Syria profile

President: Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

In power since succeeding his father 2000, Bashar al-Assad is fighting for control of his country after 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.

But cracks began to appear in early 2011, in the wake of the "Arab Spring" wave of popular dissent that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Following successful uprisings against authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, pro-democracy demonstrations were held in Damascus and several other cities.

President Assad responded with a mixture of concessions - dismissed as superficial and disingenuous by the opposition - along with a brutal crackdown, accusing his opponents of being "terrorists" funded by enemies abroad. But the attempts at repression - as well as attempts at international mediation - failed and the conflict turned into a fully-fledged internal war.

Mr Assad's government continues to enjoy strong diplomatic support from Russia and traditional ally Iran, amid persistent reports that they also supply it with arms. The president's troops have been bolstered by fighters from 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.

During his six-year political apprenticeship, Bashar al-Assad completed his military training, met Arab and other leaders and got to know the movers and shakers in Syrian politics.

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.

A referendum in 2007 endorsed Bashar al-Assad as president for a second seven-year term. He was the only candidate.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Middle East stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage


  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world


  • Music scoreFinal score Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop


  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show

Programmes

  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.