Political scientists have characterised the Assad family's rule of Syria as a personalist dictatorship
On 17 July 2000, Assad became president, succeeding his father, who died in office a month prior. In the uncontested and non-democratic 2000
and 2007 elections
, he received 97.29% and 97.6% support, respectively. On 16 July 2014
, Assad was sworn in for another seven-year term after another non-democratic election gave him 88.7% of the vote.
The election was held only in areas controlled by the Syrian government during the country's ongoing civil war
and was criticised by the UN
, the Syrian opposition
and Western countries
while Syria's allies, including Iran, Russia and Venezuela, stated that the election was "free and fair".
Throughout his leadership, human rights groups have characterized Syria's human rights situation as poor. The Assad government describes itself as secular,
while some political scientists have claimed that the government exploits sectarian tensions in the country and relies upon the Alawite
minority to remain in power.
Childhood and education: 1965–1988
Bashar Hafez al-Assad was born in Damascus
on 11 September 1965, the second son and third child of Anisa Makhlouf
and Hafez al-Assad
Al-Assad in Arabic means "the Lion". Assad's paternal grandfather, Ali Sulayman al-Assad
, had managed to change his status from peasant to minor notable and, to reflect this, in 1927 he had changed the family name from Wahsh (meaning "Savage") to Al-Assad.
Assad's father, Hafez, was born to an impoverished rural family of Alawite
background and rose through the Ba'ath Party
ranks to take control of the Syrian branch
of the Party in the 1970 Corrective Revolution
, culminating in his rise to the Syrian presidency
Hafez promoted his supporters within the Ba'ath Party, many of whom were also of Alawite background.
After the revolution, Alawite strongmen were installed while Sunnis
, and Ismailis
were removed from the army and Ba'ath party.
The younger Assad had five siblings, three of whom are deceased. A sister named Bushra died in infancy.
Assad's youngest brother, Majd, was not a public figure and little is known about him other than he was intellectually disabled
and died in 2009 after a "long illness".
The al-Assad family, c. 1993. At the front are Hafez and his wife, Anisa. At the back row, from left to right: Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd, and Bushra
Unlike his brothers Bassel
, and second sister, also named Bushra
, Bashar was quiet, reserved and lacked interest in politics or the military.
The Assad children reportedly rarely saw their father,
and Bashar later stated that he only entered his father's office once while he was president.
He was described as "soft-spoken",
and according to a university friend, he was timid, avoided eye contact and spoke in a low voice.
, Bashar's older brother, died in 1994, paving the way for Bashar's future presidency.
In 1988, Assad graduated from medical school and began working as an army doctor at the Tishrin Military Hospital
on the outskirts of Damascus.
Four years later, he settled in London to start postgraduate training in ophthalmology
at the Western Eye Hospital
He was described as a "geeky I.T. guy" during his time in London.
Bashar had few political aspirations,
and his father had been grooming Bashar's older brother Bassel
as the future president.
However, Bassel died in a car accident in 1994 and Bashar was recalled to the Syrian Army shortly thereafter.
Soon after the death of Bassel, Hafez al-Assad decided to make Bashar the new heir apparent
Over the next six and a half years, until his death in 2000, Hafez prepared Bashar for taking over power. Preparations for a smooth transition were made on three levels. First, support was built up for Bashar in the military and security apparatus. Second, Bashar's image was established with the public. And lastly, Bashar was familiarised with the mechanisms of running the country.
To establish his credentials in the military, Bashar entered the military academy at Homs
in 1994 and was propelled through the ranks to become a colonel of the elite Syrian Republican Guard
in January 1999.
To establish a power base for Bashar in the military, old divisional commanders were pushed into retirement, and new, young, Alawite officers with loyalties to him took their place.
In 1998, Bashar took charge of Syria's Lebanon file
, which had since the 1970s been handled by Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam
, who had until then been a potential contender for president.
By taking charge of Syrian affairs in Lebanon, Bashar was able to push Khaddam aside and establish his own power base in Lebanon.
In the same year, after minor consultation with Lebanese politicians, Bashar installed Emile Lahoud
, a loyal ally of his, as the President of Lebanon
and pushed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri
aside, by not placing his political weight behind his nomination as prime minister.
To further weaken the old Syrian order in Lebanon, Bashar replaced the long-serving de facto Syrian High Commissioner
of Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan
, with Rustum Ghazaleh
Parallel to his military career, Bashar was engaged in public affairs. He was granted wide powers and became head of the bureau to receive complaints and appeals of citizens, and led a campaign against corruption. As a result of this campaign, many of Bashar's potential rivals for president were put on trial for corruption.
Bashar also became the President of the Syrian Computer Society
and helped to introduce the internet in Syria, which aided his image as a moderniser and reformer.
Damascus Spring and before Civil War: 2000–2011
Assad in January 2001
Immediately after he took office, a reform movement made cautious advances during the Damascus Spring
, which led to the shut down of Mezzeh prison
and the declaration of a wide-ranging amnesty releasing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood
affiliated political prisoners.
However, security crackdowns commenced again within the year.
Many analysts stated that reform under Assad had been inhibited by the "old guard", members of the government loyal to his late father.
