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Book Review: Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad by David W. Lesch

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When Bashar al-Assad became president of Syria upon his father’s death in 2000, many people had high hopes for this young man who gave up his passion for ophthalmology to lead his country. Many expected al-Assad to embark on a series of reforms and lead Syria to a more progressive future.

A decade later and the oppressive and powerful Syrian security-military apparatus reacted with increasing brutality to the Syrian uprisings that were part of the region-wide Arab Spring. Almost two years later the country remains in the grip of a devastating civil war.

What went wrong in Syria, the country that once held the highest hopes of progression and reform in the region? Author David W. Lesch enjoyed exclusive access to Assad as a leading Middle East scholar and consultant between 2004 and 2009, and in Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, Lesch goes into detail about the rise and fall of the house of Assad.

Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad is quite fascinating, in turns hopeful and discouraging. It begins with a discussion of al-Assad’s first years in office, the Damascus Spring, and the increasing international pressure following 9/11 and the assassination of former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri.

Syria: The Fall of the House of AssadWith its secularism and the overwhelmingly positive perceptions of Syrians of Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma, many thought that Syria would be immune to the effects of the Arab Spring. The next portion of the book discusses why many in the Syrian government, military and Assad’s inner circle, thought that Syria was different, including Assad himself. This is followed by a breakdown of precisely why Syria was no different to the rest of the countries in the region and the reasons behind the escalating protests.

The succeeding two chapters are dedicated to the Syrian response to the uprisings compared to the mounting opposition and popular action that took place amid reports of increasing atrocities.

Of particular interest was the next section of the book dealing with the often confounding international response. Lesch goes into some detail regarding the divisions within and between the member states in both the United Nations and the Arab League and their evolving affiliations to Syria during this time.

As the book draws to a close at the end of the summer of this year, what is particularly startling is that the government and president of Syria continue to give the same empty promises of reform and cooperation as they did two years ago.

Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad is an important book with valuable information covering both the background and current situation in Syria. The book does not go into much detail on the individual atrocities and massacres, other than to mention them and the consequences thereof, and the focus is on the background to the decisions made by key local, regional, and international players.

It can be a little difficult to follow at times and the author does tend to jump back and forward in time, but I appreciate the layout of the book into clearly defined sections over the benefits that a strict chronological analysis would have brought.

I certainly recommend Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad to anyone interested in understanding the situation in Syria and would recommend it to academics and interested parties alike. Lesch makes a good attempt to present the book so that it will be accessible to non-academic readers.

Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad is available to purchase at Amazon.com.

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About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is a blogger, serial expat and eternal tourist living and working in London. Aside from writing at Blogcritics, she blogs about travel and London at Emm in London, entertainment and media at Addicted to Media and war crimes, genocide and social justice over at A Passion to Understand.