Bashar al-Assad

President of Syria

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  • In-Country Power
  • International Power
  • Respect
  • Military Strength
  • Intelligence
  • Special Skill: Hottest Presidential Couple

Official Stats

  • Official Title: President
  • Government: One-Party State...with authoritarian tendencies
  • Years Left in Office: Indefinite; no term limits
  • Political Classification: Right
  • Education: Dr. of Opthamology
  • Age: 51 (born November 11, 1965)

Bashar al-Assad Facts and Information

Important Points

  • Bashar al-Assad is the President of Syria, having taken over from his father's 3 decade rule
  • Bashar al-Assad is a younger, more moderate, more progressive Arab voice
  • Bashar al-Assad has strong ties to Iran and Hezbollah, which pisses off the US, Israel, and some Arab states
  • Bashar al-Assad is strengthening ties with France, the EU, Russia, and China
  • Bashar al-Assad may soon recognize Israel, which would radically change Middle Eastern politics and policies

The Rundown

Okay let’s get serious about the Syrians…the leader of Syria to be succinct: President Bashar al-Assad. And this is a dude to know, as his youth combined with his unique outlook may possibly make him a serious mover, shaker, and peace-maker in the mangled mess we call the Middle East. And he has a wickedly wondrous wife to boot! She is one hot piece of Assad! Combined with Bashar’s 6’2 frame, dreamy steel-blue eyes and extended cranium, they may be the sexiest first family on the planet….but I digress as usual, let’s get back to the main man of Syria and why he is important to know…

Thrust into the presidency of Syria, the genial, unassuming, and gangly Bashar al-Asad has held his own in the rough-and-tumble arena of Middle Eastern politics. He is the second oldest son of regional heavyweight and former Syrian strongman President Hafiz al-Assad, a dude that held the leadership position for 30 years and stabilized the state while consolidating power to his person.  Originally, Bashar wanted nothing to do with any of that political poppycock! He was schooled in Syria and the UK to be an eye doctor and surgeon, and was doing quite well and living the good life as an ophthalmologist in London.  His older brother, Basil, had been groomed for the presidency but following Basil’s death in a single-car accident in 1994, Bashar (arguably a better driver) was yanked from his post abroad and prepared for his inevitable coming to power.

During his six-year political apprenticeship, Bashar learned the government ropes, met important Arab leaders, and got to know the movers and shakers in Syrian politics. He also completed some “hurry-up offense” military training, in order to secure the nominal backing of the important Syrian military ranks. When Daddy al-Assad died in 2000, Bashar easily secured his succession in a 2001 referendum, which isn’t really too hard to pull off in Syria—it’s not what we would call a real example of democracy in action, since the cards are all stacked in the Assad family’s favor. Example: A referendum in 2007 overwhelmingly endorsed him as president for a second seven-year term….oh, and he was the only candidate on the ballot. Nonetheless, Bashar was seen as the last great hope amongst domestic reformers due to his young age and technocratic savvy.

Okay let’s get serious about the Syrians…the leader of Syria to be succinct: President Bashar al-Assad. And this is a dude to know, as his youth combined with his unique outlook may possibly make him a serious mover, shaker, and peace-maker in the mangled mess we call the Middle East. And he has a wickedly wondrous wife to boot! She is one hot piece of Assad! Combined with Bashar’s 6’2 frame, dreamy steel-blue eyes and extended cranium, they may be the sexiest first family on the planet….but I digress as usual, let’s get back to the main man of Syria and why he is important to know…

Thrust into the presidency of Syria, the genial, unassuming, and gangly Bashar al-Asad has held his own in the rough-and-tumble arena of Middle Eastern politics. He is the second oldest son of regional heavyweight and former Syrian strongman President Hafiz al-Assad, a dude that held the leadership position for 30 years and stabilized the state while consolidating power to his person.  Originally, Bashar wanted nothing to do with any of that political poppycock! He was schooled in Syria and the UK to be an eye doctor and surgeon, and was doing quite well and living the good life as an ophthalmologist in London.  His older brother, Basil, had been groomed for the presidency but following Basil’s death in a single-car accident in 1994, Bashar (arguably a better driver) was yanked from his post abroad and prepared for his inevitable coming to power.

During his six-year political apprenticeship, Bashar learned the government ropes, met important Arab leaders, and got to know the movers and shakers in Syrian politics. He also completed some “hurry-up offense” military training, in order to secure the nominal backing of the important Syrian military ranks. When Daddy al-Assad died in 2000, Bashar easily secured his succession in a 2001 referendum, which isn’t really too hard to pull off in Syria—it’s not what we would call a real example of democracy in action, since the cards are all stacked in the Assad family’s favor. Example: A referendum in 2007 overwhelmingly endorsed him as president for a second seven-year term….oh, and he was the only candidate on the ballot. Nonetheless, Bashar was seen as the last great hope amongst domestic reformers due to his young age and technocratic savvy.