Soon after Assad assumed power, he "made Syria's link with Hezbollah
– and its patrons in Tehran – the central component of his security doctrine",
and in his foreign policy, Assad is an outspoken critic of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
In 2005, Rafic Hariri
, the former prime minister of Lebanon was assassinated
. The Christian Science Monitor
reported that "Syria was widely blamed for Hariri's murder. In the months leading to the assassination, relations between Hariri and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plummeted amid an atmosphere of threats and intimidation."
reported in December 2005 that an interim United Nations report "implicated Syrian officials", while "Damascus has strongly denied involvement in the car bomb which killed Hariri in February".
On 27 May 2007, Assad was approved for another seven-year term
in a referendum on his presidency, with 97.6% of the votes supporting his continued leadership.
Opposition parties were not allowed in the country and Assad was the only candidate in the referendum.
During the Syrian Civil War
in Syria began on 26 January 2011. Protesters called for political reforms and the reinstatement of civil rights, as well as an end to the state of emergency which had been in place since 1963.
One attempt at a "day of rage" was set for 4–5 February, though it ended uneventfully.
Protests on 18–19 March were the largest to take place in Syria for decades, and the Syrian authority responded with violence against its protesting citizens.
Protests in Douma
, 8 April 2011
The U.S. imposed limited sanctions against the Assad government in April 2011, followed by Barack Obama
's executive order as of 18 May 2011 targeting Bashar Assad specifically and six other senior officials.
On 23 May 2011, the EU foreign ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to add Assad and nine other officials to a list affected by travel bans and asset freezes.
On 24 May 2011, Canada imposed sanctions on Syrian leaders, including Assad.
On 20 June, in response to the demands of protesters and foreign pressure, Assad promised a national dialogue involving movement toward reform, new parliamentary elections
, and greater freedoms
. He also urged refugees
to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty
and blaming all unrest on a small number of saboteurs.
Assad blamed the unrest on "conspiracies" and accused the Syrian opposition and protestors of "fitna
", breaking with the Syrian Ba'ath Party's strict tradition of secularism.
Pro-Assad demonstration in Latakia
, 20 June 2011
In July 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
said Assad had "lost legitimacy" as President.
On 18 August 2011, Barack Obama issued a written statement that urged Assad to "step aside".
In August, the cartoonist Ali Farzat
, a critic of Assad's government, was attacked. Relatives of the humourist told media outlets that the attackers threatened to break Farzat's bones as a warning for him to stop drawing cartoons of government officials, particularly Assad. Farzat was hospitalised with fractures in both hands and blunt force trauma to the head.
A mural of Assad in Latakia in November 2011
Since October 2011, Russia, as a permanent member
of the UN Security Council
, repeatedly vetoed
Western-sponsored draft resolutions in the UN Security Council that would have left open the possibility of UN sanctions, or even military intervention, against the Assad government.
By the end of January 2012, it was reported by Reuters
that over 5,000 civilians and protesters (including armed militants) had been killed by the Syrian army, security agents and militia (Shabiha
), while 1,100 people had been killed by "terrorist armed forces".
On 10 January 2012, Assad gave a speech in which he maintained the uprising was engineered by foreign countries and proclaimed that "victory [was] near". He also said that the Arab League
, by suspending Syria, revealed that it was no longer Arab. However, Assad also said the country would not "close doors" to an Arab-brokered solution if "national sovereignty" was respected. He also said a referendum on a new constitution could be held in March.
Destroyed vehicle on a devastated Aleppo
street, 6 October 2012
On 27 February 2012, Syria claimed that a proposal that a new constitution be drafted received 90% support during the relevant referendum
. The referendum introduced a fourteen-year cumulative term limit for the president of Syria. The referendum was pronounced meaningless by foreign nations including the U.S. and Turkey; the European Union announced fresh sanctions against key regime figures.
In July 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
denounced Western powers for what he said amounted to blackmail thus provoking a civil war in Syria.
On 6 January 2013, Assad, in his first major speech since June, said that the conflict in his country was due to "enemies" outside of Syria who would "go to Hell" and that they would "be taught a lesson". However, he said that he was still open to a political solution saying that failed attempts at a solution "does not mean we are not interested in a political solution."
After the fall of four military bases in September 2014,
which were the last government footholds in the Raqqa Governorate
, Assad received significant criticism from his Alawite base of support.
This included remarks made by Douraid al-Assad, cousin of Bashar al-Assad, demanding the resignation of the Syrian Defence Minister, Fahd Jassem al-Freij
, following the massacre by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
of hundreds of government troops captured after the ISIL victory at Tabqa Airbase
This was shortly followed by Alawite protests in Homs
demanding the resignation of the governor,
and the dismissal of Assad's cousin Hafez Makhlouf
from his security position leading to his subsequent exile to Belarus.
Growing resentment towards Assad among Alawites was fuelled by the disproportionate number of soldiers killed in fighting hailing from Alawite areas,
a sense that the Assad regime has abandoned them,
as well as the failing economic situation.
Figures close to Assad began voicing concerns regarding the likelihood of its survival, with one saying in late 2014; "I don't see the current situation as sustainable ... I think Damascus will collapse at some point."
A poster of Bashar al-Assad at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus
In 2015, several members of the Assad family died in Latakia
under unclear circumstances.
On 14 March, an influential cousin of Assad and founder of the shabiha
, Mohammed Toufic al-Assad, was assassinated with five bullets to the head in a dispute over influence in Qardaha
—the ancestral home
of the Assad family.
