The trainee ophthalmologist, who was working at the Western Eye Hospital in London, was never meant to be president of Syria. It all happened by complete accident. This documentary takes viewers on a journey and tells the story of the dangerous dynasty that is the al-Assad family.
Bashar al-Assad was the second born son Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who also had conducted some dubious dealings himself. Hafez had planned for his first-born son, Bassel, to succeed him in the presidency. However, he was tragically killed in a car accident not long after his father’s passing. That is when Bashar assumed power.
As international media have observed, Bashar’s popularity with the Syrian people is falling with every seven-year term that he gets elected – despite only his name appearing on the ballot paper. Therefore, it was surprising to find out how he unintentionally became president in the first place.
The programme shows rarely-seen and archived footage, including interviews of Bashar’s wife, Asma, for the BBC and for the ill-timed vogue magazine article. It has previously been said that she is one of the most influential women in the Middle East.
BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen, paints the Assads, especially Bashar, out to be polite and courteous people. Yet, as the people on the ground in Syria will state, that is far from the grim reality that Bashar and his regime are mass murders. The tally of those killed in the civil war currently stands at approximately 500,000, and the toll keeps on rising with every government-led airstrike that takes place.
The second episode airs a rare interview with the man himself. In the interview he does not feel as though he is the president, he states that he does not enjoy the role as he claims he is spending too much time making the Syrian people happy. Why would he say this if his administration is leading airstrikes that are killing his own people and forcing families from regions such as Douma and Eastern Ghouta to flee from the country altogether?
The same episode states that he wants to be the most powerful leader in a region of conflicting nations. During the rule of his father, Lebanon was embroiled in a civil war and Hafez took this as an opportunity to expand regional Syrian influence through military occupation. Syria continued to treat Lebanon as its own province until 2004, when the UN Security council ordered the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
In 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hairi was killed in a car bomb explosion and those around him placed the blame on Syria. Both Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef, and mother-in-law were named in a special United Nations investigation as being behind the assassination of the leader of Lebanon.
As time went on, and the more conflicts Syria were involved in, the more dangerous Assad and his government became towards their own people. This is something that helped me understand the situation in the Middle East, particularly the seriousness of the situation between Lebanon and Syria.
Episode three shows the response and decisions of Assad and his government as the Arab Spring uprising continued to grow and spread across the whole of Syria – not just Damascus. In the documentary, it is claimed that for two weeks during the uprising, Assad went into hiding with his wife and they were nowhere to be seen.
Soon, the uprising had turned into a multi-sided civil war, resulting in the deaths of thousands over a two-year period. Whilst contending with the unrest, Assad has also been battling terrorist groups in Syria, trying to regain control of key regions.
People were rebelling against everything that Assad was doing, as they did not believe he could – or would – live up to his promises of freedom and reform for the Syrian people. In any given protest, over 100 people would be killed – which people claimed were at the orders of the government.
Some protests even go on today, but the more likely scenario is that there will be an illegal gas attack, or a government-lead airstrike. Many people believe this is why the Assad administration should be tried and sentenced for war crimes at The Hague. Whilst Syria has many sanctions against them, including on Assad and his wife, it is unlikely they will be removed any time soon.
I would recommend this series to anyone who is into Middle Eastern politics. I would like to have seen it as a six-part documentary, with more information, but this documentary will provide a solid base to this who are researching the topic.