Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

Bashar Assad

Then there is Syrian President Bashar Assad. When he came to power in 2000, he seemed to be that mythical creature: a reformist autocrat. But the Arab Spring inspired many of his people to protest — and Assad, 46, responded by cracking down. He played on the fears of the ruling Alawite minority, businessmen and Syrian Christians to persuade them to stand by his secular ideology against the mainly Sunni Muslim uprising. As his father Hafez slaughtered thousands to preserve the regime in the 1980s, Bashar intends to prove he is the player in Syria to be placated — if only because he can kill most efficiently.

Chua-Eoan is TIME's news director