Assad or We Burn the Country

How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria


By Sam Dagher

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From a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster.

In spring 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned to his friend and army commander, Manaf Tlass, for advice about how to respond to Arab Spring-inspired protests. Tlass pushed for conciliation but Assad decided to crush the uprising — an act which would catapult the country into an eight-year long war, killing almost half a million and fueling terrorism and a global refugee crisis.

Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria’s tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar’s bloody quest to preserve his father’s inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

Dagher shows how one of the world’s most vicious police states came to be and explains how a regional conflict extended globally, engulfing the Middle East and pitting the United States and Russia against one another. Timely, propulsive, and expertly reported, Assad or We Burn the Country is the definitive account of this global crisis, going far beyond the news story that has dominated headlines for years.


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Inside the Palace

Outside the Palace

Mazen Darwish (Damascus human rights lawyer, activist, protest organizer, cofounder of local coordination committees/LCCs)

Yara Bader (journalist, activist, Mazen’s wife)

Razan Zeitouneh (cofounder LCCs, Mazen’s colleague)

Khaled al-Khani (painter, activist, protest organizer, 1982 Hama Massacre survivor)

Dr. Hikmat al-Khani (Khaled’s father)

Sally Masalmeh (activist and youth leader in southern city of Daraa)

Fadi and Shaker (Sally’s brothers)

Malek al-Jawabra (Sally’s husband)


The idea for this book was born during a trip from the Middle East to the United States toward the end of 2014, three months after I had been kicked out of Damascus by the Assad regime and put on its mukhabarat (secret police) watch list, without even being allowed to collect my belongings.

“Count your blessings, you’re so lucky, you got away lightly,” my Syrian friends kept saying. I could have disappeared in a mukhabarat prison, or worse, and the regime would have probably blamed it on “armed terrorist groups,” they told me.

I had been the only Western reporter permanently based in Damascus. One year before my expulsion, I was detained by regime militiamen and briefly held in an underground mukhabarat prison, and I continued to face threats and intimidation after my release. Of course, what happened to me were mere inconveniences compared to what Syrians have had to endure under this regime. Perhaps I was simply lucky, or perhaps I was spared a much worse fate because I had been living and working legally inside Damascus, or maybe the regime reckoned that a spat over a US reporter was unnecessary at that particular moment in 2014 when America was fixated on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State (known as ISIS or, in Arabic, Daesh) and not on Bashar al-Assad and his war crimes. The regime and its patron Iran wanted to be Barack Obama’s partners in the war on ISIS.

I had started reporting from Damascus in October 2012; earlier that year, two of my generation’s best reporters, Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, had died while doing their job inside Syria. A Syrian mukhabarat chief would tell me two years later that the regime’s targeting of the house where Marie was staying in a rebel-controlled section of the city of Homs was “justifiable” because she and other Western reporters had, as he put it, “embedded with the terrorists.” It was in Homs that I witnessed, over almost two years, the aftermath of the pure terror unleashed by the Assads on a city that dared challenge their rule.

“They have even erased our names,” said Abu Rami tearfully as we stood at the entrance of his apartment building in central Homs on the morning of June 18, 2014. A large burn mark and mangled wires were all that was left of the building’s intercom, the work of looters who had ripped out the box and set the wires on fire to get at the copper. The flames had consumed the tenants’ names that had been neatly handwritten in green next to each buzzer. The Arabic-letter equivalents of “B” and “R” were all that remained of Abu Rami’s label.

Like vultures, the looters had meticulously stripped every apartment in Abu Rami’s building, including his, down to its bare bones, taking the furniture, doors, windows, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, and even tiles. After being cleaned out, the apartments were set ablaze. Abu Rami’s home library, evidently deemed worthless by the looters, was now a pile of ash. I followed Abu Rami to the balcony, where a few incinerated potted plants stood in the corner. We looked out onto an incredible scene.

Every building in the district had been subjected to the same systematic pillaging and arson. The entire street and neighborhood was awash in mounds of debris mixed in with the remains of people’s lives—gutted teddy bears, crushed toys, abandoned school notebooks and photo albums, empty and battered suitcases, broken furniture. It was as if a hurricane had swept through central Homs, just a month after it reverted to Bashar al-Assad’s control following a vicious three-year siege and bombing campaign intended to strangle communities that rebelled against him. Bashar made people choose between starving to death and surrendering to him, and when they had done one or the other, or fled the country altogether, he declared victory.

