He Loves the Internet and Phil Collins. Now Destiny of Syria Lies with Bashar; PUSSYCAT REPLACES MIDDLE EAST'S LION

By White, Stephen | The Mirror (London, England), June 12, 2000 | Go to article overview

He Loves the Internet and Phil Collins. Now Destiny of Syria Lies with Bashar; PUSSYCAT REPLACES MIDDLE EAST'S LION


White, Stephen, The Mirror (London, England)


THE Lion of Syria is dead - long live the pussycat.

Grieving Syrians learned yesterday that their laws had been changed to allow the youngest son of their legendary president to take power.

Thousands took to the streets to mourn President Assad, 69, who had been suffering from heart problems.

Now the world waits to see if his son Bashar - a trained eye doctor with a love for the internet and the music of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston - can follow in his footsteps.

For three turbulent decades Hafez al-Assad was at the eye of the storm of Middle East politics.

He was obstinate defender of Arab rights, involved in every twist and turn with the fate of Lebanon. Throughout, he clung brutally to power, once ordering the massacre of 20,000 citizens to quell a revolt in his fractured country.

Bashar Al-Assad, 34, was never meant to pick up the reins of power. He trained as an ophthalmologist in London for four years, using an alias after taking a medical degree in Damascus.

The call came after his brother Basel was killed in a car crash on the road to Damascus in 1994.

Bashar was made a colonel in command of the Syrian army's armoured division after a crash course at a staff training college.

His father was a military man, and control of the army is considered vital to retain a grip on the country.

But the unmarried Bashar showed little interest in his new role.

HE STEERED clear of formal dress uniform of camouflage fatigues, preferring a powder-blue combat suit.

And after fulfilling a peace mission around the Middle East and Europe, he was quickly back to his main interest - computers and the internet.

He founded the Syrian Computer society in a country where until recently there was no mobile phone network and only government officials and favoured citizens were allowed to surf the worldwide web.

Only four years ago, fax machines were still banned and satellite TV illegal.

The softly-spoken and shy Bashar gave his first ever press interview five months ago. Naturally, it concerned computers.

He said: "Before long the computer culture is going to be part of our traditions. Just as illiteracy, until fairly recently, meant a human being's inability to read and write, the latter-day version means an inability to use the computer."

Syrian businessman Osami Alli said: "We have a generation running Syria who were led by the Soviet Union and former Eastern bloc.

"We are looking for new people who are open-minded and Western-educated and can talk about the internet. Bashar is very interested in new technology and likes to read about satellites and telecommunications. …

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