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Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي
Leader Syria: Abdullah al-Ahmar and Bashar al-Assad
Iraq: Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri
Founded 1940 (1940)
Headquarters Damascus (of the Syria-based party), and formerly Baghdad (of the former Iraq-based party)
Newspaper Al-Baath
Youth wing Revolution Youth Union
Ideology Arab nationalism
Arab socialism
Pan-Arabism
Secularism
Political position Syncretic, with some left-wing and far-right minority factions
International affiliation None
Website
http://www.baath-party.org/

The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (also spelled Ba'th or Baath which means "resurrection" or "renaissance" (reddyah); Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي) is a secularist political party, mixing Arab nationalist and Arab socialist interests, opposed to what it sees as "Western imperialism" and calling for the "renaissance" or "resurrection" of the Arab World and its unity in one united state.[1] Its motto — "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (wahda, hurriya, ishtirakiya) — refers to Arab unity, freedom from non-Arab control and interference. Its ideology of Arab socialism is notably separate in origins and practice from Marxism.

The party was founded in Damascus, Syria in 1947 by the Syrian intellectuals Michel Aflaq, and Salah al-Bitar, and since its inception has established branches in different Arab countries, although the only countries it has ever held power in are Syria and Iraq. In Syria it has had a monopoly on political power since the party's 1963 coup. Ba'athists also seized power in Iraq in 1963, but were deposed some months later. They returned to power in a 1968 coup and remained the sole party of government until the 2003 Iraq invasion. Since then they have been banned in Iraq.

In 1966 a coup d'état by the military against the historical leadership of Michel Aflaq and Salah Bitar led the Syrian and Iraqi parties to split into rival organizations — the Qotri (or Regionalist) Syria-based party and the Qawmi (or Nationalist) Iraq-based party.[2] Both Ba'ath parties retained the same name and maintained parallel structures in the Arab World, but became so antagonistic that the Syrian Ba'ath regime became the only Arab government to support non-Arab Iran against Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Underlying political philosophy

The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[4] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[5] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule. The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[6] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[7] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule.

After 1948, the traditional Arab Muslim elite failed to prevent the founding of Israel and was not able to provide welfare and administrative standards comparable to the western world. The secular and highly disciplined Ba'ath movement was seen as less corrupt and better organized. In multi-ethnic, multi-faith and highly divergent countries like Iraq and Syria, the Ba'ath concept allowed non-Muslims, as well as secular-minded Sunni and Shia Muslims to work under one common roof.[8] The socialist stance allowed as well for closer cooperation with the Soviet Union after 1945. Starting with the 1960s, the GDA (???) had a stronger military involvement in Syria as well.

Although Aflaq gave "unity" the priority among the party's objectives, he also stressed democracy and liberty. He writes: "The solution of the Arabs today is in unity and their road for achieving unity is through democracy".[9] The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[10] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[11] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule. The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[12] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[13] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule. The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[14] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[15] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule. The motto of the Party - "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" (Arabic وحدة، حرية، اشتراكية) was inspired by the French Jacobin political doctrine linking national unity and social equity,[3] Unity refers to Arab unity, liberty emphasizes being free from foreign control and interference, and socialism refers to Arab socialism rather than to European socialism, or communism. The idea that the national freedom and glory of the Arab Nation had been destroyed by Ottoman, and Western imperialism was expounded on in Michel Aflaq’s works On the Way of Resurrection.

Arab nationalism had been influenced by 19th Century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school.[16] and French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris.[17] Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Arab world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher famous for his conception of the nation state and his influence on the German unification movement.

The Ba'ath party also had a significant number of Christian Arabs among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based Islamic orientation and the minority status it would give non-Muslims and to get full acknowledgment as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule.

Structure

The Ba'ath Party was created as a cell-based organization, with an emphasis on withstanding government repression and infiltration. Hierarchical lines of command ran from top to bottom, and members were forbidden to initiate contacts between groups on the same level of organization; all contacts had to pass through a higher command level. This made the party somewhat unwieldy, but helped prevent the formation of factions and cordoned off members from each other, making the party very difficult to infiltrate, as even members would not know the identity of many other Ba'athists. As the U.S. and its allies discovered in Iraq in 2003, the cell structure has also made the Party highly resilient as an armed resistance organization.