“Long Live Assad’s Syria—Assad or We Burn the Country,” was sprayed in big bold black letters on Abu Rami’s building.

By the time this book comes out, the Assad family will have been in power for nearly half a century, outlasting eight US presidents starting with Richard Nixon.

While the Islamic State’s black-clad barbarian-like terrorists horrified people everywhere and dictated much of Western policy in Syria, the truth is that Bashar, a mild-mannered former eye doctor trained in the West and married to a glamorous British-born former investment banker, was the one chiefly responsible for the mayhem, destruction, and intense human suffering that consumed Syria and reverberated across the Middle East and world between 2011 and 2018. Bashar commanded and directed the army officers and soldiers, the mukhabarat bosses and agents, and the legions of militiamen doing most of the killing, and he was empowered by the extraordinary support he received from his allies and backers—Iran; the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah; and then, crucially, the Russian military.

When it comes to Syria, one often hears these arguments: Everyone has blood on their hands. Bashar may be bad but ISIS is worse. There are no good guys in Syria. Or more analytically: This is a civil war that turned into a complex multilayered conflict and drew in regional and world powers.

There are elements of truth in all these assertions, but there’s one truth which can never be obscured: Bashar and his family, motivated by their quest to cling to power at any cost, were directly responsible for decisions and actions that turned the peaceful protests of the spring of 2011 into a devastating, years-long war and facilitated the rise and spread of ISIS—a truth buttressed by new evidence and details revealed in this book.

For the first time, I lay bare what went on in Bashar’s innermost circle during the fateful period between March 18, 2011, when the first Syrian protesters were shot dead, and August 18, 2011, when President Obama said that Bashar must step down. I examine Bashar’s decision to release Islamist militants from prison a few months into the popular uprising and deliberately abandon key outposts and regions on the Iraq–Syria border in early 2013 at the precise moment ISIS was emerging; through my hard-won access to regime insiders, I investigate the regime’s rationale for using chemical weapons.

In the spring of 2016, I was in Geneva covering the UN-mediated peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition (talks that Bashar skillfully turned into a charade and time-wasting exercise under the auspices of the Americans and Russians), when the UN envoy to Syria at the time, Staffan de Mistura, announced that the Syrian death toll had reached 400,000.1

The death meter has not stopped. Following de Mistura’s report, tens of thousands more would suffocate to death, be incinerated, or get slashed to pieces from the airstrikes, incendiary rockets, ballistic missiles, cluster bombs, barrel bombs, chlorine bombs, and chemical weapons launched by either the Syrian regime or the Russian military. Not to mention those who would die because of lack of access to food and medicine due to sieges imposed principally by Bashar and his allies. Neither ISIS nor any of the rebel factions fighting Bashar possessed the Russian-made attack helicopters and fighter jets that rained death on civilians in opposition-held areas day after day and year after year under the watchful eyes of the international community and the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” By early 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin was boasting that he had already tested more than two hundred new weapons in Syria.2

Thousands more Syrians, mostly activists and protesters who resisted the regime peacefully, were hanged by sham military tribunals at the Saydnaya prison near Damascus,3 exactly as Bashar’s father, Hafez, had done at the Tadmor prison in the Homs desert four decades before. And just as in Hafez’s era, the lives of many more Syrians were taken by medieval torture techniques in the mukhabarat secret prisons and dungeons located in the heart of Damascus’s residential neighborhoods or at the notorious 601 Military Hospital, a five-minute drive from the palace where Bashar received successive UN envoys trying to negotiate peace in Syria. Photos of emaciated and numbered cadavers stacked at the hospital’s hangar horrified the world, at least until the world’s attention shifted to ISIS.4 Ultimately, all those killed by ISIS terrorists in both Iraq and Syria represented a mere fraction of the Assad regime’s victims.

Of course, the more than twelve million Syrians (about half the total population) who were either uprooted internally or had to flee the country altogether to neighboring states and beyond were not just escaping Bashar and his killing machine.5 In fact, hundreds of thousands of them opted to stay under his regime’s thumb in Assad-controlled areas, including the capital, Damascus, a reality I witnessed myself from 2012 until my expulsion in 2014. Bashar exploited the misery and desperation of average Syrians and used food rations doled out by UN humanitarian agencies based in his territories and operating according to his rules and restrictions as rewards to those who obeyed him and as weapons against those who defied him. Ironically, much of this food was paid for by the same foreign powers that were trying to topple him.

