'Not my forces'
Despite the brutal crackdown in Syria, al-Assad has maintained that he is not in charge of Syria's military. He told ABC's Barbara Walters in 2011: "They are not my forces. They are forces for the government. I don't own them. I'm president. I don't own the country. So they are not my forces."
Wouldn't al-Assad, the commander in chief, have had to give the order for any military actions? "No, no no," he said.
Not by your command? "No," he said, "on no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal."
Al-Assad said those members of the armed forces who "went too far" had been disciplined.
But Khaddam, the former vice president, expressed no doubts about who does give the orders to kill: "Bashar Al-Assad and no one else. He gives out orders to use all means of force to crush the revolution. He is surrounded by close aides and a security apparatus that advise him, but he decides."
It wasn't expected that Bashar would carry on the family's political dynasty. He didn't seem to have the personality for the job; he wasn't deeply involved in military or government matters, according to "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire," a biography by Flynt Leverett, who worked as an expert on Syria for the CIA in the 1990s and was the senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council in the early 2000s.
Because his older brother Basil was expected to succeed his father, Bashar al-Assad went to London in the 1990s and studied ophthalmology, and headed the Syrian Computer Society. "Dr. Bashar," as he was widely known, liked to windsurf and play volleyball. He is believed to have started dating British-born Asma al-Akhras during this time.
But Bashar was called back to Syria in 1994 when Basil died in a car wreck. This turn of events made him first in line to rule Syria, and he was appointed president by Syria's rubber-stamp Parliament in 2000 after his father died.
Before 2000 ended, he and Asma were married. They have three children.
Steps toward change?
Shortly after the Arab Spring started in early 2011, al-Assad made apparent moves toward change in Syria. Initially, protesters wanted basic reforms, more freedoms, a multiparty political system and an end to emergency law. Some of these measures were, on paper, implemented by al-Assad, but they were far too little and, by the time they came about, too late.
In a speech in January 2013, al-Assad laid out his latest solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria.
He said he wanted to foster national dialogue and proposed a new constitution that would be put up for a public referendum. He also said he would not negotiate with terrorists and asked regional governments to stop supporting them.
Months later, though, any chance of finding a political solution seems as remote as ever. A date has yet to be agreed for a second international meeting on Syria in Geneva, Switzerland, initially proposed for June.
After more than two years of violence and more than 100,000 deaths, many opposition supporters have lost any faith they ever had in al-Assad's ability to deliver reform, and simply want an end to his rule and true democratic elections.
But the president's days at the helm may be far from over.