Since the end of 2010, the Middle East has been rocked by large protests that have so far led to the ouster or self-imposed exile of three presidents. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under international pressure to resign in light of allegations of governmental involvement in the killings or disappearances of almost 2,000 protesters, according to Reuters. With no end in sight for the violence, most countries and relief organizations have had no other choice but to withdraw ambassadors and aid workers from Syria. Assad has done little to try to bring peace to the country. Here are some important facts about the leader.
* Bashar Al-Assad first became president in 2000 after the death of his father, former President Hafez al-Assad. The younger Assad was then re-elected with over 95 percent of the vote in 2007. He was running unopposed.
* Hafez al-Assad came into power after a bloody coup by a branch of the Ba’ath Party. Due to a strong military backing, Hafez’s opponents were never successful in the subsequent attempted coups.
* Bashar is married to Asma, and the couple have three children. Asma is Syrian but was born in England.
* Due to the fact that Assad was only 34 when his father died, the government had to amend the constitution to lower the age requirements for the presidency. Originally an individual had to be 40 or older in order to be president of Syria. The age was lowered to 34.
* Assad is, like his father was, a member of the Ba’ath Party. The Ba’ath Party is a militant political party that uses violence to control its citizens, according to World Desk Reference.
* Under the leadership of Assad, despite expectations to the contrary, most of his father’s policies were continued. Although he claimed to have taken no political prisoners before the current uprising, there is evidence that Assad has taken many.
* Assad restricted websites such as YouTube and Facebook and attempted to keep records of all Internet posting and comments Syrian citizens made.
* Religion has played a large role in Assad’s presidency. He even demanded an apology for the role the Catholic Church played in the crusades from Pope John Paul II while the pontiff visited Syria.
* The current protests and uprisings are part of a much larger wave of protests going through the Middle East. This unrest started in late 2010. Protesters and world leaders are calling for the resignation of Assad and there are indications that a large number of opponents of the president have been killed and some have simply vanished.
* The protests have led to the lifting of the emergency law that had been in place since before his father was president. These laws gave the government and military great power to regulate most aspects of life for the citizens of Syria.
* It was Assad’s use of a tank against protesters that finally triggered the international outrage, sanctions and threats of force against the Syrian president.