At the heart of this story are sons and daughters wrestling with their parents’ choices and legacies.

From the moment that Bashar, an awkward and painfully shy second son, emerged as the substitute heir after the death of his eldest brother in the mid-1990s, he was on a quest to slay his inner demons and, in a way, the ghost of his still-omnipresent and powerful father, Hafez. Bashar set out to prove that he could be as cutthroat and ruthless as his father, if not more so, while also projecting youthfulness, reform, and dynamism. “There’s no other way to govern our society except with the shoe over people’s heads,” a thirty-year-old Bashar told a private gathering in the summer of 1995, one year into his mentorship to inherit power from Hafez, as the regime’s propagandists portrayed him as the “savior” who was going to fight corruption, reform the system, and usher Syria into the twenty-first century. The same script would be used by other ailing Middle Eastern despots to bequeath power to their sons.

At Bashar’s side was Manaf Tlass, a handsome rising star in the Republican Guard force, who was among those enlisted by Hafez to assist and promote his heir. The Assad and Tlass children grew up together as practically one family, and the Tlass patriarch, Mustafa, was a pillar of the regime and, as Hafez often said, its gatekeeper. The fathers had been friends and lifetime companions from the time they were ambitious and scrappy twenty-something cadets in the early 1950s, as Syria and other Arab states grappled with their newly won independence from colonial powers. Manaf’s father, Mustafa, accompanied Hafez every step of the way to the pinnacle of power and faithfully served him for fifty years. Together they wrote the manual for crushing all challenges to the regime, which they applied in the 1970s and ’80s with horrific results. Mustafa was willing to kill to protect what he and Hafez had constructed, but was his son Manaf prepared to do the same? As the Arab Spring arrived in Syria in 2011, Manaf had to make decisions and choices that would forever alter his life.

Syria was at a crossroads. Outside the presidential palace walls we meet Mazen Darwish, a thirty-something human rights lawyer and free speech advocate, who had been agitating for real reform for nearly a decade. He saw the Arab Spring as the best chance to achieve what his own parents and an older generation of opposition leaders, jailed and persecuted for their nonconformist political beliefs, had long aspired to but could never attain under the Assads. The promise of the Spring also drew Khaled al-Khani, an artist who struggled for years to overcome the childhood trauma and deep family loss provoked by Hafez al-Assad’s assault on his hometown of Hama in 1982. In conservative southern Syria, meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Sally Masalmeh, was captivated by the Arab Spring and, like so many of Syria’s restless youth sensed an opportunity to find her voice and identity and free herself from the shackles of authoritarianism, the “voluntary servitude” often consented to by the older generation and “brutish masses,” as the French humanist Étienne de La Boétie wrote in the sixteenth century.6 Sally shrugged off her parents’ warnings—“it will be just like Hama 1982,” they kept saying—to embrace what she and other Syrian youth called the revolution.

How has this brutal dynasty survived for this long—from the moment Hafez seized absolute power in the fall of 1970 until Bashar appeared to emerge victorious by the end of 2018—and why has it gotten away with murder each time?

The Assad clan has embedded itself in the fabric of Syrian society and unscrupulously manipulated class and religion fissures to empower itself, effectively co-opting Syria’s national identity. Syria became Souriya al-Assad (“Assad’s Syria”). In much the same way and to the same ends, the Assads have been masterful in exploiting the divisions and bloody power struggles endemic throughout the Middle East. Further, both father and son relied on big lies to win the support of large segments of the Syrian population.

But all lies eventually wear off or are exposed. The Assads knew this. Deception was not enough. There had to be fear and terror maintained and applied by a sprawling and web-like internal security and intelligence apparatus, known as the mukhabarat, that monitored and controlled every facet of public and private life in Syria.

But another crucial constant emerges throughout this story: the Assads could not have survived if it were not for the way Western powers, democracies that profess to defend universal liberal values like human rights and freedom, have engaged with this turbulent and strategic corner of the world. Over the decades, the shortsighted and opportunistic bargains that Western powers have struck with almost all of the Middle East’s despots and kleptocrats, not just the Assads, have never taken the interests of ordinary citizens into consideration.

