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From eye doctor to dictator: Inside Syria’s Deadly Dynasty on Nat Geo examines Assad family

One of the biggest mysteries in modern politics involves one of the most ravaged countries in the world: Syria. Millions have fled their homeland and untold numbers have been slaughtered by their own government.

Why would a government turn on its people as Syria has, and what created the environment for what appears to be a Westernized well-educated couple to allow their country to descend into bloody chaos where women and children are fired upon freely or poisoned with chemicals?

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma in Paris. Pic credit: Nat Geo via MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma in Paris. Pic credit: Nat Geo via MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

National Geographic brings Inside Syria’s Deadly Dynasty, a shocking documentary reveal of the Assad clan reign, and how the current Assad heir and leader Bashar Assad – an unassuming ophthalmologist married to a modelesque British woman who rarely if ever seen in anything remotely traditional in Islam – went from medic to monster in our lifetime.

Fact: Human Rights Watch reports that more than 400,000 Syrians have died as a result of direct government sanctioned violence since 2011, according to the World Bank, with over 5 million seeking refuge abroad and over 6 million displaced internally, according to the UN agencies.

The ruling Assads present as a pretty picture of affluence and Western ideals. They are tall, photogenic and rarely if ever seen in Islamic garb. The two have reigned over Syria since 2000. Prior to that, his father Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria from 1970 to 2000 when he relinquished his power.

It's a good, swanky life for Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, who rule over untold human suffering and atrocities. Pic credit: Nat Geo via (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
It’s a good, swanky life for Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, who rule over untold human suffering and atrocities. Pic credit: Nat Geo via MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Mrs. Asma al-Assad is of British birth, raised outside of London and she is highly educated just like her husband.  Bashar’s older brother Bassel was killed in a car accident, and his younger brother Maher is often noted as the brutal brawn behind Bashar’s position of power.

The former ISIS capital city Raqqa is the epicenter of war-torn Syria, where the ongoing civil war literally is a contentious chess board for competing world powers like Russia, the USA, and even China.

From a devastated civilian population where unimaginable human stories of people caught in the crossfire between ISIS, their own government and even US-backed coalition airstrikes, the majority of the country has been affected with many cities left in ruins. Syrians are relocated as far away as Idaho in the USA, where one of the largest concentrated Syrian refugee population was established.

The event shows the progression of Bashar al-Assad, the influence of his mother, his brother Maher, and how he was complicit and aware of the horrors inflicted upon his own people.

Nat Geo’s two-hour documentary assiduously blends archive footage and interviews, providing a more fleshed out and deeper picture of who he is, who his father Hafez was and why Bashar remains in power despite international outrage, even from other Arab countries.

The time span runs from 1970 to now showing just how the civil war has wreaked the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st Century.

Syrian President, Hafez El Assad, and his family pose for a photograph. June 4, 1974 in Damascus, Syria. L-R are the late Bassel, Bouchra, Hafez, Maher, Majd, Anisa (Hafez’s wife), and Bashar. Pic credit: Nat Geo via Getty Images/Alexandra De Borchgrave
Syrian President, Hafez El Assad, and his family in 1974 in Damascus, Syria. L-R are the late Bassel, Bouchra, Hafez, Maher, Majd, Anisa (Hafez’s wife), and Bashar. Pic credit: Nat Geo via Getty Images/Alexandra De Borchgrave

Inside Syria traces the rags to riches path of Hafez, from poverty to world leader, a strong man who groomed his bright eldest son Bassel to take over after his rule. In 1994, Bassel died in a car crash and the burden of rule fell upon Bashar, the more timid son studying to be an eye surgeon, living a life abroad.

Bashar’s weight was thrown during the 2003 invasion of Iraq as Islamic extremists were armed and released from Syria’s prisons, sent to fight the U.S. and allied troops. The bad blood between Syria and the USA continued. Reports of gassing Syrians and Syria’s allied efforts with Russia furthered the rift and to this day have not been resolved.

By the time the 2011 “Arab Spring” was in full swing and in Syria, Bashar was abusing his civilians, lumping ordinary people in as enemies of the state and dissenters. No atrocity was off limits.

The cryptic and enigmatic monster that is Bashar al-Assad is still in power, make sure to tune in to understand why this is.

Inside Syria’s Deadly Dynasty airs Sunday, Dec. 2 at 9 PM on National Geographic Channel


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