Bashar al-Assad’s grooming for power started immediately after his brother’s death in 1994. He was then twenty-eight. As a medical doctor, who had specialised in opthalmology in England for a couple of years, he did not seem the ideal choice. But, over the next six and half years, he was put through a crash course in government – two years in the armed services and then four and half at his father’s knee, learning the politics of Syria, the region and the wider world.
He appears to have learned quickly. He is well-educated, thoughtful, discrete, personable, with gentlemanly manners, liberal instincts, scientiﬁc interests, and a more than amateurish knowledge of information technology. He also has considerable steel in his character. In the last two years of his life, President Haﬁz al-Asad suffered from severe ill-health.