After the Second World War, successive US administrations viewed the newly independent states of the Levant and Arabian Peninsula, including Syria, mainly through the prism of the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. Washington’s priorities were to secure oil supplies and find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Few of the Middle East’s rising tyrants knew how to exploit this broader geostrategic game better than Hafez al-Assad. By the mid-1970s, Hafez, who was busy enshrining a cultish dictatorship in Syria, received military aid and support from the Soviet Union at the same time that he was getting recognition and financial aid from the US and its rich Gulf Arab allies. There was an unspoken but well-understood quid pro quo with Washington: Hafez was free to do everything he needed to do to maintain his iron grip at home as long as he never waged war against Israel after 1973. Jimmy Carter later called Hafez a “strong and moderate” leader.

“Realpolitik” was cited by France when its president, François Mitterrand, flew to Damascus in the mid-1980s to meet with Hafez even though his own government and intelligence services had ample proof that the Assad regime was connected to terror attacks against French and Western interests in Lebanon and Europe. Terrorism was a “bargaining chip” for the Assads, noted one French official. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Hafez wasted no time in switching sides and joined the US-led coalition to confront Saddam Hussein, another regional despot propped up by the West and its oil-rich Arab allies in the struggle against Iran, before Hussein made the miscalculation of invading Kuwait. Hafez’s reward was financial support from Gulf dynasties, free rein in Lebanon as it emerged from its civil war, and the space and resources to burnish his brutal regime’s image and prepare for a transfer of power to his son.

Bill Clinton embraced Hafez and his regime in the hopes of going down in history as the US president who brokered comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. All Hafez really cared about, though, was preserving his family’s rule, winning respectability and recognition from the United States, and removing his regime from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. “It seems to me he is poised and someone who is ready to assume his duties. I was very encouraged by his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps,” declared Clinton’s last secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, as Bashar assumed power from Hafez in a coronation choreographed by Mustafa Tlass.7 Bashar and his beautiful British-born wife, Asma, were feted as young Arab reformers.

For a time after the September 11 attacks, Bashar was a partner in Washington’s global war on terror. Syria was one of the destinations of the Central Intelligence Agency’s infamous rendition program during the George W. Bush administration. Bashar’s calculus changed, however, as the United States prepared to invade neighboring Iraq and, along with France and other allies, sought to hem in the Syrians in Lebanon. The assassination of Lebanese leader Rafic Hariri was an “act of terrorism” for which Bashar’s regime and its allies were responsible, announced the West in early 2005. But by then, America’s need to get out of the Iraq War quagmire took precedence over accountability and justice. A bipartisan congressional report recommended engaging with Bashar once more to convince him to end his and his mukhabarat’s support for the Iraqi insurgency and shut down the pipeline of jihadists and suicide bombers flocking to Iraq through Syria to kill both Iraqis and American soldiers.

In the lead-up to the Obama administration, Bashar was no longer the Iran-backed villain and pariah but instead was once more the reformer supposedly doing his best to better his people’s lot despite severe internal and external challenges and pressures. Nancy Pelosi, who at the time became the first female House Speaker, flew in for lunch with Bashar and Asma, while the stars of American and British TV news clamored to interview the Assad couple. Later John Kerry, who was at the time a US senator heading the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, told France’s ambassador to Syria that Bashar was “a man we could do business with” because he had given his word that he would stop supporting insurgents and terrorist groups in Iraq.8

Even a few months into the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, the United States and its Western allies believed that Bashar did not necessarily have to step down like the dictators of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, and that he could even be the one to implement the changes demanded by the people, underscoring how little they understood the Assad regime. From the onset, Bashar knew that the price of any real and meaningful concessions was going to be his own head. Facts revealed for the first time in this book show that Bashar’s immediate impulse was to issue shoot-to-kill orders to his security forces in order to scare peaceful protesters off the streets.

Obama was absolutely right, of course, about not wanting to send US troops each time there was a crisis in the Middle East. But his approach to a fast-developing situation in Syria, that looked certain to have major life-and-death consequences for average Syrians and a wider impact on the whole world, was flawed from the start; one experienced Middle East analyst described it to me as a “catastrophic moral failure.” I have no doubt that Obama and many members of his team were genuinely horrified by what Bashar was doing to his people and wanted to do everything they could to stop it, but at the same time, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its consequences were still very much on the minds of Obama and ardent noninterventionists in his administration.