A peculiarity stemming from its Arab unity ideology is the fact that it has always been intended to operate on a pan-Arab level, joined together by a supreme National Command, which is to serve as a party leadership for branches throughout the Arab world.

From its lowest organizational level, the cell, to the highest, the National Command, the party is structured as follows:

  • The Party Cell or Circle, composed of three to seven members, constitutes the basic organisational unit of the Ba'ath Party. There are two sorts of Cells: Member Cells and Supporter Cells. The latter consist of candidate members, who are being gradually introduced into Party work without being allowed membership privileges or knowledge of the party apparatus; at the same time, they are expected to follow all orders passed down to them by the full member that acts as the contact for their Cell. This serves both to prevent infiltration and to train and screen Party cadres. Cells functioned at the neighborhood, workplace or village level, where members would meet to discuss and execute party directives introduced from above.
  • A Party Division comprises two to seven Cells, controlled by a Division Commander. Such Ba'athist groups occur throughout the bureaucracy and the military, where they function as the Party’s watchdog, an effective form of covert surveillance within a public administration.
  • A Party Section, which comprises two to five Divisions, functions at the level of a large city quarter, a town, or a rural district.
  • The Branch comes above the Sections; it comprises at least two sections, and operates at the provincial level and also, at least in Syria, with one Branch each in the country's four universities.
  • The Regional Congress, which combines all the branches, was set up to elect the Regional Command as the core of the Party leadership and top decision-making mechanism, even if this later changed to an appointive procedure in Syria. A "Region" (quṭr), in Ba'athist parlance, is an Arab state, such as Syria or Iraq or Lebanon, reflecting the Party's refusal to acknowledge them as nation-states.
  • The National Command of the Ba'ath Party ranked over the Regional Commands. Until the 1960s, it formed the highest policy-making and coordinating council for the Ba'ath movement throughout the Arab world at large in both theory and practice. However, from 1966, there has existed two rival National Commands for the Ba'ath Party, both largely ceremonial, after the Iraqi and Syrian Regional Commands entered into conflict and set up puppet National Commands in order to further their rival claims to represent the original party.

The Ba'ath in Syria, 1954–1963

Syrian politics took a dramatic turn in 1954 when the military regime of Adib al-Shishakli was overthrown and a democratic system restored. The Ba'ath, now a large and popular organisation, gained representation in the parliamentary elections that year. Ideologically-based organisations appealing to the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie and the working class were gaining ground in Syria, threatening to displace the old parties that represented the notables and bourgeoisie. The Ba'ath was one of these new formations, but faced considerable competition from ideological enemies, notably the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which was intrinsically opposed to Arab nationalism and was portrayed by the Ba'ath as pro-Western, and the Syrian Communist Party (SCP), whose support for class struggle and internationalism was also anathema to the Ba'ath. In addition to the parliamentary level, all these parties as well as Islamists competed in street-level activity and sought to recruit support among the military.

The assassination of Ba'athist colonel Adnan al-Malki by a member of the SSNP allowed the Ba'ath and its allies to launch a crackdown on that party, thus eliminating one rival, but by the late 1950s, the Ba'ath itself was facing considerable problems, riven by factionalism and faced with ideological confusion among its base. The growth of the Communist Party was also a major threat. These considerations undoubtedly contributed to the party’s decision to support unification with Nasser’s Egypt in 1958, an extremely popular position in any case. In 1958, Syria merged with Egypt in the United Arab Republic. As political parties other than Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union were not permitted to operate, the Ba'th along with Syria’s other parties faced the choice of dissolution or suppression.

In August 1959, the Ba'ath Party held a congress which, in line with Aflaq’s views, approved of its liquidation into the Arab Socialist Union. This decision was not universally accepted in party ranks, however many dissented and the following year a fourth party congress was convened which reversed it.

Meanwhile, a small group of Syrian Ba'athist officers stationed in Egypt were observing with alarm the party’s poor position and the increasing fragility of the union. They decided to form a secret military committee: its initial members were Lieutenant-Colonel Muhammad 'Umran, majors Salah Jadid and Ahmad al-Mir, and captains Hafiz al-Asad and 'Abd al-Karim al-Jundi.

