HOUSE OF ASSAD explores how a young man goes from dreaming of working in the humanitarian sector to being one of the most brutal dictators of the 21st century.
The series looks at the intricate workings of the Assad “dynasty”, the rulers of Syria since 1970 following a coup d’etat by military leaders Hafez Al Assad and his brother Rifat Al Assad over three episodes. But while this dynasty may live the luxurious lifestyle of television dynasties such as the Carringtons, their brutality and need for power echoes that of the Tudors and other brutal dynasties of years past.
The three part documentary series opens by introducing the key players in the Syrian regime: Hafez, Rifat, Bassel, Bashar, Asma. It tells the story between commentary from Bashar Al Assad, footage from Syria, a narrator and interviews with people who have been closed to the ruling family - from previous US envoys to the Syrian regime to doctors who worked in the eye clinic with Bashar in West London.
The narrator poses the thesis or premise of the documentary within the first five minutes. They pose the question “How does this eye doctor end up killing hundreds of thousands of people”. This juxtaposition between doctor and murderer, indicates to the viewer that there is far more to Bashar than what the world sees today.
This complexity that is established causes the viewer to become hooked, because we see that there is more to the family than what is reported or shown in mainstream news sources.
Throughout the first episode we learn about the first 20 years of the dynasty under the rule of Hafez and what the intended succession plan was, for Bassel- Bashar’s older brother- to take power upon the death of Hafez, only for Bassel to die early. This caused a crisis, who would take over? Rifat, had made an attempt for power only a few years before, causing him to lose Hafez’s trust and to be exiled from Syria.
Bushra, his daughter, though a strong leader, and most likely her father’s preferred successor, was a female therefore causing her to be ineligible for consideration. He was left with his three younger sons, Bashar, Majd and Maher. Bashar was the eldest of the three and most eligible to take control following his father’s death and thus was primed to take over the role of leader.
As the episode progresses, the location begins to alternate between the events that are taking place within Syria and the events that are beginning to shape Bashar in London. During the 5 years that he was living and working in London as an ophthalmologist, he met and married his wife, British born Syrian, Asma.
In many ways the documentary positions the viewer to like Asma as the documentary makers portray her as a feminist and civil rights activist, fighting for the rights of Syrians. It contradicts much of what we know about the Assad dynasty and how they have treated the people of Syria in recent years.
Towards the end of the episode, we start to see the beginnings of Bashar’s regime and how he is going to behave on the international stage, and how he will go on to set himself up to be one of the most brutal dictators of the 21st century. This is despite at first appearing to be a promising, new face to lead Syria into the new Millenia.
This is a fascinating documentary, that promises to be incredibly informative and to reshape the thinking about the Assad family and the impact they have had on both Syria, but also the greater Middle East.
This three part documentary is something that I look forward to watching. If you have an interest in international politics or the events in the Middle East, this is a documentary to watch as it will help you understand not only the Syrian civil war, but also the rise of ISIS.
- Watched on BBC Two. 09/10/2018