So the result was a middle-of-the-road approach in Syria that attempted to meld the twin goals of stopping Bashar’s killing machine and making absolutely sure that the United States remained at arm’s length from the whole conflict. For example, instead of taking concrete and bold actions to support the heroic protesters and activists who took to the streets, and the soldiers who defected rather than kill their fellow Syrians, the job was relegated to regional powers deemed to be US allies, like Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Qatar and Turkey, for their part, wanted to co-opt the change movements sweeping the Arab world and to empower their local Islamist protégés—and Syria was no exception. Saudi Arabia, at the same time, worked to stop Qatar and Turkey for an entirely different reason: the Arab Spring was a direct threat to its own ruling family’s legitimacy and grip on power, so the freedom movements had to be either controlled or smothered. Meanwhile, Bashar’s patron and regional protector, Iran, was not just going to sit back and lose Syria, a crucial link in a line of Iranian power and influence extending from Tehran to Beirut via Baghdad and Damascus.

These poisonous regional conflicts and the West’s reticence and caution gave Bashar and his backers ample time to decimate those resisting peacefully and to turn the standoff into an armed struggle fueled by sectarian extremists on both sides. Right in front of me, the Assad regime’s henchmen mocked Obama’s calls on Bashar to relinquish power and his warnings over chemical weapons use because they had calculated—correctly, it turned out—that these were merely words.

The complexity of the conflict became an excuse not to consider meaningful steps like a limited no-fly zone in parts of Syria, which, very early on, would have saved lives and stemmed the tide of refugees. The United States and its allies could comfort themselves with the notion that they were trying to do something, but it was the Russians and Chinese who were obstructing at the UN Security Council. Bashar dug in and was effectively given license to ratchet up his atrocities. The chemical-weapons attack of the summer of 2013 and Obama’s vacillation in response were simply the culmination of an already failed and even cynical Western policy in Syria—practically an invitation by the West to Vladimir Putin to intervene further in Syria. It then became much easier for the West to rationalize its actions in Syria when choices were whittled down to either Bashar al-Assad or the barbarians of ISIS who were attacking Europe.

Understanding how the Syrian people have arrived at this moment has never been more crucial if the goal is to someday put an end to the scourge of terror and extremism and have real change and stability in the Middle East.


You’re Next, Doctor

Spring was beginning to return to Damascus on the February morning in 2011 that Bashar al-Assad played tennis with his friend and army general Manaf Tlass. The patchy grass lawns in nearby Tishreen Park had been seeded, and overgrown hedges had been given an overdue trim. The clay tennis court was nestled in a wooded grove within the Tishreen Palace compound, where the Assad family often hosted foreign guests.

A massive Syrian flag whipped in the wind some 300 feet above the court. Installed the previous July, the flag marked the tenth anniversary of Bashar’s ascension to power as president. A large celebration had been held in the park at its unveiling; the prime minister spoke on the occasion and schoolchildren sang patriotic songs while waving heart-shaped cardboard cutouts of Bashar’s face.1

As Bashar and Manaf began their match that day in February, Manaf sensed that his tennis partner was distracted and downbeat. The tall (over six feet), slender, and athletic Bashar, who had turned forty-five a few months earlier, normally relished physical activity as a reprieve from his often dull presidential duties. He was a fierce competitor and served hard as he fixed his blue eyes on opponents across the net. But today he seemed unfocused; something was not right, Manaf thought.

Manaf hit the ball with his racket, thwack!

Suddenly the flag looming overhead cracked violently in the wind, almost like a loud thunder snap. Rattled by the sound, Bashar dropped his racket.2

“Calm down, there’s nothing to fear,” Manaf said with a smile, trying to put his friend at ease. Bashar laughed nervously and, in a moment, they returned to the game.