In April 2015, Assad ordered the arrest of his cousin Munther al-Assad in Alzirah, Latakia.
It remains unclear whether the arrest was due to actual crimes.
After a string of government defeats in northern and southern Syria, analysts noted growing government instability coupled with continued waning support for the Assad government among its core Alawite base of support,
and that there were increasing reports of Assad relatives, Alawites, and businessmen fleeing Damascus for Latakia and foreign countries.
Intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk
was placed under house arrest sometime in April and stood accused of plotting with Assad's exiled uncle Rifaat al-Assad
to replace Bashar as president.
Further high-profile deaths included the commanders of the Fourth Armoured Division, the Belli military airbase, the army's special forces and of the First Armoured Division, with an errant air strike during the Palmyra offensive
killing two officers who were reportedly related to Assad.
Since Russian intervention in September 2015
Bashar al-Assad meets with Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei
, 25 February 2019
In early September 2015, against the backdrop of reports that Russia was deploying troops in Syria ready for combat, Russian President Vladimir Putin
said that while such talk was "premature", Russia was "already providing Syria with sufficiently serious help: with both equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons".
Shortly after the start of direct military intervention by Russia
on 30 September 2015 at the formal request of the Syrian government, Putin stated the military operation had been thoroughly prepared in advance and defined Russia's goal in Syria as "stabilising the legitimate power in Syria and creating the conditions for political compromise".
In November 2015, Assad reiterated that a diplomatic process to bring the country's civil war to an end could not begin while it was occupied by "terrorists", although it was considered by BBC News
to be unclear whether he meant only ISIL
or Western-supported rebels as well.
On 22 November, Assad said that within two months of its air campaign Russia had achieved more in its fight against ISIL than the U.S.-led coalition
had achieved in a year.
In an interview with Česká televize
on 1 December, he said that the leaders who demanded his resignation were of no interest to him, as nobody takes them seriously because they are "shallow" and controlled by the U.S.
At the end of December 2015, senior U.S. officials privately admitted that Russia had achieved its central goal of stabilising Syria and, with the expenses relatively low, could sustain the operation at this level for years to come.
In January 2016, Putin stated that Russia was supporting Assad's forces and was ready to back anti-Assad rebels as long as they were fighting ISIL. On 11 January 2016, the senior Russian defense ministry official said that the "Russian air force was striking in support of eleven groups of democratic opposition that number over seven thousand people."
Bashar al-Assad meets with Iran's representative on Syrian affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati
, 6 May 2016
On 22 January 2016, the Financial Times
, citing anonymous "senior western intelligence officials", claimed that Russian general Igor Sergun
, the director of GRU
, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
, had shortly before his sudden death on 3 January 2016 been sent to Damascus with a message from Vladimir Putin asking that President Assad step aside.
The Financial Times'
report was promptly denied by Putin's spokesman.
It was reported in December 2016 that Assad's forces had retaken half of rebel-held Aleppo
, ending a 6-year stalemate in the city.
On 15 December, as it was reported government forces were on the brink of retaking all of Aleppo—a "turning point" in the Civil War, Assad celebrated the "liberation" of the city, and stated, "History is being written by every Syrian citizen."
After the election of Donald Trump
, the priority of the United States concerning Assad was unlike the priority of the Obama administration
, and in March 2017 United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
stated the U.S. was no longer focused on "getting Assad out",
but this position changed in the wake of the 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack
Following the missile strikes on a Syrian airbase
on the orders of President Trump, Assad's spokesperson described the United States' behaviour as "unjust and arrogant aggression" and stated that the missile strikes "do not change the deep policies" of the Syrian government.
President Assad also told the Agence France-Presse
that Syria's military had given up all its chemical weapons in 2013, and would not have used them if they still retained any, and stated that the chemical attack was a "100 percent fabrication" used to justify a U.S. airstrike.
In June 2017, Russian President Putin said "Assad didn't use the [chemical weapons]" and that the chemical attack was "done by people who wanted to blame him for that."
United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors found the attack was the work of the Assad regime.
Three years into a conflict that is estimated to have killed at least 140,000 people from both sides, much of the Syrian economy lies in ruins. As the violence has expanded and sanctions have been imposed, assets and infrastructure have been destroyed, economic output has fallen, and investors have fled the country. Unemployment now exceeds 50 percent and half of the population lives below the poverty line ... against this backdrop, a war economy is emerging that is creating significant new economic networks and business activities that feed off the violence, chaos, and lawlessness gripping the country. This war economy – to which Western sanctions have inadvertently contributed – is creating incentives for some Syrians to prolong the conflict and making it harder to end it.
A United Nations
commissioned report by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research states that two-thirds of the Syrian population now lives in "extreme poverty".
Unemployment stands at 50 percent.
In October 2014, a $50 million mall opened in Tartus
which provoked criticism from government supporters and was seen as part of an Assad government policy of attempting to project a sense of normalcy throughout the civil war.
A government policy to give preference to families of slain soldiers for government jobs was cancelled after it caused an uproar
while rising accusations of corruption caused protests.
In December 2014, the EU banned sales of jet fuel to the Assad government, forcing the government to buy more expensive uninsured jet fuel shipments in the future.
