Dictators in History: Bashar al-Assad

Time for another in my occasional series of posts discussing real-life dictators and comparing them to Carlos Almanzor, the fictional dictator in my novel Revolution Day. This time I have decided to look at Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, having recently watched the intriguing BBC TV series about him.

Assad is different in many ways from the other dictators I have looked at in this series. For one thing, the others are no longer in power and, with the single exception of Robert Mugabe, are all dead, whereas Assad is still very much alive and in power. Another key difference is that whereas the others typically seized power in a coup or revolution, or in some cases (e.g. Mugabe again) gained it initially through a more or less constitutional process, only to subvert or discard such processes later on, Assad is unique in inheriting it from his father, Hafez al-Assad.

Whilst Hafez was pretty much the archetypal strongman dictator, Bashar is a very different character, at least at first sight. Born on 11 September 1965, he was the second son and thus not expected to succeed his father – that role was earmarked for his more charismatic brother, Bassel. Shy and reserved, Bashar studied medicine, first at Damascus University, and subsequently at the Western Eye Hospital in London. However, everything changed when Bassel died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar returned to Syria and from then on was groomed as his father’s successor, taking over power on Hafez’s death in 2000. In December of that year he married Asma Akhras, who was of Syrian parents but born and educated in the UK.

At first, it seemed like the new regime was interested in reform. There was an amnesty for political prisoners, and Asma toured the country engaging with local communities and championing causes such as women’s development. Even fairly early on, however, there were signs that some things had not changed. The political debate which had been tolerated at first was soon suppressed, and there were some suspicious deaths – notably of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafic Hariri in 2005.

Matters came to a head during the Arab Spring in 2011, which led to protests in Syria, as in other Arab Countries, calling for political reform. The regime responded with violence, and the clashes escalated into what would become the Syrian Civil War. This continuing conflict has had a ruinous effect on the country, with up to half a million dead so far and almost half the Syrian population displaced. At times, Assad’s days seemed numbered, but with extensive support from Russia he held on and has latterly gained the upper hand in the conflict. In doing so, however, he has relied on measures every bit as brutal as those employed by other dictators featured in this series, including chemical weapon attacks on his own people. Thus, while Assad has clung on to power, the hopes for moderation and reform that were raised when he first succeeded his father have been well and truly dashed.

Bashar and Carlos

Bashar Al-Assad was not one of the various dictators I had in mind when I created Carlos. However, watching the BBC series drew my attention to some striking parallels between the two. Both originally pursued a professional career – Assad as a doctor, Carlos as a lawyer. Neither was initially expected to take power and they came upon it almost by accident, albeit in very different ways. On taking charge of their countries, both initially seemed disposed towards reform – and both were supported down this route by a politically active and charismatic wife.

Nevertheless, the regimes of both men ultimately descended into autocracy and repression – and Assad, despite his mild manner, has presided over atrocities far worse than anything I attributed to Carlos. There remains some scope for debate about the extent to which those atrocities have been instigated by Bashar himself, or reflect an inability to control (and/or a need to placate) hard-line factions within the regime and his own family. One thing that he has displayed very clearly, however, is an iron determination to stay in power and a willingness to accept whatever measures were necessary to achieve that end. This too is something that he shares with Carlos.
As to his motivations, it is interesting to speculate whether, like Carlos, he has convinced himself that he alone can be trusted with the stewardship of his nation, or whether – like Carlos’ nemesis, vice-president Manuel ¬¬– he craves power for its own sake. With someone as inscrutable as Bashar Al-Assad, it is difficult to tell, but it is tempting to see him as the living embodiment of the phenomenon I tried to dramatise in the novel: the way power corrupts even those who begin with honourable motives.

You may wish to know that, for a few days only, the e-book of Revolution Day is available on Amazon for 99p or equivalent. You can find out more about the book, including excerpts and reviews, here.

Agricola’s Bane

Today I welcome old friend Nancy Jardine, to talk about Agricola’ Bane, the latest book in her Celtic Fervour series, set in Britain almost two thousand years ago.  Welcome back, Nancy!


Hello Tim. It’s excellent to return to your blog to share news about the brand new addition to my historical series.

Agricola’s Bane, the fourth book in my highly acclaimed Celtic Fervour Series, published with Ocelot Press, is now available to Pre-order on Amazon!

