Still democracy appears to be safer and less liable to revolution than oligarchy. For in oligarchies there is the double danger of the oligarchs falling out among themselves and also with the people …
[W]herein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them …, the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Bashar al-Asad was not meant to be a dictator. Although he was the son of Syria's long-serving president, Hafez al-Asad, Bashar's education and career were nonpolitical. In 1988, at the age of twenty-three, he received a degree in ophthalmology from the University of Damascus and moved to London four years later to continue his medical residency. Hafez al-Asad had instead groomed Bashar's older brother, Basil, as his successor. Yet Bashar's seclusion from politics ended in 1994 when Basil died in an automobile accident. Bashar was recalled from London, entered a military academy, and quickly advanced through the ranks, while his father spent the last years of his life eliminating potential challengers to Bashar's succession.
Consider Bashar al-Asad's delicate position on July 17, 2000, when he became the Syrian president. Given his unexpected path to power, how does he best ensure his survival in office? What threats should he expect and how will he deal with them?
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