Billboard with a portrait of Bashar al-Assad and the text 'Syria is protected by God' on the old city wall of Damascus
Human Rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International
, have detailed how the Assad government's secret police
allegedly tortured, imprisoned, and killed political opponents, and those who speak out against the government.
In addition, some 600 Lebanese political prisoners are thought to be held in government prisons since the Syrian occupation of Lebanon
, with some held for as long as over 30 years.
Since 2006, the Assad government has expanded the use of travel bans
against political dissidents.
In an interview with ABC News
in 2007, Assad stated: "We don't have such [things as] political prisoners," though The New York Times
reported the arrest of 30 Syrian political dissidents who were organising a joint opposition front in December 2007, with 3 members of this group considered to be opposition leaders being remanded in custody.
magazine released an editorial on Assad's position in the wake of the 2011 protests:
During its decades of rule... the Assad family developed a strong political safety net by firmly integrating the military into the government. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, seized power after rising through the ranks of the Syrian armed forces, during which time he established a network of loyal Alawites by installing them in key posts. In fact, the military, ruling elite, and ruthless secret police are so intertwined that it is now impossible to separate the Assad government from the security establishment.... So... the government and its loyal forces have been able to deter all but the most resolute and fearless oppositional activists. In this respect, the situation in Syria is to a certain degree comparable to Saddam Hussein
's strong Sunni minority rule in Iraq.
In a February 2015 interview with the BBC
, Assad described accusations that the Syrian Arab Air Force
used barrel bombs
as "childish", stating that his forces have never used these types of "barrel" bombs and responded with a joke about not using "cooking pots" either.
The BBC Middle East editor conducting the interview, Jeremy Bowen
, later described Assad's statement regarding barrel bombs as "patently not true".
In September 2015, France began an inquiry into Assad for crimes against humanity
, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
stating "Faced with these crimes that offend the human conscience, this bureaucracy of horror, faced with this denial of the values of humanity, it is our responsibility to act against the impunity of the killers".
In February 2016, head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, told reporters: "The mass scale of deaths of detainees suggests that the government of Syria is responsible for acts that amount to extermination as a crime against humanity." The UN Commission reported finding "unimaginable abuses", including women and children as young as seven perishing while being held by Syrian authorities. The report also stated: "There are reasonable grounds to believe that high-ranking officers—including the heads of branches and directorates—commanding these detention facilities, those in charge of the military police, as well as their civilian superiors, knew of the vast number of deaths occurring in detention facilities ... yet did not take action to prevent abuse, investigate allegations or prosecute those responsible".
In April 2017, there was a sarin
chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people. The attack prompted US President Donald Trump to order the US military to launch 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase.
Several months later, a joint report from the United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors found the attack was the work of the Assad regime.
In April 2018, an alleged chemical attack
occurred in Douma, prompting the U.S. and its and allies to accuse Assad of violating international laws and initiating the 2018 bombing of Damascus and Homs
. Both Syria and Russia denied the involvement of the Syrian government at this time.
In June 2018, Germany's chief prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for one of Assad's most senior military officials, Jamil Hassan.
Hassan is the head of Syria's powerful Air Force Intelligence Directorate. Detention centers run by Air Force Intelligence are among the most notorious in Syria, and thousands are believed to have died because of torture or neglect. Charges filed against Hassan claim he had command responsibility over the facilities and therefore knew of the abuse. The move against Hassan marked an important milestone of prosecutors trying to bring senior members of Assad's inner circle to trial for war crimes.
Iraq War and insurgency
According to veteran U.S intelligence officer Malcolm Nance
, the Syrian government had developed deep relations with former Vice Chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri
. Despite the historical differences between the two Ba'ath factions, al-Douri reportedly urged Saddam to open oil pipelines with Syria, building a financial relationship with the Assad family. After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, al-Douri allegedly fled to Damascus where he organised the National Command of the Islamic Resistance which co-ordinated major combat operations during the Iraqi insurgency.
In 2009, General David Petraeus
, who was at the time heading the United States Central Command
, told reporters from Al Arabiya
that al-Douri was residing in Syria.
Following the election
of Muslim Brotherhood
politician Mohamed Morsi
as the next Egyptian president, relations became extremely strained. The Muslim Brotherhood
is a banned organisation and its membership is a capital offence in Syria. Egypt severed all relations with Syria in June 2013.
Diplomatic relations were restored and the embassies were reopened after the Morsi government was deposed
weeks later by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
. In July 2013, the two countries agreed to reopen the Egyptian consulate in Damascus and the Syrian consulate in Cairo.
In late-November 2016, some Arab media outlets reported Egyptian pilots arrived in mid-November to Syria to help the Syrian government in its fight against the Islamic State and Al Nusra front.
This came after Sisi publicly stated he supports the Syrian military in the civil war in Syria.
However, several days later, Egypt officially denied it has a military presence in Syria.
Although Egypt has not been vocal in support for any sides of Syria's ongoing civil war, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
said in 2016 that his nation's priority is "supporting national armies", which he said included the Syrian Armed Forces
He also said regarding Egypt's stance in the conflict: "Our stance in Egypt is to respect the will of the Syrian people, and that a political solution to the Syrian crisis is the most suitable way, and to seriously deal with terrorist groups and disarm them".
