Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad marks his 48th birthday on Wednesday with a reason to celebrate: the threat of U.S. airstrikes against him has waned, despite ongoing bloodshed and brutality in his country.
A Syrian pro-regime site called on residents of the capital Damascus to demonstrate their support for Assad by joining a convoy of cars in the Mazzeh district to honor him, according to AFP.
The British-trained ophthalmologist who has three children sees himself as no “butcher,” a nickname most Syrians like to call him.
“I should be the hope of the Syrian,” Assad said in an interview with with Charlie Rose on “CBS This Morning” this week.
“When you have a doctor to cut the leg to prevent the patient from the gangrene, you don't call him a butcher; you call him a doctor, and you thank him for saving lives,” he added.
His appearance on U.S. television was part of a campaign to influence U.S. public opinion against supporting President Barack Obama’s plans to launch a strike on his regime.
Assad’s campaign appeared to have paid off as U.S. President Obama asked Congress on Tuesday to delay the vote on whether the United States should intervene militarily, vowing to give long-shot diplomacy a chance.
Assad succeeded his father Hafez, coming to the position of heir unexpectedly, after his brother Bassel was killed in a car accident.
Once considered a potential reformer, who discussed the need for political and economic openness after he took office, Assad has responded with an iron fist to an uprising that began in March 2011, according to AFP.
Inside Syria, Assad is believed to have a firm grip on his regime, more than two years after the uprising began.
“He is even more the 'boss' than before, even if he can't act without the support of the military and security apparatus,” according Nikolaos van Dam, a Dutch diplomat and author of a book on Syria, AFP reported.
“He listens to his advisors, but he takes the decision by himself,” adds an expert based in Beirut.
Assad's confidantes include his brother Maher al-Assad, a colonel who heads the division in charge of Damascus, as well as his wife Asma.
His inner circle also includes his uncle and cousin Mohammad and Rami Makhlouf, two businessmen, and Hafez Makhlouf, his security chief in Damascus.
Most of his inner circle, like Assad, hails from the Alawite minority, although his wife Asma is a Sunni Muslim.
But he also counts Druze among his closest advisors, including minister of presidential affairs Mansour Azzam and Louna al-Shibi, a former journalist.
Others close to him include Alawite Hussam Sukkar, a general and his presidential security advisor, and two senior Sunni intelligence officials -- General Ali Mamluk, who heads national security, and General Rustom Ghazaleh, head of political security.