Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad has been in the news recently, due to the increasing scrutiny of his leadership. As events continue to unfold in his country, we are likely to be hearing a lot more about this controversial leader. The New Lion of Damascus is an authoritative work by David Lesch that helps to shed light on Syria’s ophthalmologist-turned-president.
Bashar al-Assad recently made his first public address since events began escalating in his country. In the wake of the staggering political upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, anti-government protests began in Syria two weeks ago after security forces arrested several teenagers for scrawling anti-government graffiti.
Since then Assad fired his cabinet in a move to pacify the protesters and is also expected to announce constitutional amendments that will bring an end to the hugely-controversial emergency laws that give his regime legitimacy to arrest people without charges.
However, at the recent public address Bashar al-Assad claimed that Syria has been the target of a ‘conspiracy’ to sow sectarian strife, blaming the protests on ‘conspirators’ who are trying to destroy the country. Although Assad emphasized that security forces were given ‘clear instructions’ not to harm citizens during the protests, the inflammatory parts of his speech will worry those concerned with the threat of escalating violence from the state (human rights groups claim more than 60 people have been killed since 18 March in a government crackdown).
But who is this controversial leader? Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father, Hafiz al-Assad, as Syrian president in 2000. Inheriting a worn-down dictatorship, he soon encountered momentous regional and international issues involving the global war on terror and the growth of democracy in the Middle East. While Assad appears to seek integration into a changing political environment, many in Syria fear the loss of the political and economic power they enjoyed during the reign of Hafiz al Assad, while others wish for a democracy free from the authoritarianism that plagues many Arab countries.
Understanding its leader is vital to an understanding of Syria’s current place in the world, its past, present and future. In his book The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Assad and Modern Syria, David Lesch aims to provide an essential account of contemporary Syria and its enigmatic leader. Using the unique and extraordinary access he has gained to Assad, his circle and his family, Lesch’s book should provide the definitive account of contemporary Syria at this critical juncture in the history of the Middle East.
The New Lion of Damascus is out now from Yale University Press.