Egypt's support for a political solution was reaffirmed in February 2017. Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ahmed Abu Zeid, said that Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry
, "during his meeting with UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on Saturday confirmed Egypt’s rejection of any military intervention that would violate Syrian sovereignty and undermine opportunities of the standing political solutions.”
Egypt has also expressed great interest in rebuilding postwar Syria, with many Egyptian companies and businessmen discussing investment opportunities in Syria as well as participation in the reconstruction effort. Tarik al-Nabrawi, president of Egypt's Engineers Syndicate said that 2018 will witness a “boom and influential role for Egyptian construction companies in Syria and to open the door for other companies — in the electricity, building material, steel, aluminum, ceramics and sanitary material fields among others — to work in the Syrian market and participate in rebuilding cities and facilities that the war has destroyed.”
On 25 February 2018, Syrian state news reported that an Egyptian delegation composed of "members of the Islamic and Arab Assembly for supporting Resistance and Future Pioneers movement as well as a number of figures", including Jamal Zahran and Farouk Hassan, visited the Syrian consulate in Cairo to express solidarity with the Syrian government.[better source needed]
Involvement in Lebanon
On March 5, 2005, Assad announced that Syrian forces would begin its withdrawal from Lebanon in his address to the Syrian parliament.
Syria completed its full withdrawal from Lebanon on April 30, 2005.
Assad argued that Syria's gradual withdrawal of troops from Lebanon was a result of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri
According to testimony submitted to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
, when talking to Rafic Hariri at the Presidential Palace in Damascus in August 2004, Assad allegedly said to him, "I will break Lebanon over your [Hariri's] head and over Walid Jumblatt
's head" if Émile Lahoud
was not allowed to remain in office despite Hariri's objections; that incident was thought to be linked to Hariri's subsequent assassination.
In early 2015, journalist and ad hoc
Lebanese-Syrian intermediary Ali Hamade stated before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
that Rafic Hariri's attempts to reduce tensions with Syria were considered a "mockery" by Assad.
Assad's position was considered by some to have been weakened by the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon
following the Cedar Revolution
in 2005. There has also been pressure from the U.S. concerning claims that Syria is linked to terrorist networks, exacerbated by Syrian condemnation of the assassination of Hezbollah military leader, Imad Mughniyah
, in Damascus in 2008. Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majeed stated that "Syria, which condemns this cowardly terrorist act, expresses condolences to the martyr family and to the Lebanese people."
In May 2015, Lebanese politician Michel Samaha
was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a terrorist bomb plot that he claimed Assad was aware of.
In a speech about the 2006 Lebanon War
in August 2006, Assad said that Hezbollah had "hoisted the banner of victory", hailing its actions as a "successful resistance."
In April 2008, Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year. This was confirmed in May 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
. As well as the treaty, the future of the Golan Heights
was being discussed. Assad was quoted in The Guardian
as telling the Qatari paper:
... there would be no direct negotiations with Israel until a new US president takes office. The US was the only party qualified to sponsor any direct talks, [Assad] told the paper, but added that the Bush administration
"does not have the vision or will for the peace process. It does not have anything."
According to leaked American cables
, Assad called Hamas
an "uninvited guest" and said "If you want me to be effective and active, I have to have a relationship with all parties. Hamas is Muslim Brotherhood, but we have to deal with the reality of their presence," comparing Hamas to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood which was crushed by his father, Hafez al-Assad
. He also said Hamas would disappear if peace was brought to the Middle East.
Assad has indicated that the peace treaty that he envisions would not be the same kind of peace treaty Israel has with Egypt, where there is a legal border crossing and open trade. In a 2006 interview with Charlie Rose
, Assad said: "There is a big difference between talking about a peace treaty and peace. A peace treaty is like a permanent ceasefire. There's no war, maybe you have an embassy, but you actually won't have trade, you won't have normal relations because people will not be sympathetic to this relation as long as they are sympathetic with the Palestinians: half a million who live in Syria and half a million in Lebanon and another few millions in other Arab countries."
During the visit of Pope John Paul II
to Syria in 2001, Assad requested an apology to Muslims for the Crusades
and criticised Israeli treatment of Palestinians, stating that "territories in Lebanon, the Golan and Palestine have been occupied by those who killed the principle of equality when they claimed that God created a people distinguished above all other peoples
He also compared the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis to the suffering endured by Jesus
, and said that "they tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad".
Responding to accusations that his comment was antisemitic, Assad said that "We in Syria reject the term antisemitism. ... Semites are a race and [Syrians] not only belong to this race, but are its core. Judaism, on the other hand, is a religion which can be attributed to all races."
He also stated that "I was talking about Israelis, not Jews. ... When I say Israel carries out killings, it's the reality: Israel tortures Palestinians. I didn't speak about Jews," and criticised Western media outlets for misinterpreting his comments.
In February 2011, Assad backed an initiative to restore ten synagogues in Syria, which had a Jewish community numbering 30,000 in 1947, but only 200 Jews by 2011.
Assad met with U.S. scientists and policy leaders during a science diplomacy visit in 2009, and he expressed interest in building research universities and using science and technology to promote innovation and economic growth.
In response to Executive Order 13769
which mandated refugees from Syria be indefinitely suspended from being able to resettle in the United States, Assad appeared to defend the measure, stating "It's against the terrorists that would infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West... I think the aim of Trump is to prevent those people from coming," adding that it was "not against the Syrian people".
