Assad, Bashar al-

Assad, Bashar al-
▪ 2001

      On July 17, 2000, Bashar al-Assad was inaugurated president of Syria. The 34-year-old ophthalmologist, described as intellectual and soft-spoken, was elected to the office for a seven-year term after the death on June 10 of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria since 1971. In his inaugural speech the new president emphasized the need to modernize the nation's economy, which was mostly government-controlled and was heavily dependent on oil exports. He also continued his father's hard-line approach in regard to recovering for Syria the Golan Heights region, which had been lost to Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

      Assad was born Sept. 11, 1965, in Damascus, the capital of Syria. He studied medicine at the University of Damascus and graduated as a general practitioner in 1988. He then trained to become an ophthalmologist at a Damascus military hospital and in 1992 moved to London to continue his studies. In 1994 his older brother, Basil, who had been designated his father's heir apparent, was killed in an automobile accident, and Bashar was summoned to return to Syria to take his brother's place. He was sent to a military academy north of Damascus to receive the requisite training for becoming the nation's president and eventually gained the rank of colonel in the elite Presidential Guard. Assad also took over his brother's position as head of the Syrian Computing Society and made it his goal to increase the use of computers in his nation. In 1999 he traveled to France, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Jordan to meet with the leaders of those countries. On June 18, soon after the death of his father, Assad was appointed secretary-general of the ruling Baʿth Party, and two days later the party congress nominated him as its candidate for the presidency. The national legislature approved the nomination on June 27, and on July 10, running unopposed, Assad gained the approval of 97.29% of those who voted. Among his first moves as president was to announce that, unlike his father, he did not want to see pictures of himself on public and private buildings throughout Syria. In his inaugural address he stated that he would not support policies that might threaten the dominance of the Baʿth Party and that freedom of expression should be encouraged but in the form of “positive criticism” of government policies. Rejecting democracy as practiced in other countries, Assad declared, “We have to have our own democracy to match our history and culture, arising from the needs of our people and our reality.”

David R. Calhoun

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▪ president of Syria
born Sept. 11, 1965, Damascus, Syria
 
 Syrian president from 2000. He succeeded his father, Ḥafiz al-Assad (Assad, Ḥafiz al-), who had ruled Syria since 1971.

      Assad studied medicine at the University of Damascus and graduated as a general practitioner in 1988. He then trained to become an ophthalmologist at a Damascus military hospital and in 1992 moved to London to continue his studies. In 1994 his older brother, Basil, who had been designated his father's heir apparent, was killed in an automobile accident, and Bashar returned to Syria to take his brother's place. He trained at a military academy and eventually gained the rank of colonel in the elite Presidential Guard. On June 18, 2000, after the death of his father on June 10, Assad was appointed secretary-general of the ruling Baʿth Party, and two days later the party congress nominated him as its candidate for the presidency. The national legislature approved the nomination, and on July 10, running unopposed, Assad was elected to a seven-year term.

      As president, Assad announced that he would not support policies that might threaten the dominance of the Baʿth Party, but he slightly loosened government restrictions on freedom of expression and the press. He also emphasized the need to modernize the country's economy, which had been mostly government-controlled and was heavily dependent on oil exports. In early 2005, after the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, Assad—under pressure from Western and Arab nations—committed to the removal of Syrian troops and intelligence services from Lebanon, where Syrian forces had been stationed since a 1976 military intervention. Although a United Nations investigation appeared to indicate some level of Syrian participation in the assassination of Hariri, the involvement of the Assad administration was not conclusively determined in 2006, and the investigation continued.

      Though reform hopes for Assad's first term had been met mainly with cosmetic changes, minor progress had been made with economic reforms. In 2007 Assad was reelected by a nearly unanimous majority to a second term as president through elections generally received by critics and opponents as a sham. At the start of Assad's second term, Syria's capacity for meaningful political change remained yet to be seen.

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Universalium. 2010.

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