Hafez al-Assad (1971–2000), succeeded by son Bashar al-Assad (2000–)
How did an unassuming ophthalmology student become one of the most ruthless dictators of modern times, seemingly happy to order the deaths of thousands of Syrians? Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970, ensuring the coming three decades would be marred by power consolidations and brutal suppression of all opposition. Syrian civilians were targeted in massacres, with as many as 30,000 citizens cut down at a time. Bashar, a focused student in the United Kingdom, seemed to want nothing to do with his family’s power, but when his brother, the regime’s heir apparent, died, he found himself summoned back from a quiet life in London and preparing to rule the country after his father’s death. Today, two years since civil war broke out, Syria is in a bloody state of disarray, a reported 70,000 are dead, and Assad has garnered a reputation as one of the world’s most brutal dictators.