This reaction was in contrast to other leaders of countries affected by the Executive Order who condemned it.
North Korea is alleged to have aided Syria in developing and enhancing a ballistic missiles
They also reportedly helped Syria develop a suspected nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate
. U.S. officials claimed the reactor was probably "not intended for peaceful purposes", but American senior intelligence officials doubted it was meant for the production of nuclear weapons.
The supposed nuclear reactor was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force
in 2007 during Operation Orchard
Following the airstrike, Syria wrote a letter to Secretary-General of the United NationsBan Ki-moon
calling the incursion a "breach of airspace of the Syrian Arab Republic" and "not the first time Israel has violated" Syrian airspace.
While hosting an 8 March 2015 delegation from North Korea led by North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Sin Hong Chol, Assad stated that Syria and North Korea were being "targeted" because they are "among those few countries which enjoy real independence".
According to Syrian opposition sources, North Korea has sent army units to fight on behalf of Assad in the Syrian Civil War
In 2018, the United Nations
exposed North Korea for their facilitation of Syria's development of chemical weapons. According to a report by U.N. investigators, North Korea provided the Syrian government with acid-resistant tiles, valves, and thermometers. Additionally, DPRK missile technicians had been seen inside various Syrian chemical weapons facilities. This series of about 40 unreported shipments between North Korea and Syria, on which were the chemical weapons materials as well as prohibited ballistic missile parts, is said to have occurred throughout 2012–2017.
Al-Qaeda and ISIL
In 2001, Assad condemned the September 11 attacks
In 2003, Assad said in an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper that he doubted the organization of al-Qaeda
even existed. He was quoted as saying, "Is there really an entity called al-Qaeda? Was it in Afghanistan? Does it exist now?" He remarked about Osama bin Laden
, commenting: "[he] cannot talk on the phone or use the Internet, but he can direct communications to the four corners of the world? This is illogical."
Assad's relationship with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
has been subject to much attention. In 2014, journalist and terrorism expert Peter R. Neumann
maintained, citing Syrian records captured by the U.S. military in the Iraqi border town of Sinjar
and leaked State Department
cables, that "in the years that preceded the uprising, Assad and his intelligence services took the view that jihad could be nurtured and manipulated to serve the Syrian government's aims".
Other leaked cables contained remarks by US general David Petraeus
which stated that "Bashar al-Asad was well aware that his brother-in-law 'Asif Shawqat, Director of Syrian Military Intelligence, had detailed knowledge of the activities of AQI facilitator Abu Ghadiya
, who was using Syrian territory to bring foreign fighters and suicide bombers into Iraq", with later cables adding that Petraeus thought that "in time, these fighters will turn on their Syrian hosts and begin conducting attacks against Bashar al-Assad's regime itself".
Military situation in the Syrian Civil War in July 2015
During the Iraq War
, the Assad government was accused of training jihadis and facilitating their passage into Iraq, with these infiltration routes remaining active until the Syrian Civil War
; US General Jack Keane
has stated that "Al Qaeda fighters who are back in Syria, I am confident, they are relying on much they learned in moving through Syria into Iraq for more than five years when they were waging war against the U.S. and Iraq Security Assistance Force".
Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki
threatened Assad with an international tribunal over the matter, and ultimately lead to the 2008 Abu Kamal raid
, and United States airstrikes within Syria during the Iraq War.
During the Syrian Civil War, multiple opposition and anti-Assad parties in the conflict accused Assad of collusion with ISIS; several sources have claimed that ISIS prisoners were strategically released from Syrian prisons at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.
It has also been reported that the Syrian government has bought oil directly from ISIL.
A businessman operating in both government and ISIL-controlled territory has claimed that "out of necessity" the Assad government has "had dealings with ISIS."
At its height, ISIS was making $40 million a month from the sale of oil, with spreadsheets and accounts kept by oil boss Abu Sayyaf
suggesting the majority of the oil was sold to the Syrian government.
In 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
claimed that the Assad government has tactically avoided ISIS forces in order to weaken "moderate opposition" such as the Free Syrian Army
as well as "purposely ceding some territory to them [ISIS] in order to make them more of a problem so he can make the argument that he is somehow the protector against them".
A Jane's Defence Weekly
database analysis claimed that only a small percentage of the Syrian government's attacks were targeted at ISIS in 2014.
The Syrian National Coalition
has stated that the Assad government has operatives inside ISIS,
as has the leadership of Ahrar al-Sham
ISIS members captured by the FSA have claimed that they were directed to commit attacks by Assad regime operatives. Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
disputed such assertions in February 2014, arguing that "ISIS has a record of fighting the regime on multiple fronts", many rebel factions have engaged in oil sales to the Syrian regime because it is "now largely dependent on Iraqi oil imports via Lebanese and Egyptian third-party intermediaries", and while "the regime is focusing its airstrikes [on areas] where it has some real expectations of advancing" claims that it "has not hit ISIS strongholds" are "untrue". He concluded: "Attempting to prove an ISIS-regime conspiracy without any conclusive evidence is unhelpful, because it draws attention away from the real reasons why ISIS grew and gained such prominence: namely, rebel groups tolerated ISIS."
