I remember when the images and posters of Bassel started to be replaced by that of Bashar in the streets of Damascus. His father, although sick, tried hard
to market his son as the symbol of "hope." For almost two years after Bassel's death, Bashar was not in the public eye. He was being trained in military
and political affairs.
After two years, Bashar was transformed. Even his low, soft, child-like voice seemed to be tougher, and his stance became more confident and powerful. But
many Syrian people would say that though Bashar changed on the surface, he had not changed on the inside. They believe he was still an anxious man with
vacillating moods, just as he was when he was a child. Despite these misgivings, Bashar is considered the most articulate Arab leader; he is the only one
who speaks Fusha (formal) Arabic most of the time.
When he assumed power, the lifestyle the West still occupied Assad's mind -- In his inaugural speech he emphasized that it was time to begin modernizing
Syria. But to modernize Syria and remake it in the "image" he desired, he needed to adopt neo-liberal and capitalist policies, both of which stirred up a
strong resistance from his father's old guard, who founded the socialist and secular Ba'ath Party. Not knowing the long-term consequences of marrying
neoliberalism with the authoritarian structure, Bashar gained short-term benefits with his vast changes, but he also planted the seed of revolution.
In the beginning of his rule, he introduced the Damascus Spring, which included some political reforms that would suit the economic changes he planned. But
when he saw that the reaction to his political shake-up was endangering his own throne, he retreated to old policies of mass repression, relying on
Mukhabarat, the secret security police, to enforce his commands.
Internal clashes and tensions between Bashar and his father's old guard were inevitable. Men such as Ali Duba (former head of the Syrian military
intelligence and a close adviser to the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad) as well as hardliners such as his brother Maher al-Assad (commander of the
Republican Guard and the army's elite Fourth Armored Division), held such opposing views to that of their new leader that chaos was certain to occur.
During his early rule, Bashar became aware of the discontent and used his power to retire some of the old guard, sweeping them from power to reduce the
conflict he faced.
The gradual increase of neo-liberal policies and privatization exaggerated the inequality between the poor and the rich, which was especially felt in
middle-class areas, and mid-sized and large cities. While a small portion of the crony capitalists and loyalists to Assad were able to benefit from these
policies, the vast majority of the population was disenfranchised. The uprising in the Arab world (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) in 2011 also sparked the
revolution against Bashar, who was still perceived as an inept leader.