(b. Damascus, 11 Sept. 1965)
Syrian; President of Syria 2000– The second son of Hafez al-Assad, he was completing his training as an ophthalmologist in London when his older brother, Basil al-Assad, who was seen as his father's successor, was killed in a car crash in 1994. Bashar was called back to Damascus to work with his father. Hafez died in 2000 and Bashar became President, an appointment confirmed in an unopposed referendum in 2001. Initially he started to liberalize Syrian society but conservative forces within the Ba'ath party ensured that this reform was short-lived. He opposed the invasion of Iraq and was strongly criticized by the USA for allowing insurgents to cross into Iraq from Syria. He continued his father's policy of opposition to Israel and, by providing support for Hamas and Hezbollah, his actions have resulted in sanctions by the USA and delays in finalizing a trade agreement with the EU. In 2005 Syria was implicated in the assassination of the popular former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut. Although he has always denied such involvement, he was forced to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon, first deployed 29 years before. He was re-elected unopposed to another seven-year term in 2007. His actions have ensured that Syria remains an important player in searching for a solution to peace in the Middle East, and his recent isolation is decreasing, encouraged by President Sarkozy of France. At home the decline in the price of oil in 2008 added to his problems in reforming an inefficient economy dominated by state activity.