Mr Assad has also exploited the myth of the lonely reformer surrounded by hardliners. Perhaps because Syria is strategically important and plays a role in the significant conflicts in the region, including the standoff with Iran and the Arab-Israeli dispute, the myth has had much following abroad. Even now some officials in western capitals are wondering whether Mr Assad, a British-trained eye doctor married to a glamorous former investment banker, is in control, and whether he might want a different path.
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