President of Syria
Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus on 11th September 1965. His father, Hafez al-Assad had been president of Syria since 1971 and he was the second son, with Basil his brother being groomed for political life.
Bashar went to Damascus University in 1988 to study Ophthalmology and in 1992 went to London to continue his studies. However, in 1994 his brother was killed in a motoring accident and he was called back to Syria where he joined the army.
His rise through the ranks of the army was meteoric and by 1999 he was a Colonel. On 10th June 2000 his father died and within ten days he was made leader of the Ba’ath Party, head of the army and was elected unopposed as President of Syria. He formally took office on 17th July 2000.
Bashar al-Assad is fluent in English and has conversational French. In December 2000 he married Asma al-Akhras and they have three children, Hafez, Zein and Karim. He is an Alawi Shiite.
At the very beginning of his presidency it looked as though there might be a relaxation of freedom of speech and other restrictions which had been in place during his father’s period. However, that period of freedom only lasted a couple of years before there was a crackdown. He has made efforts to liberalise the economy and is keen to see more use of information technology. However, there have been constant accusations of human rights abuses which have led to the current crisis.
In his foreign policy, Syria has maintained a close relationship with Iran and has remained heavily involved in Lebanon, it is also a close ally of Russia which maintains its Mediterranean fleet in Syria.