Bashar Assad has praised democracy in the past. Will he engineer a new Syria -- or revert to his father's brutal oppression of opponents?
AP Photo/Hussein Malla
As former Monitor correspondent Robin Wright noted in her book "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East," "The primacy of survival and a legacy of tyranny were Assad's bequests to his son," the current president, Bashar Assad.
A London-trained opthamologist, the younger Assad never seemed destined to rule -- and certainly not with the iron fist his of his father, who harbored terrorists and ordered the massacre of regime opponents at Hama in 1982. In his 2000 inaugural address, Assad called for democracy and free speech. When that led to dissent within a couple of years, however, political life was shut down.
Democracy advocates reappeared a few years later, only to be clamped down on again. Now he is faced with an unprecedented uprising. Part of him knows the value of freedom. Part of him reflects his father's instinct for self-preservation.
If he can maneuver Syria toward greater democracy without the sort of violent spasm Libya is going through, he will be the shrewest Arab leader of 2011.
Note to readers: If you would like to see an early version of this column, plus our selection of the most important stories of the day, click here to subscribe to the Monitor's Daily News Briefing.