How did mild-mannered eye doctor Bashar al-Assad end up a mass murderer?

Former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his wife Anisa with his children (l-r) Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd and Bushra. Photo: Louai Beshara/ AFP/ Getty Images
Former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his wife Anisa with his children (l-r) Maher, Bashar, Bassel, Majd and Bushra. Photo: Louai Beshara/ AFP/ Getty Images

Perhaps the saddest thing about this fascinating BBC2 documentary was realising just how completely avoidable the Syrian conflict was.

‘How did this mild-mannered eye doctor end up killing hundreds of thousands of people?’ someone wondered about Bashar al-Assad in BBC2’s extraordinary three-part documentary A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad (BBC2, Saturday). It’s a question we’ve all occasionally pondered as the Syrian body count rose — 500,000 thus far — and as six million refugees fled the country. The answer is so lurid and complex that it could have come from one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Chinless, studious, polite Bashar was never meant to become president of Syria. His thuggish military officer father Hafez, who seized power in 1970, had earmarked the job for his dashing equestrian soldier son Bassel. But when Bassel was killed in a car crash, the reluctant Bashar (rather in the manner of Michael Corleone replacing his elder brother Sonny) was forced to take on the role that would transform him inexorably from a healer to a killer of men (women, and children…).

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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