Who Is Bashar al-Assad?

PHOTO: Bashar al-Assad waves from the balcony of al-Rawdha presidential palace in Damascus, March 2003, to Lebanese protesters.
Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The eyes of the world, and the laser sights of U.S. guided missiles, are trained on Syria. U.S. officials, however, say they are not specifically targeting Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, a strongman whose soldiers are accused of using chemical weapons.

Here are five things to know about President Assad.

PHOTO: Syrian President Hafez El Assad and his family, pose for a photograph, June 1974, in Damas, Syria. Pictured are, left to right, Bassel, Bouchra, Hafez his wife, Madjeh and Bashar.
Alexandra De Borchgrave /Getty Images
A Reluctant President

Bashar Assad, 47, is a trained ophthalmologist who never wanted to be president. The second son of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 after the deaths of his older brother and father. Soon after taking power, he admitted to National Geographic, "My father never talked to me about politics."

PHOTO: Bashar al-Assad salutes the crowd during a demonstration in Damascus, March 2005.
Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images
From Reformer to Hardliner

Educated in London, many in the West initially believed Assad would be a reformer. The first year of his presidency was dubbed the "Syrian Spring," as Assad implemented anticorruption policies and released political prisoners convicted during his father's regime. Assad's administration, however, was filled with hardliners who controlled the country's military and are believed to have steered him away from reforms.

PHOTO: Bashar Al-Assad and his wife Asma Assad arrive for a dinner hosted by Britains Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, at Lancaster house in central London, December 2002.
Nicolas/Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images
A 'Rose in the Desert'

Assad married his British-born wife, Asma, in 2000. A former investment banker, Asma was described in a flattering but ultimately controversial Vogue magazine profile, published in the first months of the civil war, as a "rose in the desert." Diplomatic cables published by the website Wikileaks revealed that Asma, now personally sanctioned by the EU, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-end furniture while her husband executed one of the bloodiest crackdowns in recent memory. According to documents, among the items she purchased were 11 ottomans that cost $31,000.

PHOTO: The Assad family. Hafez al-Assad and his wife, Mrs. Anisa Makhlouf. On the back row, from left to right: Maher, Bashar, Basil, Majid, and Bushra al-Assad.
Wikimedia Commons
The First Family

Assad is second of five siblings. His older brother Bassel was groomed to be his father's successor but was killed in a car accident in 1994. His younger brother Maher is the youngest son and commands the country's elite Republican Guard, responsible for guarding the first family and maintaining defenses around Damascus. Maher is believed by some to have ordered soldiers to use chemical weapons. Maher is also believed to have killed the husband of Bushra Assad, the brothers' only sister, by shooting him in the stomach. A third brother, Majd Assad, died under mysterious circumstances in 2009.

PHOTO: A wall poster features the portrait of Bashar el-Assad, May 2008.
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Love, Hate and Social Media

Assad seems to have a love-hate relationship with social media. He has attempted to curtail rebels' use of sites like Facebook and YouTube by attempting to ban them. However, in July, he officially joined Instagram. Using the handle syrianpresidency, and followed by more 34,000 people, his regime took its first steps into 21st-century propaganda, posting images of the president surrounded by cheering troops and the first lady comforting crying children.

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