(EBook launch 15th November 2018. Paperback launch event at a local Heritage Centre 22nd November)

For readers of the series, like you have been, Book 4 continues the tales of the Celtic Garrigill warrior clan, this time featuring Enya of Garrigill and Nith of Tarras. The date at the outset of Agricola’s Bane is mid-November AD 84 and the location is Caledon territory. (Modern-day Aberdeenshire/ Scotland) The Late Iron Age tribal warriors who have survived a very recent battle against the Ancient Roman armies take refuge in the hills. General Agricola has continued to march northwards in his quest to claim even more territory for the Roman Empire but discovers that he is thwarted by more than the local warriors who continue to be very adept at guerrilla warfare. Going near the Roman legions means risking a stabbing death under a Roman gladius, but the Garrigill warriors must also evade the notice of the traitorous Vacomagi who have signed up for Roman coin!

For those not familiar with the earlier books of the series, I’m hoping those readers can enjoy the story just as much as a stand alone novel. It might just whet an appetite to find out more about other members of my Garrigill Clan!

Here is a little bit more….

AD 84 Northern Roman Britain

Nith of Tarras aids Enya of Garrigill in the search for her kin, missing after the disastrous battle at Beinn na Ciche fought between the Caledon warriors and the mighty Legions of the Rome. Enya soon has a heartrending choice to make – should she tread Vacomagi territory that’s swarming with Roman auxiliaries to find her brother? Or head south in search of her cousin who has most likely been taken captive by the soldiers of Agricola?

General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola – Commander of the Britannic Legions and Governor of Britannia – is determined to claim more barbarian territory for the Roman Empire, indeed plans to invade the whole island but finds not all decisions are his to make. It increasingly seems that the goddess, Fortuna, does not favour him.

The adventures of the Garrigill clan continue…

Buy via this Amazon Pre-Order Universal Link http://mybook.to/ABsherenow


Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland, an engrossing pre-history era because her research depends highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings.

A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.

She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband but life is never quiet or boring since her young grandchildren are her next-door neighbours. She regularly child minds them, those days being cherished and laughter filled.

You can find her at these places:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk  Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/   Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5139590.Nancy_Jardine

Customer Service

It’s a while since I posted one of my little stories on here.  So here’s one I wrote a little while ago at Holmfirth writers.  A shopkeeper deals with two customers with unusual requirements.


“So …” said the shopkeeper, “…. that’s four square yards of plastic sheeting, two dozen heavy duty waste bags, one large roll of duct tape and three gallons of bleach. That’ll be 37 dollars and 50 cents, please. You guys doing some pretty serious cleaning, huh?”

“Man, you don’t know the half of it ,” replied Duane. “I’m tellin’ ya …”

“Oh, my brother’s exaggerating again,” Crystal butted in. You see, our Mom has just moved out to live with her sister in Florida and we thought we’d take the opportunity to do a little spring cleaning. There’s an old shed that needs some work.”

“Yeah,” added Duane, “now it’s our house and all. She left it to us in her will.”

Crystal rolled her eyes. “Duane, don’t you think you’re being a bit premature. I’m sure Mom has many happy years ahead of her. I think what my brother means is that it’s effectively our house, now Mom has moved away.”

“Lady, your family business is none of mine,” said the shopkeeper. “Now, is there anything else I can help you folks with?”

“We-ell,” said Crystal tentatively, “you all wouldn’t happen to have a power saw, would you?”

“Lady, this is a hardware store. You name it, we got it. If you folks would just like to follow me ….” He led the brother and sister into another room. “…. now this here’s the Treemaster. Top of the range. This beauty will fell a Giant Redwood in three minutes, tops. On special offer today at 349 dollars.”

“Awesome!” enthused Duane. “And can we just, like, plug it into the wall?”

“Oh no, sir. The Treemaster is a petrol driven saw, only suitable for the Great Outdoors. A forestry saw, really. But its little brother here, the Bushmaster, is available in mains or rechargable versions. Now this little guy can handle anything you’re likely to need in the garden or that shed of yours. It’ll do small trees, planks, you name it.

“Is it just for wood, though?” continued Duane. “I mean, can it cut stuff that’s a bit harder?”

“Not a problem, my friend. There are special blades available for brick, tile, even metal.”

“How about, um, bone?”

“Duane, shut up!” scolded Crystal.

“Hmmmm,” said the shopkeeper. “Forgive me if I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’m thinking: plastic sheeting, waste bags, duct tape, bleach, power saw. I can’t help wondering if you guys have got a body to dispose of.”

“Oh no, no, no,” insisted Crystal. “It’s just this deer that Duane shot the other day. We can’t fit it in the freezer.”

“Why are you even bothering, Crystal? He knows already.”

“I can see I’m onto something here,” continued the shopkeeper. “Well, if only you folks had told me earlier, I could’ve pointed you to the right saw straight away. This here’s the Excelsior 5b: light, compact and the best damn bone saw you ever did see. That’ll be 199 dollars. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you!”