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Dr. Bashar al-Assad (Arabic: بشار الأسد, Baššār al-Asad) (born September 11, 1965) is the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, Regional Secretary of the Ba'ath Party, and the son of former President Hafez al-Assad.
Early life and career
Bashar al-Assad was born on September 11, 1965 in Damascus into a minority Alawite family. He was the second son of the commander of the Syrian Air Force, Hafez al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad never expected to be a head of state. When Hafez al-Assad became President on February 22, 1971 his older brother Basil was groomed to fill the role of President by his father.
From the 1980s Bashar was studying medicine in Damascus and ophthalmology in London. When his older brother Basil was killed in a car accident in January 1994, Bashar was immediately enrolled in the Homs military academy, north of Damascus, and groomed for the highest office through extensive military and political training. In 1999, Bashar was appointed colonel, and became more involved in the state's affairs.
In 1999, a possible coup d'état by Rifaat al-Assad, the younger brother of Hafez al-Assad, was prevented when a crackdown - involving armed clashes in Lattakia - destroyed much of Rifaat's network in Syria, and large numbers of Rifaat's supporters were arrested. This was seen as tied to the issue of succession, with Rifaat having begun to position himself to succeed the ailing Hafez, who in his turn sought to eliminate all potential competition for his designated successor, his son Bashar al-Assad.
In France, Rifaat has loudly protested the succession of Bashar to the post of president, claiming that he himself embodies the "only constitutional legality" (as vice president, alleging his dismissal was unconstitutional). He has made threatening remarks about planning to return to Syria at a time of his choosing.
Standing about 189 cm (6 ft 2 in) with blue eyes, Assad has a distinct physical build. He speaks English from an intermediate to an advanced level and also speaks casual conversational French, having studied at the Franco-Arab al-Hurriyah school in Damascus, before going on to medical school at the University of Damascus Faculty of Medicine. He completed his ophthalmology residency training in the Military Hospital of Latakia and subsequently went on to get subspecialty training in ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London. He could not finish his formal training due to the unexpected death of his brother.
Assad is married to Asma (Emma) Assad, nee Akhras, a Syrian Sunni Muslim from Acton (west London) whom he met in the United Kingdom, where she was born and raised. They married in December 2000. On December 3, 2001, they became the parents of their first-born child, named Hafez after his late grandfather. Zein was born on November 5, 2003, and Karim on December 16, 2004.
Hafiz al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, which allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Ba'ath party. On July 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian government statistics.
The Ba'ath Party remains in control of the parliament, and is constitutionally the "leading party" of the state. Until he became President, Bashar al-Assad was not greatly involved in Syrian politics; his only political role was as head of the Syrian Computer Society, which was mainly in charge of introducing the Internet to Syria in 2001.
Al-Assad was confirmed as President by an unopposed referendum in 2001. He was expected to bring a more liberal approach to the leadership than his father. In an interview he stated that he saw democracy in Syria as 'a tool to a better life' but then argued that it would take time for democracy to come about and that it could not be rushed. At best, politically and economically, Syria life has changed only slightly since 2000. Immediately after he took office a reform movement made cautious advances during the so-called Damascus Spring, and al-Assad seemed to accept this, shutting down the Mezze prison and releasing hundreds of political prisoners. The Damascus Spring, however, ground to an abrupt halt as security crackdowns commenced again within the year.