The merger was not a happy experience for Syria, and in 1961, a military coup in Damascus brought it to an end. Sixteen prominent politicians signed a statement supporting the coup, among them al-Hurani and al-Bitar (although the latter soon retracted his signature). The party was in crisis: the secession was extremely controversial among Syrians in general and most unpopular among the radical nationalists who formed the Ba'ath membership. A large section of the membership left in protest, setting up the Socialist Unity Vanguard and gaining considerable support. The leadership around Aflaq was bitterly contested for its timidity in opposing the separation. Al-Hawrani, now a determined opponent of reunification, left the Ba'ath and re-established his Arab Socialist Party.

Aflaq sought to reactivate the splintered party by calling a Fifth National Congress held in Homs in May 1962, from which both al-Hawrani’s supporters and the Socialist Unity Vanguard were excluded. A compromise was reached between the pro-Nasser elements and the more cautious leadership. The leadership line was reflected in the position the congress adopted in favour of "considered unity" as opposed to the demands for "immediate unity" launched by the Socialist Unity Vanguard (later the Socialist Unity Movement), the Nasserists and the Arab Nationalist Movement. Meanwhile the Syrian party’s secret Military Committee was also planning how to take power, having been granted considerable freedom of action by the civilian leadership in recognition of its need for secrecy.

The Ba'ath takes power in Syria and Iraq, 1963

In February 1963, the Iraqi Ba'ath took power after violently overthrowing Abd al-Karim Qasim and quashing communist-led resistance.

That same year, the Syrian party’s military committee succeeded in persuading Nasserist and independent officers to make common cause with it, and they successfully carried out a military coup on 8 March. A National Revolutionary Command Council took control and assigned itself legislative power; it appointed Salah al-Din al-Bitar as head of a "national front" government. The Ba'ath participated in this government along with the Arab Nationalist Movement, the United Arab Front and the Socialist Unity Movement.

As historian Hanna Batatu notes, this took place without the fundamental disagreement over immediate or "considered" reunification having been resolved. The Ba'ath moved to consolidate its power within the new regime, purging Nasserist officers in April. Subsequent disturbances led to the fall of the al-Bitar government, and in the aftermath of Jasim Alwan’s failed Nasserist coup in July, the Ba'ath monopolized power.

Ideological transformation and division, 1963–1968

The challenges of building a Ba'athist state led to considerable ideological discussion and internal struggle in the party. The Iraqi party was increasingly dominated by Ali Salih al-Sa'di, an unsophisticated thinker according to Batatu, who took a hardline leftist approach, declaring himself a Marxist. He gained support in this from Syrian regional secretary Hamoud el Choufi and from Yasin al-Hafiz, one of the party’s few ideological theorists. Some members of the secret military committee also sympathized with this line.

The far-left tendency gained control at the party’s Sixth National Congress of 1963, where hardliners from the dominant Syrian and Iraqi regional parties joined forces to impose a hard left line, calling for "socialist planning", "collective farms run by peasants", "workers' democratic control of the means of production", a party based on workers and peasants, and other demands reflecting a certain emulation of Soviet-style socialism. In a coded attack on Aflaq, the congress also condemned "ideological notability" within the party (Batatu, p. 1020). Aflaq, bitterly angry at this transformation of his party, retained a nominal leadership role, but the National Command as a whole came under the control of the radicals.

The volte-face was received with anger by elements in the Iraqi party, which suffered considerable internal division. The Nationalist Guard, a paramilitary unit which had been extremely effective, and extremely brutal, in suppressing opposition to the new regime, supported al-Sa'di, as did the Ba'athist Federation of Students, the Union of Workers, and most party members. Most of its members among the military officer corps was opposed, as was President Abd al-Salam 'Arif. Coup and counter-coup ensued within the party, whose factions did not shrink from employing the military in settling their internal differences. This eventually allowed 'Arif to take control and eliminate Ba'thist power in Iraq for the time being.

