Bashar al-Assad came to power in July 2000. The first faux Arab Spring protests started in Feb 2011. So what was Syria like for those 11 years?
First, during that period, there were no big protests, rebellions, revolutions or civil wars in Syria. Syria was peaceful, secular and quite prosperous under Assad. Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Christians and other sects co-existed harmoniously. People had free healthcare and free education, including college.
In fact, Syria was so stable under Assad that it was the #1 destination for Iraqi refugees (who fled after US invasion). By 2010, there were one million Iraqi refugees living in Syria. This is a testimony to Assad’s kindness.
In 2010 – one year before the proxy war started, 8.5 million tourists visited Syria! Why? Because it was beautiful, historic, peaceful and safe. The New York Times listed 31 best places in the world to visit in 2010, and #7 was Syria! BTW, considering that Syria’s population is only ~20 million, the number of tourists is impressive. And the fact that so many tourists were able to visit and travel also shows that it was a free country and that Syrians were quite happy with Assad. (A truly unpopular dictator would never allow foreigners to freely travel in the country).
Assad Got Along with Western Leaders
Tony Blair (British PM), Sarkozy (French Pres.), the Pope, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry etc. all schmoozed with Assad.
Syrians were happy
There is a wonderful series of videos on YouTube called “Peter Marshall’s Syria,” that documents Syria through the eyes of a tourist — who also happens to be a famous British historian and writer — in 2009 and early 2011 (just when the protests were beginning). One can see how peaceful and happy the country was.
In a 2009 CNN Arabic poll that included many Middle Eastern countries, Assad won the “Person of the year” title by a large margin — he won 66% of the votes.
In a Zogby Arabic poll in 2009, people were asked which leader they admired the most outside their own country (thus, Syrians cannot choose Assad). In that poll also, Assad came first.