Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president of Syria in 2000. He was just 34, had studied in London, and some hoped he would open up the autocratic country. Instead, following the Arab spring uprising he has cracked down harder than ever on the Syrian people. In the decade-long civil war that followed, more than 500,000 people are thought to have died.

The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Martin Chulov, tells Anushka Asthana that as Assad lost control of vast areas of Syria following the uprising, he was at maximum vulnerability. But the intervention of Iran and Russia proved decisive. Now, after a widely discredited election victory with 95% of the vote, Assad begins his fourth term as president of a country deeply scarred by war.

SYRIA-CONFLICT-VOTE<br>Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) accompanied by his wife Asma speaks to members of the press after casting their votes at a polling station in Douma, near the capital Damascus on May 26, 2021, as voting began across Syria for an election guaranteed to return Assad for a fourth term in office. - The 55-year-old president, who has been in power since 2000, is sure to keep his job after the election, every aspect of which is controlled by him and his Baath party. He faces former state minister Abdallah Salloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Merhi, a member of the so-called "tolerated opposition", long described by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the regime. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP) (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images)

Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

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