Similarly, Max Abrams and John Glaser stated in the Los Angeles Times
in December 2017 that "The evidence of Assad sponsoring Islamic State ... was about as strong as for Saddam Hussein sponsoring Al Qaeda
Mark Lyall Grant
, then Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations
, stated at the outset of the American-led intervention in Syria
that "ISIS is a monster that the Frankenstein of Assad has largely created".
French President François Hollande
stated, "Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism, he is the de facto ally of jihadists".
Analyst Noah Bonsey of the International Crisis Group
has suggested that ISIS are politically expedient for Assad, as "the threat of ISIS provides a way out [for Assad] because the regime believes that over time the U.S. and other countries backing the opposition will eventually conclude that the regime is a necessary partner on the ground in confronting this jihadi threat", while Robin Wright of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
has stated "the outside world's decision to focus on ISIS has ironically lessened the pressure on Assad."
In May 2015, Mario Abou Zeid of the Carnegie Middle East Center
claimed that the recent Hezbollah offensive "has exposed the reality of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Qalamoun; that it is operated by the Syrian regime's intelligence", after ISIS in the region engaged in probing attacks against FSA units at the outset of the fighting.
Military situation in January 2019
On 1 June 2015, the United States stated that the Assad government was "making air-strikes in support" of an ISIS advance on Syrian opposition positions north of Aleppo.
Referring to the same ISIS offensive, the president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Khaled Koja accused Assad of acting "as an air force for ISIS",
with the Defence Minister of the SNC Salim Idris
claiming that approximately 180 Assad-linked officers were serving in ISIS and coordinating the group's attacks with the Syrian Arab Army
Christopher Kozak of the Institute for the Study of War
claims that "Assad sees the defeat of ISIS in the long term and prioritizes in the more short-and medium-term, trying to cripple the more mainline Syrian opposition [...] ISIS is a threat that lots of people can rally around and even if the regime trades … territory that was in rebel hands over to ISIS control, that weakens the opposition, which has more legitimacy [than ISIS]".
In 2015, the al-Nusra Front
's Syrian affiliate,
issued a bounty
worth millions of dollars for the killing of Assad.
The head of the al-Nusra Front, Abu Mohammad al-Julani
, said he would pay "three million euros ($3.4 million) for anyone who can kill Bashar al-Assad and end his story".
In 2015, Assad's main regional opponents, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were openly backing the Army of Conquest
, an umbrella rebel group that reportedly included the al-Qaeda
linked al-Nusra Front
and another Salafi
coalition known as Ahrar al-Sham
In the course of the conflict, ISIS has repeatedly massacred pro-government Alawite
civilians and executed captured Syrian Alawite soldiers,
with most Alawites supporting Bashar al-Assad, himself an Alawite. ISIS, al-Nusra Front and affiliated jihadist
groups reportedly took the lead in an offensive
on Alawite villages in Latakia Governorate
of Syria in August 2013.
During the interview with Jeremy Bowen in February 2015, Assad noted that the sources of the extreme ideology of Islamic State (ISIS) and other al-Qaeda affiliate groups are the Wahabbism
that has been supported by kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Assad condemned the November 2015 Paris attacks
, but added that France's support for Syrian rebel groups
had contributed to the spread of terrorism, and rejected sharing intelligence on terrorist threats with French authorities unless France altered its foreign policy on Syria.
Public and personal life
Domestic opposition and support
Ethno-religious makeup of Syria
During the Civil War, the Druze in Syria
have primarily sought to remain neutral, "seeking to stay out of the conflict", while according to others over half support the Assad government despite its relative weakness in Druze areas.
The "Sheikhs of Dignity" movement, which had sought to remain neutral and to defend Druze areas,
blamed the government after its leader Sheikh Wahid al-Balous was assassinated and led to large scale protests which left six government security personnel dead.
It has been reported at various stages of the Syrian Civil War that other religious minorities
such as the Alawites
and Christians in Syria
favour the Assad government because of its secularism,
however opposition exists among Assyrian
Christians who have claimed that the Assad government seeks to use them as "puppets" and deny their distinct ethnicity, which is non-Arab.
Syria's Alawite community is considered in the foreign media to be Bashar al-Assad's core support base and is said to dominate the government's security apparatus,
yet in April 2016, BBC News reported that Alawite leaders released a document seeking to distance themselves from Assad.
In 2014, the Christian Syriac Military Council
, the largest Christian organization in Syria, allied with the Free Syrian Army opposed to Assad,
joining other Syrian Christian militias such as the Sutoro
who had joined the Syrian opposition against the Assad government.
In June 2014, Assad won a disputed presidential election held in government-controlled areas (and ignored in opposition-held areas
and Kurdish areas governed by the Democratic Union Party
) with 88.7% of the vote. Turnout was estimated to be 73.42% of eligible voters, including those in rebel-controlled areas.
Individuals interviewed in a "Sunni-dominated, middle-class neighborhood of central Damascus" said there was significant support for Assad among the Sunnis in Syria.
Attempts to hold an election under the circumstances of an ongoing civil war were criticised by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The National Front
in France has been a prominent supporter of Assad since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War,
as has the former leader of the Third Way
In Italy, the parties New Front
have both been supportive of Assad, with the New Front putting up pro-Assad posters and the party's leader praising Assad's commitment to the ideology of Arab nationalism in 2013,
while CasaPound has also issued statements of support for Assad. Syrian Social Nationalist Party
representative Ouday Ramadan has worked in Italy to organize support movements for Assad.
