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As the successor to his father, Hafez, Bashar al-Assad has continued with his father's brutal rule of Syria.
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Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar al-Assad had no intension of entering political life, let alone becoming president of Syria. But a tragic death and a calculating father saw to it that he would. Though promising to be a transformational figure who would propel Syria into the 21st century, al-Assad failed, and has instead followed in the footsteps of his father, leading to demands for reform and responding with a violent crackdown on the people of Syria.
"We don't kill our people ... no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."
"I did my best to protect the people. I cannot feel guilty when you do your best."
"No doubt that the U.S. is a super-power capable of conquering a relatively small country, but is it able to control it?"
Born on September 11, 1965, Bashar Hafez al-Assad is the second son of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and his wife, Anisa. Hafez had risen to power through the Syrian military and the minority Alawite political party to take control of Syria in 1970. With much of the military composed of fellow Alawite associates, he was able to integrate the military into his political regime, and ruled Syria with an iron fist for three decades.
Bashar grew up quiet and reserved, in the shadow of his more dynamic and outgoing brother, Bassel. Educated at the Arab-French al Hurriya School in Damascus, Bashar learned to speak fluent English and French. He graduated from high school in 1982, and went on to study medicine at the University of Damascus, graduating in 1988. He conducted his residency in ophthalmology at the Tishreen military hospital outside of Damascus, and then traveled to Western Eye Hospital in London, England in 1992.
At this time, Bashar was leading the life a medical student, and had no intentions of entering a political life. His father had been grooming Bassel as the future president. But in 1994, Bassel was killed in an automobile accident, and Bashar was recalled to Damascus. Bashar's life would soon radically change. Hafez quickly and quietly moved to have Bashar succeed him as president; Bashar entered the military academy at Homs, located north of Damascus, and was quickly pushed through the ranks to become a colonel in just five years. During this time, he served as an advisor to his father, hearing complaints and appeals from citizens, and led a campaign against corruption. As a result, he was able to remove many potential rivals.
Hafez al-Assad died on June 10, 2000. In the days following his death, Syria's parliament quickly voted to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 34, so that Bashar could be eligible for the office. Ten days after Hafez's death, Bashar al-Assad was chosen for a seven-year term as president of Syria. In a public referendum, running unopposed, he received 97 percent of the vote. He was also selected leader of the Ba'ath Party and commander in chief of the military.
Bashar was considered a younger-generation Arab leader, who would bring change to Syria, a region long filled with aging dictators. He was well-educated, and many believed he would be capable of transforming his father's iron-rule regime into a modern state. Influenced by his western education and urban upbringing, Bashar initially seemed eager to implement a cultural revolution in Syria.
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Ruthless, corrupt and crazy. Many of the world's dicators started out as charismatic young leaders, with a large measure of support from their countrymen—only to become bloated with power and abandon the principles they had pledged to uphold. These leaders held on to power by rigidly enforcing control, intimidating opposition and instilling fear among citizens. With access to unlimited power and riches, many developed secretive personal lives and bizarre habits. These dictators terrorized their people, and mesmerized the world, with their bizarre sayings, styles, and actions. Biography.com takes a look at some of the world's most erratic, and autocratic, leaders.
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