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Bashar al-Assad

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Bashar al-Assad (Photo by Carlos Alvarez /Getty Images)

Who is he?:

The president of Syria who took power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 29 years. Leader of the Ba'ath Party since he came to office. Leader of the Syrian Army.

Birthdate:

Sept. 11, 1965, in Damascus, Syria. Stepped into the role of heir apparent to the presidency after his older brother, Basil al-Assad, died in a car crash in 1994. The Syrian parliament lowered the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 40 to 34 years of age so that Bashar could run, unopposed, for his late father's seat.

Personal life:

Trained as an ophthamologist in Damascus and London while his brother was being groomed for political life. Met Asma Akhras, a London-born Syrian who worked in investment banking, in the UK and married her just months after becoming president. They have three children: Hafez (born 2001), Zein (born 2003) and Karim (born 2004). Speaks English and French. He is an Alawite, a mystic branch of Shia Islam.

Political affiliation:

Leader of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, which has had a grip on power in Syria since a 1963 coup.

Career:

After being recalled from his ophthamology studies and moving quickly through the ranks, Assad became a staff colonel in the Syrian military in 1999. The presidency is his first major political role. He promised to enact reforms when he took power but those have not been realized, with human rights groups accusing Assad's regime of imprisoning, torturing and killing political opponents. State security is strongly intertwined with the presidency and loyal to the regime. He has described himself as anti-Israel and anti-West, has been criticized for his alliance with Iran, and is accused of meddling in Lebanon.

Future:

The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 swept regimes out of power in Egypt and Tunisia, and the fervor for freedom and democracy quickly spread to Syria. But the regime responded with a bloody crackdown on protests. More than 10,000 Syrians fled to Turkey and more than 1,300 had been killed by security forces. Assad blamed the mayhem on 64,000 outlaws, as well as "radical and blasphemous intellectuals." He also kept asserting that the country's people love him and promised nondescript reforms. The ongoing crisis is the greatest threat yet to Assad's rule.

Quote:

"The problem we had with the Bush administration is that they talk about this goal and I talk about the same goal, but while I want to reach that goal from the east they want to go from the west, and they want me to come from the west as well. But I want to reach that from the east, this is my way, we have different ways but to the same goal. We cannot be a copy of any country in our way, and that is normal and natural."
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