Bashar Assad: 5 little-known facts about the Syrian president
President Donald Trump praised his new national security adviser John Bolton for last Friday’s air strikes in Syria. Speaking at an event on tax cuts in Florida, Trump called the strikes “genius,” saying not one U.S. missile was shot down. (April 16)
Recently dubbed “a monster” by President Trump, Syrian President Bashar Assad is under fire for suspected chemical attacks on civilians living in Douma. U.S., French and British forces launched 105 missiles in response, targeting chemical weapons facilities that belong to Syrian forces.
Syria’s civil war hit its seven-year mark last month, and Assad has been accused of war crimes amid the devastating humanitarian crisis.
Even as the son of a president, his path to power is uncommon. Here are five facts you may not have known about Assad.
Assad had a short-lived stint as a ‘totally regular’ eye doctor
Assad studied to become an ophthalmologist at the University of Damascus, where he graduated in 1988 before working as an army doctor. He then pursued an advanced degree in London, with the intention of being an eye doctor with a relatively private life. “He was a totally regular citizen; you wouldn’t guess he was the son of the president unless you knew him personally,” said a university friend Ayman Abdel Nour of Assad in a 2017 article by Quartz.
His wife, Asma Assad, has a penchant for lavish shopping sprees
Assad met Asma Akras in London while continuing his ophthalmology studies at the Western Eye Hospital. The British-Syrian is known for her poised public image but has been accused of complacency when questioned about her husband’s actions. The Guardian reported on her seemingly close-knit marriage to Assad, which apparently includes high-end shopping sprees where she consistently spends tens of thousands of dollars on jewelry, clothes and furniture.
His brother’s death catapulted him into unlikely power
Bassel Assad’s trajectory to continue the family’s regime ended in 1994 when he was killed in car accident. Their father, then-President Hafez Assad, quickly groomed Bashar to take his place, according to a 2013 op-ed published in The Atlantic. Once seen as small and weak, especially in comparison to his “idolized” brother Bassel, Bashar underwent years of training before becoming the face of Syrian politics, according to the article.
A Vogue profile of Asma Assad went viral for all the wrong reasons
The 2011 story, which called Asma Assad “the very freshest and most magnetic of first ladies” and her family “wildly democratic,” was quickly condemned for its glowing portrayal and was later deleted from American Vogue’s website. The Hill then reported that the story was a product of a paid public relations effort by the Syrian government. The profile, “Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert,” included a colorful two-page photo spread.
Will Assad ever be charged with war crimes?
Recent airstrikes by a joint coalition of U.S., French and British forces responded to a suspected chemical attack on dozens of Syrian civilians. And this isn’t the first time Assad’s government has been accused of attacking its own people.
A 2017 sarin gas attack by Syrian forces on civilians in the Idlib province was documented in viral videos showing children struggling to exhale. That attack prompted Trump to order a 59-missile strike at a Syrian airbase.
Russia vetoed previous efforts to get Syria referred to the International Criminal Court. Evidence of Assad’s war crimes is currently being gathered by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, former ICC prosecutor Alex Whiting told NPR recently. Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor, said a tribunal could be held in the future if Assad was ever removed from office.
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