Syria will hold a presidential election on May 26 that is virtually certain to return President Bashar al-Assad for a third term
- an event that Washington and the opposition say is a farce designed to cement his autocratic rule.
Assad's family and Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominates.
This year is the 10th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
The conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and displaced millions.
But it's now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
Candidates for May's election must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents key opposition figures in exile from standing.
Assad came to power in 2000 after the death of his father, long-time President Hafez al-Assad.
His supporters say Washington and its Western allies are seeking to bring Assad down with the crippling sanctions they have imposed.