Before his “election”, Bashar’s sole claim to Syrian fame was as one of the founders and heads of the Syrian Computer Society, an organization which he spearheaded to bring the Internet to Syria. Lame as this may sound, this laid the foundation for Bashar’s cultivation of a new crop of government leaders culled from the technocrats he associated with during this time, a younger bunch of political figures savvy in international finance and technology. A true “21st century man”, Bashar is also apparently quite the video game nut, X-Box in particular. During the Israeli raid on a purported nuclear plant in northern Syria in 2007, Bashar was enraged to have a 6-hour run on “Grand Theft Auto” interrupted by the bombing. Don’t mess with the man when he’s in his zone!

In Syria, Bashar’s record has been mixed since taking office. He originally ushered in a brief period of openness and cautious reform, wanting to perhaps push for economic and political liberalization in this ‘Damascus Spring.’ Some political prisoners were released, restrictions on the media were eased, and political debate was tolerated…all of which was a stark contrast to his father’s oppressive policies.  However, the pace of change alarmed the entrenched bureaucratic establishment and powerful military elite who collectively pushed to slow this change if not stymie it altogether. Like the “Mace of Blizzards” that he wields so adroitly in “World of Warcraft”, Bashar had to put a chill-pill on political dissent, arguing that the process needed to be gradual and free of external pressures. On the other hand, he did force out some old farts from the Ba’ath Party (the only political party with power, which Bashar also heads) and government ranks, lowering the mandatory retirement age and replacing these fogies with some of his cooler, Corona-sipping, computer-geek buddies from the old days.

Economically, the situation is shaky also. The Syrian economy would be described as weak at best, and with the fastest growing birth rate in the world, things are looking dire for the next couple of decades for the country. To open up the economy, Bashar has been pushing for Syrian membership in a Euro-Mediterranean partnership group: a ‘Mediterranean Union’, so coined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which would be modeled after the EU (European Union). In fact, Bashar’s blossoming love affair with Sarkozy, has been moving this idea along quickly, much to the chagrin of the United States. What? Why would the US care about European/Syrian economic ties? Oh yeah! Because the US hates Syria!

A-ha! Now we get to the real important stuff you need to know to understand this guy’s particular importance in world affairs. See, Israel has classically hated Syria, which translates to the US hating Syria, but even many other Arab states hate Syria too…and Bashar got to deal with all of this hate. So why the hate?

For starters, Syria is overwhelmingly Arab ethnicity and is part of the real ‘core’ of Arab thought and political power.  In this regard, Syria has participated in most of the declared wars upon the state of Israel, and has still not officially ‘recognized’ the existence of the state at all. Syria lost a part of its own territory, an area named the Golan Heights, to Israel the Six-Days War of 1967….an issue of much contention right on up to this day.  So Israel and Syria have issues.

But it gets even more complicated: Syria is also overwhelmingly Sunni Islam. That in and of itself is no big deal, as 85% of all the Muslims in the world are of the Sunni persuasion. The other 15% of Muslims n the world are of the Shi’a/Shi’ite variety.  So Syria is mostly Sunni. BUT Bashar al-Assad, like his entire family and the ruling/military elite of Syria, is an Alawite. Alawites are a prominent minority religious group who describe themselves as a sect of Shi’a Islam. Some conservative Sunnis do not even recognize Alawis as Muslims at all, especially in places like ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Of course, the ultra-conservative Sunni Saudis also don’t much like the straight-up Shi’as either…speaking of which…

Do you know any other places that are Shi’a Islam? Oh hell yes! If you said Iran, then give yourself a hit off the hookah! And now you know why some other Arab states also hate Syria: the Syrian leadership has deep and intrenched ties with Shi’a Iran, a country that most other Arab states totally despise. Iran is not Sunni but Shi’a; they are also not Arab, but Persian. So Arab countries see increasingly powerful Iran as a regional threat.  And Syria has for decades allowed itself to be a conduit for the movement of weapons and money from Shi’a Iran thru Shi’a-led Syria over to Shi’a-inspired Hezbollah…which is a terrorist/political group located in Lebanon that fights against Israel. Got all this mess so far?

So Israel hates them because Syria has fought wars against them and also helps arm Hezbollah. The US hates Syria for much the same reasons, especially since the US labels Hezbollah a terrorist group, and, well, the US is fighting terrorism. The Bush administration really hated Syria, and perpetually pressured them to stop their Shi’a support….and came close to putting them into the infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ many times. The US and Israel also hate Syria since they are buddies with problem-child Iran. And that’s also why many Arab states don’t dig Syria, as they see them as sell-outs who are helping spread Iranian influence throughout the region. But back to Bashar….