After disposing of its Nasserist rivals in 1963, the Ba'ath functioned as the only officially recognized Syrian political party, but factionalism and splintering within the party led to a succession of governments and new constitutions. On 23 February 1966, a bloody coup d'état led by left-wing extremists, a radical Ba'athist faction headed by Chief of Staff Salah Jadid, overthrew the Syrian Government. A late warning telegram of the coup d'état was sent from President Gamal Abdel Nasser to Nasim Al Safarjalani (The General Secretary of Presidential Council), on the early morning of the coup d'état. The coup sprung out of factional rivalry between Jadid's "regionalist" (qutri) camp of the Ba'ath Party, which promoted ambitions for a Greater Syria and the more traditionally pan-Arab, in power faction, called the "nationalist" (qawmi) faction. Jadid's supporters were also seen as more radically left-wing. Several Ba'ath leaders were sentenced to death in absentia by a special military court headed by later Syrian Defence Minister, Mustafa Tlass, and Interim Syrian President and Vice President of Syria Abdul Halim Khaddam, as prosecutor. Many managed to make their escape and flee to Beirut. The Ba'ath wing led by Salah Jadid took power, and set the party out on a more radical line. Although they had not been supporters of the victorious far-left line at the Sixth Party Congress, they had now moved to adopt its positions and displaced the more moderate wing in power, purging from the party its original founders, Aflaq and al-Bitar.

The Syrian Ba'ath and the Iraqi Ba'ath were by now two separate parties, each maintaining that it was the genuine party and electing a National Command to take charge of the party across the Arab world. However, in Syria, the Regional Command was the real centre of party power, and the membership of the National Command was a largely honorary position, often the destination of figures being eased out of the leadership.

At this juncture, the Syrian Ba'ath party split into two factions: the 'progressive' faction, led by President and Regional Secretary Nureddin al-Atassi gave priority to the radical Marxist-influenced line the Ba'ath was pursuing, but was closely linked to the security forces of Deputy Secretary Salah Jadid, the country's strongman from 1966. This faction was strongly preoccupied with what it termed the "Socialist transformation" in Syria, ordering large-scale nationalization of economic assets and agrarian reform. It favored an equally radical approach in external affairs, and condemned "reactionary" Arab regimes while preaching "people's war" against Israel; this led to Syria's virtual isolation even within the Arab world. The other faction, which came to dominate the armed forces, was headed by Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad. He took a more pragmatic political line, viewing reconciliation with the conservative Arab states, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as essential for Syria’s strategic position regardless of their political color. He also called for reversing some of the socialist economic measures and for allowing a limited role for non-Ba'athist political parties in state and society.

In early January 1965 the Syrian Ba'ath Party nationalized about a hundred companies, "many of them mere workshops, employing in all some 12,000 workers." Conservative Damascus merchants closing their shops and "with the help of Muslim preachers, called out the populace" to protest against the expropriation. The regime fought back with the Ba'ath Party National Guard and "newly formed Workers' Militia." In retaliation for the uprising the state assumed news powers to appoint and dismiss Sunni Muslim Friday prayer-leaders and took over the administration of religious foundations (awqaf), "the main source of funds of the Muslim establishment." [18]

Despite constant maneuvering and government changes, the two factions remained in an uneasy coalition of power. After the 1967 Six-Day War, tensions increased, and Assad's faction strengthened its hold on the military; from late 1968, it began dismantling Salah Jadid's support networks, facing ineffectual resistance from the civilian branch of the party that remained under his control. This duality of power persisted until November 1970, when, in another coup, Assad succeeded in ousting Atassi as prime minister and imprisoned both him and Jadid. He then set upon a project of rapid institution-building, reopening parliament and adopting a permanent constitution for the country, which had been ruled by military fiat or provisional constitutional documents since 1963. The Ba'ath Party was turned into a patronage network closely intertwined with the bureaucracy, and soon became virtually indistinguishable from the state, while membership numbers were increased to well over one million (reflecting both a conscious desire to turn the previous vanguard party into a regime-supporting mass organization, and the fact that party membership was now vital to advancement in many sectors). The party simultaneously lost its independence from the state, and was turned into a tool of the Assad regime, which remained based essentially in the security forces. Other socialist parties that accepted the basic orientation of the regime were permitted to operate again, and in 1972 the National Progressive Front was established as a coalition of these legal parties; however, they were only permitted to act as junior partners to the Ba'ath, with very little room for independent organization.

During the factional struggles of the 1960s, three breakout factions from the party had emerged. A pro-Nasser group split from the party at the breakup of union with Egypt in 1961, and later became the Socialist Unionists' party. This group later splintered several times, but one branch of the movement was coopted by the Ba'ath into the National Progressive Front, and remains in existence as a very minor pro-regime organization. The far-left line of Yasin al-Hafiz, which had impressed Marxist influences on the party in 1963, broke off the following year to form what later became the Revolutionary Workers' Party, while Jadid's and Atassi's wing of the organization reunited as the clandestine Arab Socialist Democratic Ba'ath Party. Both the latter organizations in 1979 joined an opposition coalition called the National Democratic Gathering.