Other political parties expressing support for Assad include the National Democratic Party of Germany
the National Revival of Poland
the Freedom Party of Austria
the Bulgarian Ataka
the Hungarian Jobbik
the Serbian Radical Party
the Portuguese National Renovator Party
as well as the Spanish Falange Española de las JONS
and Authentic Falange
The Greek neo-Nazi
political party Golden Dawn
has spoken out in favour of Assad,
and the Strasserist
group Black Lily has claimed to have sent mercenaries to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian army.
Left-wing support for Assad has been split since the start of the Syrian Civil War;
the Assad government has been accused of cynically manipulating sectarian identity
to continue its worst activities.
During a visit to the University of Damascus
in November 2005, British politician George Galloway
said of Assad, and of the country he leads: "For me he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs,"
and a "breath of fresh air".
has expressed support for the Government of Bashar al-Assad. Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea
and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un
has expressed support for Assad in face of a growing civil war.
The leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
and President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro
reiterated his full support for the Syrian people in their struggle for peace and reaffirms its strong condemnation of "the destabilizing actions that are still in Syria, with encouragement from members of NATO".
The leader of the National Liberation Front
and President of Algeria
, Abdelaziz Bouteflika
, has sent a cable of congratulations to Assad, on the occasion of winning his presidential elections.
The leader of Guyana's People's Progressive Party
and President of Guyana
, Donald Ramotar
, said that Assad's win in the presidential election is a great victory for Syria.
The leader of the African National Congress
and President of South Africa
, Jacob Zuma
, congratulated Assad on winning the presidential elections.
The leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front
and President of Nicaragua
, Daniel Ortega
, has said that Assad's victory (in the presidential elections) is an important step to "attain peace in Syria and a clear cut evidence that the Syrian people trust their president as a national leader and support his policies which aim at maintaining Syria's sovereignty and unity".
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
supports the Assad government.
The leader of Fatah
and President of the State of Palestine
, Mahmoud Abbas
, has said that electing President Assad means "preserving Syria's unity and sovereignty and that it will help end the crisis and confront terrorism, wishing prosperity and safety to Syria".
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko
has expressed confidence that Syria
will eliminate the current crisis and continue under the leadership of President al-Assad "the fight against terrorism and foreign interference in its internal affairs".
International public relations
In order to promote their image and media-portrayal overseas, Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad
hired United States- and United Kingdom-based PR firms
In particular, these secured photoshoots for Asma al-Assad with fashion and celebrity magazines, including Vogue'
s March 2011 "A Rose in the Desert".
These firms included Bell Pottinger
and Brown Lloyd James
, with the latter being paid $5,000 a month for their services.
At the outset of the Syrian Civil War, Syrian government networks were hacked by the group Anonymous
, revealing that an ex-Al Jazeera
journalist had been hired to advise Assad on how to manipulate the public opinion of the United States. Among the advice was the suggestion to compare the popular uprising against the regime to the Occupy Wall Street
In a separate e-mail leak several months later by the Supreme Council of the Syrian Revolution
, which were published by The Guardian
, it was revealed that Assad's consultants had coordinated with an Iranian government media advisor.
In March 2015, an expanded version of the aforementioned leaks was handed to the Lebanese NOW News
website and published the following month.
After the Syrian Civil War began, the Assads started a social media
campaign which included building a presence on Facebook, YouTube, and most notably Instagram
A Twitter account for Assad was reportedly activated, however it remained unverified.
This resulted in much criticism, and was described by The Atlantic Wire
as "a propaganda campaign that ultimately has made the [Assad] family look worse".
The Assad government has also allegedly arrested activists for creating Facebook groups that the government disapproved of,
and has appealed directly to Twitter to remove accounts it disliked.
The social media campaign, as well as the previously leaked e-mails, led to comparisons with Hannah Arendt
's A Report on the Banality of Evil
by The Guardian
, The New York Times
and the Financial Times
Bashar al-Assad with his wife Asma
in Moscow, 27 May 2005
In November 2014, the Quilliam Foundation
reported that a propaganda campaign, which they claimed had the "full backing of Assad", spread false reports about the deaths of Western-born jihadists in order to deflect attention from the government's alleged war crimes. Using a picture of a Chechen fighter from the Second Chechen War
, pro-Assad media reports disseminated to Western media outlets, leading them to publish a false story regarding the death of a non-existent British jihadist.
In 2015, Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War
in support of Assad, and on 21 October 2015, Assad flew to Moscow and met with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said regarding the civil war: "this decision can be made only by the Syrian people. Syria is a friendly country. And we are ready to support it not only militarily but politically as well."
Assad and his wife Asma, 2003
Assad speaks fluent English and basic conversational French, having studied at the Franco-Arab al-Hurriyah school in Damascus
In December 2000, Assad married Asma al-Assad
(née Akhras), a British citizen of Syrian origin from Acton, London
In 2001, Asma gave birth to their first child, a son named Hafez after the child's grandfather Hafez al-Assad
. Their daughter Zein was born in 2003, followed by their second son Karim in 2004.
Bashar is an Alawite Muslim.
On 8 March 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria
, Assad and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19
according to the presidential office. They were reported to be in good health with "minor symptoms".
Revoked and returned distinctions are marked with red.
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