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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Syrian Conflict - MES: Bashar al-Assad and his Government

This guide provides information and resources on the Syrian Conflict (2011-Present).

The al-Assad Family and the Syrian Government

The Syrian government has been controlled by the al-Assad family since 1970. The Syrian government refers to itself as the "Syrian Arab Republic," however Syria is not, and has not been, a democracy with free and fair elections. Like many other states in the region, the Syrian state is a republican dictatorship deriving its power, in part, from the military. Organizations that monitor political, economic, and press freedoms have consistently rated the al-Assad state extremely poorly. Throughout this period, family members have often held high posts in the government and military. Traditionally, the regime's staunchest supporters were the Alawites, the ethnic group of the ruling family.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Bashar al-Assad has consistently painted himself as a defender against domestic "terrorists", a term which the Syrian regime applies to essentially all their opponents in the conflict. This theme became even more prevalent with the rise of ISIS, as al-Assad has sought to establish himself as a "protector" of the Syrian people against the Islamic State.

Another important factor in the survival of the Syrian regime has been the support of foreign patrons. The financial, military, and political support of the Russian and Iranian governments are a major reason that al-Assad's government has been able to maintain its hold on power.

Al-Assad, his government, and his Russian benefactors has been accused of committing war crimes in Syria. Among the many accusing al-Assad and his allies of war crimes are the UN Human Rights OfficeFrance, the US, and the British. See the tab titled "Human Rights and Refugees" for more information and resources on these issues.

Who is Bashar al-Assad?

  • Bashar al-Assad was born in 1965 in Damascus.
  • He is the third child, and the second son, of Hafez al-Assad. Hafez was President of the Syrian Arab Republic from 1970 to 2000.
  • Bashar has a degree in medicine from the University of Damascus.
  • After Bashar's elder brother, Hafez's heir apparent, died in a 1994 car accident, Bashar was recalled from his residency in London to be groomed to be Hafez's successor.
  • He officially became Syria's president in July 2000 after Hafez's death in June 2000.
  • Bashar, like the rest of the al-Assad family, belongs to the Alawite sect of Islam. 

Interviews with Bashar al-Assad

Russia Today's Interview with al-Assad (Dec. 2016)

NBC's Interview with al-Assad (July 2016)

Charlie Rose's Interview with al-Assad with Arabic translation provided by Syrian state media (Mar. 2015)

BBC's Interview with al-Assad (Feb. 2015)

Fox News's Interview with al-Assad (Sept. 2013)

Russia Today's Interview with al-Assad (Nov. 2012)

CBS News's Interview with al-Assad (Sept. 2007)