1.1 Inheriting Power, Bashar al-Assad Raises Prospects of Reform
Following Hafez al-Assad’s death on June 10, 2000, Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president. Syrians refrained from openly discussing this succession due to their apprehension of the regime’s customary violence that had persisted for almost four decades. There was a collective hope that, unlike his father, this “young man” would bring a more open-minded approach.
In his inauguration speech on July 17, 2000,after winning the presidential “referendum” with a staggering 99.7% majority, Bashar al-Assad vaguely pledged change. Even before assuming the presidency, he had positioned himself as a “reformist.” In the initial months of his inherited presidency, there were vague indications of imminent change, particularly on the economic front, where Assad and his regime aimed to implement some reforms. However, he swiftly suppressed the burgeoning Damascus Spring of 2000, a movement that had taken root in every Syrian city and various cultural forums during a brief period when the regime’s security services turned a blind eye.
Economic and administrative reform took center stage in government initiatives. Assad aimed to instill hope in the business sector by pursuing economic openness, which spelled material benefits. This strategy endeared him to the middle and upper urban classes, positioning him as the rightful heir to his father’s authority. Simultaneously, it served as a diversion from political reform, allowing him to follow in his father’s footsteps in seizing power and employing familiar tools of governance.