Hafez al-Assad, one of the longest-ruling leaders of the modern Arab world, remained as president of Syria until his death in 2000, when his son Bashar al Assad succeeded him as President and as Regional and National Secretary of the party. Since then, the party has experienced an important generational shift, and a discreet ideological reorientation decreasing the emphasis on socialist planning in the economy, but no significant changes have taken place in its relation to the state and state power. It remains essentially a patronage and supervisory tool of the regime elite.

The Ba'ath today holds 134 of the 250 seats in the Syrian Parliament, a figure which is dictated by election regulations rather than by voting patterns, and the Syrian Constitution stipulates that it is "the leading party of society and state", granting it a legally enforced monopoly on real political power.

The party outside Syria

Through its Damascus-based National Command, the Syrian Ba'th Party has branches in Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq (currently split into two factions),[citation needed] etc., although none of the non-Syrian branches have any major strength. Among the Palestinians, as-Sa'iqa, a member organization of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is the Syrian Ba'ath party branch.

The Iraq-based Ba'ath Party

History

File:SaddamCairo.jpg

In Iraq, the Ba'ath party remained a civilian group and lacked strong support within the military. The party had little impact, and the movement split into several factions after 1958 and again in 1966. The movement was reported to have lacked strong popular support,[19] but through the construction of a strong party apparatus the party succeeded in gaining power.

The Ba'athists first came to power in the coup of February 1963, when Abd al-Salam 'Arif became president. Interference from the historic leadership around Aflaq and disputes between the moderates and extremists, culminating in an attempted coup by the latter in November 1963, served to discredit the party. After Arif’s takeover in November 1963, the moderate military Ba'athist officers initially retained some influence but were gradually eased out of power over the following months.

In July 1968, a bloodless coup led by General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, Saddam Hussein and Salah Omar Al-Ali brought the Ba'ath Party back to power. In 1974 the Iraqi Ba'athists formed the National Progressive Front to broaden support for the government's initiatives. Wranglings within the party continued, and the government periodically purged its dissident members. Emerging as a party strongman, Hussein eventually used his growing power to push al-Bakr aside in 1979 and ruled Iraq until 2003. Under Saddam's tenure Iraq experienced its most dramatic and successful period of economic growth, with its citizens enjoying standards of health care, housing, instruction and salaries/stipends well comparable to those of European countries. Several major infrastructures were laid down to help with the country's growth, although many had to be scaled down or abandoned as the costs of the Iran-Iraq War became heavier and heavier.

Author Fred Halliday writes about 1958-1979: Arab Nationalism confronting Imperial Iran, Ba'thist ideology, where, under the influence of al-Husri, Iran was presented as the age-old enemy of the Arabs. Al-Husri's impact on the Iraqi education system was made during the period of the monarchy, but it was the Ba'thists, trained in that period and destined to take power later, who brought his ideas to their full, official and racist, culmination. For the Ba'thists their pan-Arab ideology was laced with anti-Persian racism, it rested on the pursuit of anti-Persian themes, over the decade and a half after coming to power, Baghdad organised the expulsion of Iraqis of Persian origin, beginning with 40,000 Fayli Kurds, but totalling up to 200,000 or more, by the early years of the war itself. Such racist policies were reinforced by ideology: in 1981, a year after the start of the Iran-Iraq war, Dar al-Hurriya, the government publishing house, issued "Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies". by the author, Khairallah Talfah (Tulfah), the foster-father and father-in-law of Saddam Hussein. Halliday says that it was the Ba'thists too who, claiming to be the defenders of 'Arabism' on the eastern frontiers, brought to the fore the chauvinist myth of Persian migrants and communities in the Gulf.[20]

