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Syria's Dr Bashar al-Assad: life saver or mass killer? Guest post

Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus in 1965, the second oldest son of Hafez al-Assad. Father Hafez was born to a poor rural family of Shiite Alawite back­ground who rose through the Ba'ath Party ranks to take control of the Syrian branch of the Party in the 1970 Corr­ective Revolution. This culminated in his rise to the Syrian presid­ency! In Sunni-dominated Syria (74% of the nat­ion), Shiite (12% of the nation) Hafez promoted his supporters with­in the Shiite Ba'ath Party, many of whom were also of Alawite back­ground.

Bashar a-Assad had 5 siblings, 3 of whom died early. He received his primary and secondary education in the Arab-French al-Hurriya School in Damascus. In 1982, he graduated from high school and then studied medicine at Damascus University. In 1988, Assad began working as an army doctor at the Tishrin Military Hospital in outer Damascus.
Dr Bashar al-Assad working

Four years later, he moved to the UK to begin post graduate train­ing in ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in Marylebone Rd, London. While living alone in his London flat for two years, Bashar had few political aspirations, planning only to practise medicine and involve himself in technology. His eventual London practice, his fellow students believed, would offer dependable, everyday medicine that relieved the suffering of sick Britons.

Dr al-Assad and I didn’t meet each other. I did my medical years in the UK in a different decade, a different hospital and a different medical specialty. But we may well have known the same consultants, att­ended the same medical conferences and read the same medical jour­nals. And undoubtedly Bashar and I both worked overly-long hours and earned miserable wages.

However his older brother Bassel al-Assad died in a car accident in 1994 and Bashar was re­called to the Syrian Army at Homs very quickly. Over the next 6.5 years, until his death in 2000, father Hafez prepared Bashar for taking over power; support was built up for the young doctor in the military and security sectors. Bashar rocketed up the ranks to become a colonel of the elite Alawite Syrian Repub­lican Guard.

Parallel to his military career, Bashar was granted wide political powers - many of Bashar's potential rivals for president were put on trial for corruption. But Syria was already facing rebellion - Sunni fighting Shiite against a backdrop of agitations across the Middle East.

After the death of Hafez al-Assad in June 2000, the Constitution of Syria was amended so that Bashar Assad could stand for President. In the first contested presidential election in Ba'athist Syria's history, Bashar al-Assad was then confirmed President in July 2000, with 99.7% support for his leadership. And as President of Syria, he was also appointed commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces and Regional Secret­ary of the Ba'ath Party.

Three progressive events occurred. Firstly Bashar became the President of the Syrian Computer Society and helped to introduce technological modernity in Syria. Secondly a reform movement made cautious advances during the Damascus Spring of 2000. Amnes­ties released hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated political pris­oners and the most brutal prisons were closed. Finally Assad briefly allied his country with the West.

But despite hopes for democratic change, the Damascus Spring didn’t last. Within months, Assad’s regime used arrests to stamp out pro-reform activism; economic changes had to precede political reforms. Assad streng­th­ened Syria's link with Hez­bol­lah, its patrons in Iran and later Russia. Meantime the USA, the European Union and most of the Arab League called for Assad's resignation, particularly after he ordered military sieges on Damascus Spring protest­ers.

In the long run this led to the Syrian Civil War which started in 2011. Since then, Assad The Loved Doctor morphed into Assad The Mass Murderer. This blog has carefully noted degenerate killer-doctors before eg Dr William Palmer, Dr HH Holmes and Dr Harold Shipman etc. But these men killed dozens or perhaps hundreds of civilians.

Assad’s killing sprees emerged on an industrial scale! More than 400,000 Syrians dead, six million citizens internally displaced and five million refugees fled abroad. And to add to the unspeak­able tragedy, it was at the hands of a president who used to be a proper doctor.

Destruction of MSF Hospital in Aleppo Syria, 2016

Destruction of a MSF ward in Aleppo Syria, 2016

As well as bombing civilian populations, Assad also targeted hospitals, the exact atrocity that started the Geneva Conventions 150+ years ago and led to the creation of the Red Cross. It was the original war crime! c800 medical pers­onnel have been killed and many others detained and tortured. Since 2011, there have been 450 attacks on Syrian hospitals which now lie in ruins. What a nightmare!

The United Nations said that no previous war has witnessed such deliberate, systematic targeting of medical facil­ities and health professionals, all ordered by a doctor president!! Bombing anonymous civilians may not have upset Assad, but I assume that system­atically killing his medical colleagues and their patients would have distressed even the hardest of medical hearts. In any case, why would a doctor president specifically target hospitals, of all facilities, for his kills?

Unsurprisingly an inquiry by the United Nations reported the evidence which implicated Assad in war crimes. In June 2014, Assad was finally included in a list of war crimes indict­ments of government officials and rebels handed to the Inter­nat­ional Criminal Court. One month later, in July 2014, Assad was sworn in for another 7-year term!

Doctors Without Borders/MSF
 is supporting ten hospitals and thirteen other medical facilities in Aleppo now. These facilities were required so they could cope with the extra number of wounded, given that a] the original MSF hospital was destroyed and b] because there were MANY wounded people being bombed in other states. The doctors working in Aleppo were the real heroes because they risked their lives at every moment. 95% of the doctors who were living in eastern Aleppo before the war either fled or were killed, so there are few medicos still working in the city. 

Dr Joe


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