The world expected much from Basher-al Assad after he inherited power in Syria following his father’s death in 2000.
Basher was in London studying ophthalmology when his elder brother Basil, the man groomed to take over from his father, was killed in a car accident in 1994.
Basher was taken out of school and sent directly to a military academy where he began training for his future role as head of the so-called ‘hereditary republic’.
The optimism that greeted his ascent to power appears misplaced; after all he was brought up by his father in a household that considered Syria its own property.
Hafez al-Assad came to power in the bloodless coup of 1970 and assumed the presidency in 1971. He took over a dictatorial government formed by years of unstable military rule.
So began three decades of repression as Hafez ran the country with a iron fist. He consolidated power by packing key government, military, and intelligence posts with family members and others in his minority Alawite sect, a Shi’ite group in a majority Sunni country.
He crushed opponents, notably at an uprising in Hama in 1982 that left thousands dead.
Basher al-Assad has continued in the tradition of his father. The Alawite elite now dominates the whole security apparatus.
His brother Maher heads the army and Baath party militia. His brother-in-law, Assaf Chawkat, is the secret service chief and his cousins run state security in Damascus.
The Assads follow a secular ideology, but unions have been formed with fellow Shi’ites, in Iran and Hezbollah based in Lebanon.
The regime survives on fear and myth creation, people believe that without Assad there would be chaos.
The difficulty for the eye doctor is that the perceived invincibility is being challanged as Arabs shake off the shackles of dictatorship.
The current system of government was created in a different age when information was tightly controlled and the idea of revolt unimaginable
Now all bets are off as analysts think the people no longer believe in Assad. They have seen hundreds killed in a crackdown, which shows no sign of ending.
The question remains, how long can Assad’s crumbling facade last in the face of a determined revolt, as ordinary Syrians risk life and limb to rid the country of the ophthalmologist and his acolytes?