Syria's Assad: An accidental heir proves resilient
BEIRUT (AP) - He doesn't quite fit the image painted by his opponents of a brutal dictator who kills with chemical weapons: He is a soft-spoken, lisping doctor who enjoys Western rock music and electronic gadgets, an accidental heir to power who seems somewhat out of place.
Those who knew Mr Bashar al-Assad before and in the early days of his presidency remember him as a humble, timid man who was uncomfortable being the son of a president and never wanted to lead. He told friends that being an eye doctor was much more satisfying, and that he preferred photography and computers to politics.
Yet, Mr Assad, who turns 48 on Wednesday, has proven ruthlessly resilient. Nearly three years into the uprising against his family's more than 40-year-rule, he has defied every prediction that his end is near.
His willingness to go as far as it takes against the rebellion has so far succeeded in keeping his regime core in power, even as large swaths of his country fall from his control or turn into devastated killing fields.