Assad: The Triumph of Tyranny by Con Coughlin - review by Jason Burke

Jason Burke

The Unassuming Despot

Assad: The Triumph of Tyranny


Picador 288pp £25

In 1992, residents of Belgravia found they had a new neighbour: a tall young medical student with a pronounced lisp. He did not socialise a great deal, rarely leaving his spacious apartment, and his interests appeared limited: computer science, listening to Phil Collins and Whitney Houston, ophthalmology. The bodyguards and the large chauffeur-driven black BMW that took him to university were a sign that his otherwise modest lifestyle hid some considerable wealth or power, but generally he kept a low profile. 

Bashar al-Assad was twenty-six years old when he arrived in the UK. His father, Hafez al-Assad, had taken power twenty-one years before and, though physically weakening, he still held Syria in a brutally tight grip. There was little to suggest that this timid second son, a mediocre student at school and at Damascus University, would do much more than enjoy a life of undistinguished ease.

In January 1994, Bashar’s older brother, Bassel, died in a car accident. Within days of his father’s death six years later, Bashar was ruler of Syria. ‘You see these hands,’ the new president told a friend. ‘When people look at my hands, they think they are soft, as

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March