Remembering When Syria’s President Saw the Irony in Richard III 

Dispatches from the front.
June 5 2014 2:45 PM

Watching Richard III With Bashar al-Assad

Not long ago, the Syrian dictator was a darling of the West.

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Last year Brooklyn Brewery launched an interview series at their brewhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in conjunction with RISC, a nonprofit that offers instruction on life-saving skills for freelance war journalists. The conversations were an instant hit.

For its second season, Slate partnered with the brewery to film the series. Each month we’ll release our favorite excerpts from the conversations. In the first installment, Steve Hindy, founder of Brooklyn Brewery and a former Associated Press foreign correspondent himself, sits down with Deborah Amos, NPR's Middle East correspondent and the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis. Check back in the next several days for more of the talk.  

Before Bashar al-Assad became defined by barrel bombs and starvation tactics—before the ruthless Syrian civil war and its unthinkable atrocities—there was a time, brief as it may have been, when he embodied a new hope for Syria, the Syrian people, and the Middle East at large. He was a charming, Western-educated doctor, an Alawite who crossed the sectarian line and married a Sunni, a fan of Shakespeare who at times was willing to work back channels in negotiations with Israel. He was, in the words of Deborah Amos, the "embodiment of everything Syria wanted to be.”

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In the clip above, Amos reflects on the man behind the international pariah, recounting a trip to the Damascus Opera House with the Syrian president to watch a performance of Richard III—a performance where he knowingly slapped his knee in laughter when Baldrick wins an election with 99 percent of the vote.

Ayana Morali is the executive producer of Slate V.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate video blogger.

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