Middle East

Syria profile - Leaders

President: Bashar al-Assad

Image copyright EPA

In power since succeeding his father 2000, Bashar al-Assad is fighting for control of his country after "Arab Spring" protests against his rule turned into a full-scale armed rebellion.

He inherited a tightly controlled and repressive political structure from long-time dictator Hafez al-Assad, with an inner circle dominated by members of the Assad family's minority Alawite Shia community.

Mr Assad's government continues to enjoy strong diplomatic and military support from Russia and traditional ally Iran, as well as Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group.

Rise to power

Bashar al-Assad would probably have been working as an optician had his brother not died in a car accident in 1994.

The death of Basil - groomed to succeed Hafez al-Assad - catapulted the younger brother into politics, and into the presidency after his father died in June 2000.

On taking office he ushered in a brief period of openness and cautious reform. Political prisoners were released and restrictions on the media were eased. Political debate was tolerated and open calls for freedom of expression and political pluralism were made.

But the pace of change alarmed the establishment - the army, the Baath party and the Alawite minority. Fearing instability and perceiving a threat to their influence, they acted not only to slow it down, but to revert to the old ways.

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