Bashar had much to fear that winter. In mid-January, a popular uprising toppled the head of a corrupt, entrenched regime in the North African state of Tunisia that for years had been backed by the West and the Arabian Peninsula’s oil-rich dynasties. The Tunisian army broke from the ruler and sided with the people. More significant were the protests that engulfed the US-supported leader of Egypt, the long-ruling former army general who was grooming his son to inherit the presidency. Libya, sandwiched between Egypt and Tunisia, was also on the brink of revolt against the maniacal ex–army officer who held power. Saudi Arabia’s monarchs, who had a long history of sponsoring strongmen across the region, looked on with trepidation as demonstrations gripped their poor southern neighbor Yemen and threatened fellow royals on the island of Bahrain, just across from their oil fields.


  • A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice Pick
    The Economist Bets Books of the Year
    The Guardian Best Books of 2019
    Kirkus's Best Nonfiction Books of 2019
  • "A moving and insightful account of the Syrian civil war."—Yuval Noah Harari, The Guardian
  • "A vivid and powerful account of the roots and course of the conflict, setting it in the context of Assad's personal history and approach to power."—Washington Post
  • "Dagher draws on history, interviews and his own experience as a reporter in Syria to depict an utterly ruthless regime."—The New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
  • "[An] impressively detailed account"—The Guardian US
  • "Sam Dagher's book Assad or We Burn the Country is a vivid and at times gruelling account of the suppression of the Syrian resistance...It is a powerful testimony of a war correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. His account carries the outrage and passion of a witness to atrocity."—Financial Times
  • "He was briefly held by pro-regime militiamen in an underground prison and was summarily expelled by the Mukhabarat in 2014. This gives his description of events a credibility lacking in many other accounts."—Patrick Cockburn, New York Times Book Review
  • "An important addition to the existing literature on the Middle East - especially Syria - by an astute Middle East watcher...It is absolutely indispensable to understand current Middle Eastern and Syrian situation."—The Washington Book Review
  • "An excellent book on the situation in Syria."—Former US National Security Adviser H. R.McMaster
  • "As with so much of Dagher's writing, what's striking about the book is it doesn't just confirm the worst that's been reported about Assad's regime in the much-maligned "mainstream media;" it unearths new ways in which the horror and criminality are in fact more terrible than previously understood."—Alex Rowell, Al-Jumhuriya
  • "Drawing on years of reporting and interviews with those at the top of the Syrian regime, Sam Dagher's book is one that readers won't be able to put down."—Kerry Breen, TODAY Show
  • "As the only Western reporter based in Damascus during the early years of the civil war, Dagher has a rich perspective on the inner machinations of the regime of Bashar al Assad. In this important book, he lays out in grim detail the staggering cynicism and ruthless brutality of the Assad family. In doing so, he provides readers with a timely description of the dynasty that precipitated the destruction of a nation."—Clarissa Ward, Chief International Correspondent, CNN International
  • "In this gripping narrative of the inner workings of the Assad regime, Dagher delivers a stunning portrait of the ruthlessness and brutality at the heart of the family that has dominated Syria for fifty years. Captivating in its detailed, first-person accounts from key figures inside Syria's corridors of power, his is the most complete and compelling account to date of Bashar's unlikely rise to power, and the relentless violence he has unleashed since 2011 to preserve his iron grip over the country. Essential reading from a noted journalist and one of the world's best-informed Syria watchers."—Steven Heydemann, Janet W. Ketcham 1953 Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at Smith College
  • "The Syrian uprising has been one of the most consequential events in our new century-it has changed the world. Sam Dagher has been reporting from the heart of the crisis. His book, told through the eyes of two important Syrian insiders, a human rights activist and a former Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard, is a vivid description of the crisis as it unfolded over the past 8 years. It is a must read for anyone who seeks to understand the complex world we are living in."—Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Syrian American doctor and President of MedGlobal
  • "A riveting chronicle from a courageous journalist who was there to witness and report the truth. A book that should deservedly garner significant award attention."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "An impressive feat of journalism." —Publishers Weekly

On Sale
Apr 14, 2020
Page Count
592 pages
Back Bay Books

Sam Dagher

About the Author

Sam Dagher has reported in the Middle East for more than twelve years. He was the only Western reporter based in Damascus from 2012 to 2014, until being detained by Assad’s henchmen in an underground prison and expelled for reporting deemed unfavorable to the regime. He has worked for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Agence France Presse, and has covered the conflict in Iraq, the Arab Spring uprisings, and Libya. The Wall Street Journal nominated Dagher’s work from Syria for the Pulitzer Prize and other journalism awards.

Learn more about this author