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

Jason Burke

The Unassuming Despot

Assad: The Triumph of Tyranny

By

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

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