader of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, congratulated al-Assad on winning the presidential elections.[178] The leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Daniel Ortega, has said that President al-Assad's victory [in the presidential elections] is an important step to "attain peace in Syria and a clear cut evidence that the Syrian people trust their president as a national leader and support his policies which aim at maintaining Syria's sovereignty and unity".[179] The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine supports the Assad regime.[180][181] The leader of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that electing President al-Assad means "preserving Syria’s unity and sovereignty and that it will help end the crisis and confront terrorism, wishing prosperity and safety to Syria".[182][183][184]

International public relations[edit]

Bashar al-Assad wearing the "Grand Collar" of the National Order of the Southern Cross, accompanied by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasília, June 30, 2010.

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.[185] 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.[185][186]

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 regime to the Occupy Wall Street protests.[187] In a separate 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.[188]

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.[186] A Twitter account for Assad was reportedly activated, however it remained unverified.[189] This resulted in much criticism, and was described as "a propaganda campaign that ultimately has made the [Assad] family look worse".[190] The Assad regime has arrested and forced disappeared pro-regime activists for creating Facebook groups that the regime disproved of,[74] as well as appealed directly to Twitter to remove accounts it disliked.[191] 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.[192][193][194] In 2013, Assad's 11 year old son made a post on Facebook calling American soldiers "cowards with new technology" and claiming that Syria would beat America "just like Hezbollah defeated Israel" if they attacked.[195]

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,[196] 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?".[197]

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.[198][199] The lawyers were hired to write the report by the British law firm Carter-Ruck, which in turn was funded by the Government of Qatar.[200]

In November 2014, the Quilliam Foundation reported that a propaganda campaign launched "with the full backing of Assad" spread false reports of European jihadist deaths in order to draw attention away from Assad regime war crimes. Using a picture of a Chechen fighter from the Second Chechen War, pro-Assad media reports disseminated to Western media outlets leading them to publish a false story regarding the death of a non existent British jihadist.[201]

Personal life[edit]

Assad speaks fluent English and basic conversational French, having studied at the Franco-Arab al-Hurriyah school in Damascus.[202] In December 2000, Assad married Asma Assad, born Akhras,[203] a British citizen of Syrian origin, from Acton, London.[204] In 2001, they became the parents of their first-born child, named Hafez after the child's grandfather Hafez al-Assad. Zein was born in 2003 and Karim in 2004.[24] Bashar Assad's sister Bushra al-Assad and mother Anisa al-Assad fled to the United Arab Emirates in 2012 and 2013 respectively.[24]

Gallery[edit]

Honours and awards[edit]


Award or decoration Country Date Place Note Ref
Ribbon.Crossproecclesiaetpontifice.jpg Benemerenti medal   Vatican City 21 March 2004 Damascus Second highest Vatican medal. [205]
Reale ordine di francesco I.png Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Francis I  Two Sicilies 21 March 2004 Damascus Dynastic order of the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. [206][207]
Nastrino Medaglia di Benemerenza d'Oro dell'Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio.jpg Gold Benemerenti Medal of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George  Two Sicilies 21 March 2004 Damascus Highest medal for merit to the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George [206][207]
ITA OMRI 2001 GC-GCord BAR.svg Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic  Italy 11 March 2010 Damascus Highest ranking honour of the Republic of Italy. Revoked by the President of the Republic on 28 September 2012 for "indignity".[208] [209]
VEN Order of the Liberator - Grand Cordon BAR.png Collar of the Order of the Liberator  Venezuela 28 June 2010 Caracas Highest Venezuelan state order. [210]
Order of the Southern Cross Grand Collar Ribbon.png Grand Cross of the National Order of the Southern Cross  Brazil 30 June 2010 Brasília Brazil's highest order of merit. [211]
Order of the Cedar - Grand Cordon (Lebanon) Ribbon.png Grand Cordon of the National Order of the Cedar  Lebanon 31 July 2010 Beirut Second highest honour of Lebanon. [212]
High Medal of Honor of the Islamic Republic of Iran  Iran 2 October 2010 Tehran Highest national medal of Iran. [213][214]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Belhadj, Souhaïl (2013). La Syrie de Bashar Al-Asad : Anatomie d'un régime autoritaire [Bashar's Syria: Anatomy of an Authoritarian Regime] (in French). Belin. ISBN 978-2-7011-6467-0. 
  • Hinnebusch, Raymond (2002). Syria: Revolution From Above. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415285681. 
  • Perthes, Volker (2005). Syria Under Bashar Al-Asad: Modernisation and the Limits of Change. Routledge. ISBN 978-0198567509. 
  • Tabler, Andrew (2011). In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria. Zephyr Press. ISBN 978-1569768433. 
  • Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla (2008). The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History (1st ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-841-5. 

Reports[edit]

External links[edit]

Articles
Political offices
Preceded by
Abdul Halim Khaddam
Acting
President of Syria
2000–present
Incumbent