Doctor Jekyll and Mister Assad

In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple sees a literary parallel in the transformation of Bashar Assad from meek ophthalmologist to mass murdering dictator:

It was very much to Dr Assad’s credit, I think, that he became a member of the finest profession rather than a gilded youth, as his elder brother did. When he arrived in London to pursue his training and career in ophthalmology, the young Dr Assad behaved with commendable modesty, and was liked by his bosses, his colleagues, and his patients, to whose welfare he was devoted. His only ambition appeared to be ophthalmological; there was nothing in his conduct, timid rather than overbearing, that indicated he was the son of a dictator, much less that he was himself an aspiring dictator (which he wasn’t).

His fate was affected, if not sealed exactly, by the death of his elder brother Bassel, hitherto the heir-apparent to the dictatorship, in a car crash. Bashar became the heir, and returned to Damascus. His father died in 2000. Dr Assad was thrust into a role that he had not at first sought to play.

From then on, however, by the logic of the situation, he was transformed, from nice Dr Jekyll into nasty Mr Hyde; and what changed him was not Jekyll’s potion, “of reddish hue,” but power.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Jekyll and Mister Assad

  1. Benjamin

    It may not be quite so simple. I suspect it is absence of power that is playing for principle tune here. He is surrounded by a network of powerful people, who tell him he is in power, while they pull all the strings. Assad, I think, simply does not know what is happening in his own country. He is told that which suits his minders much as PuYi, the last Ching Emperor of China, was; it was not until the entire edifice was collapsing that he discovered his own powerlessness and how empty his role had been.


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