Here’s why it’s good to know this dude: things may be a-changing in this regional stew of strained ties and strategic shenanigans because Bashar is mixing things up! In the region, Bashar has managed to tiptoe through a minefield of issues. His ascension to the presidency was initially seen by the Israelis as being a positive step after the constipated years of his father’s reign. And how! Despite the public and media-driven howling about Syrian-Israeli tensions, peace between the two would be most easily achieved. Secret negotiations between businessmen and low-level diplomats from both sides has been occurring since Bashar took power.  Even hard-line, hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his first tenure as PM, tasked an American citizen with opening secret negotiations with the Syrians!

All Bashar wants back is the Golan Heights, which would make him wildly popular and effectively secure his presidency-for-life. And he may get it! In return, he will have to give recognition of the right for Israel to exist, and perhaps to stop funneling weapons to Hezbollah. But if Bashar does this (which seems increasingly likely), it will open a whole new chapter on Middle Eastern affairs. He already has made huge strides on softening the Syrian image in the world by pulling his troops out of Lebanon in 2005…after decades of Syrian domination of the Lebanese political scene, which pissed off the Lebanese, the Israelis, the US, and others. (Look up ‘Cedar Revolution’ if you want more details.) Syria has now essentially conceded Lebanese independence, embassies are to be opened, and diplomatic credentials are to be exchanged.

Bashar is playing the great game of Middle East shenanigans adroitly. Not only is he resisting US pressure on his relationships with Iran and Hezbollah, he is, at the same time wisely leaving the Israeli-reconciliation option open. On top of that, Bashar has been working hard in strengthening economic and political ties with the EU, Russia and even China…perhaps at the expense of his Arab neighborhood, particularly Saudi Arabia. No love lost between those two. In other words, Bashar is trying to become more of an internationalist, relying less on ties to standard Arab alliances, and increasingly less concerned with opinions of the US as well.

As one of the self-styled, “next generation” of Middle East leaders, like King Abdullah of Jordan, Bashar, with his technological X-Box savvy and love of Phil Collins, has managed to weather the domestic and regional storms thus far.  One of the youngest Middle Eastern leaders in power, he is likely to be around for a long time, and he along with his smokin’ hot wife is certainly going to be changing the landscape of the region.

January 2012 Update: Bashar al-Ass-wad?

How fares Syria in the Arab Spring? Weeeeell, Bashie’s reform minded agenda, though hesitant and wishy-washy has gone the way of the majestic Syrian Oryx. The regional upheavals may have well presented Bashie with an opportunity to make good on his promises of reform, side-stepping the potential backlash from hardliners in his regime by citing the wave of change in the surrounding states as an “excuse” to reform. But, well, if the ever-growing pile of corpses in Syria’s urban centers are any indication, this option has gone bye-bye.

First, a look back at 2011 in Syria. Domestic tensions have always been around: Kurdish dissatisfaction with the state of their civil rights and what-not in Syria; muted Sunni disaffection for the Shia-rule-by-minority in Syria (the Assads follow a sub-sect of Shia Islam, thus their Iranian ties); and general youth apprehension about the lack of change during Bashie’s decade in power and the continuing oppressive policies of censorship and detention. This coupled with a horribly high unemployment rate (25%!), a fall in living standards, and the Arab Spring events toppling dictators all around led to a testy situation. By January 2011, people were setting themselves on fire a la Tunisian reflexive-arsonist Mohammed Bouazzizi. Protests started breaking out in the Kurdish northwest of the country, were brutally put down, sparked protests elsewhere, these were brutally put down, etc. You get the picture. Spreading to the southern border with Jordan, protests broke out in Dera’ also and soon spread to other cities, though Damascus, until recently, was pretty quiet. As the summer wore on, the regime reaction became more and more violent, with tanks and troops being sent into urban centers. Shit got even more complicated once army defectors started coalescing into the Free Syrian Army which began moving against regime troops. The non-existent domestic opposition forces also began taking steps to form a Syrian National Council and began begging for international assistance. The international community stepped in eventually, with the Arab League itself, bastion of inaction and lameness, sanctioning Syria and threatening to suspend its membership for its killing of civilians and crushing of protests. By December, some 5000 people have been killed in Syria.

What happened? Is Bashie pulling the strings? In the first months, his government did make some tentative steps towards reform allowing greater political participation (via allowing new political parties), better status for Kurds in the country, and dismantling that pesky emergency law. However, this didn’t do much to stop the government forces from killing thousands of people. Is Bashie the puppet master? In an ABC interview, Bashie denied responsibility for the bloody reaction against the opposition protests. Is he just trying to cover his ass? It’s hard to tell at this point. Given his earlier reform attempts which were slapped down by vested hard-line interests in his government, his hands may very well be tied. Who exactly controls the armed forces or the police in Syria is murky.

This may very well not matter at all. The vehemence and violence of his regime’s reaction has led to across-the-board international criticism of al-Asad. The issue of what he knew and when he knew it is moot. Heaps of sanctions, Arab League criticism, and increasing calls for some sort of Libya-like military intervention do not bode well for Bashie. At this point there seems to be little that he could do to retain any sort of legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people. His resignation or removal from power involuntarily is the most likely outcome.

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