Post-Saddam

In June 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority banned the Ba'ath party. Some criticize the additional step the CPA took—of banning all members of the top four tiers of the Ba'ath Party from the new government, as well as from public schools and colleges—as blocking too many experienced people from participation in the new government. Thousands were removed from their positions, including doctors, professors, school teachers, bureaucrats and more. Many teachers lost their jobs, causing protests and demonstrations at schools and universities. Under the previous rule of the Ba'ath party, one could not reach high positions in the government or in the schools without becoming a party member. In fact, party membership was a prerequisite for university admission. In other words, while many Ba'athists joined for ideological reasons, many more were members because it was a way to better their options. After much pressure by the US, the policy of de-Ba'athification was addressed by the Iraqi government in January, 2008 in the highly controversial "Accountability and Justice Act" which was supposed to ease the policy, but which many feared would actually lead to further dismissals.[21]

The new Constitution of Iraq approved by a referendum on October 15, 2005, reaffirmed the Ba'ath party ban, stating that:

"No entity or program, under any name, may adopt racism, terrorism, the calling of others infidels, ethnic cleansing, or incite, facilitate, glorify, promote, or justify thereto, especially the Saddamist Baath in Iraq and its symbols, regardless of the name that it adopts. This may not be part of the political pluralism in Iraq."

On December 17, 2008, the New York Times reported that up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general had been arrested over the three previous days accused of quietly working to reconstitute the Ba'ath Party.[22][23]

The party outside Iraq

The Iraq-based Ba'ath Party had branches in various Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Mauritania and Jordan. After the fall of the Saddam government, some branches have distanced themselves from the central party, such as the branches in Yemen and Sudan.

In Lebanon, the party is led by former Sunni MP for Tripoli, Abdul-Majeed Al-Rafei.

In Yemen, the 'Qawmi'/pro-Saddam branch of the Ba'ath party is led by Dr. Qasim Sallam (former MP for the district of Ta'izz), a US-educated philosopher author of "The Baath and the Arab homeland" (1980).

The party works amongst the Palestinians directly through the Arab Liberation Front (known as ALF or Jabhat al-Tahrir al-'Arabiyah) founded by Zeid Heidar, and indirectly through the relatively small pro-Iraqi wing of Fatah formerly led by Khaled Yashruti. ALF formed the major Palestinian political faction in Iraq during the Saddam years. It is numerically small, but gained some prominence due to the support given to it by the Iraqi government. It is a member organization of PLO.

In Bahrain, Rasul al-Jeshy leads the local pro-Saddam faction of the Ba'ath Party, the secular Nationalist Democratic Rally Society (Jami'at al-Tajammu' al-Qawmi al-Dimuqrati), which in an alliance with Shiite Islamists opposes the Bahrain government’s economic policies.

An Iraq-oriented Ba'ath Party branch led by exiled Ba'ath party co-founder Salah ad-Din al-Bitar and Gen. Amin Hafiz formerly existed in Syria, which the Syrian government severely repressed.

References

  1. The Baath Arab Socialist Party National Leadership
  2. van Dam, Nikolaos. "The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics", I B Tauris. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Hamel, Ernest. "Histoire de Saint-Just Député de la Convention Nationale", Impr. et Librairie Poulet-Malassis et Broise. 
  4. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  5. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  6. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  7. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  8. Schauplatz Irak. Hintergründe eines Weltkonflikts. Peter Heine, Herder, Freiburg; (November 2002) ISBN 3-451-05371-3 (Irak stage - Backgrounds of a global conflict)
  9. [Michel Aflak - Choices of texts], Arab Unity. The regimes and the masses are two opposing sides of the Arab nation-April 15, 1974
  10. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  11. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  12. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  13. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  14. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  15. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  16. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X
  17. Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123
  18. Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.97
  19. The Economist, London, 24–30 June 1978, p. 78.
  20. Nation and religion in the Middle East‎, Fred Halliday, pp 117-118
  21. Paley, Amit R., Joshua Partlow. "Iraq's New Law on Ex-Baathists Could Bring Another Purge", Washington Post, 2008-01-23. Retrieved on 2009-04-27. 
  22. Usher, Sebastian. "Baathist mistake corrected amid concern", BBC News, 2008-01-12. Retrieved on 2008-01-12. 
  23. "Rice in surprise Iraq visit", Al Jazeera, 2008-01-15. 

Bibliography

  • The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, Hanna Batatu, London, al-Saqi Books, 2000. ISBN 0-86356-520-4
  • Al-Baath wa-Lubnân [Arabic only] ("The Baath and Lebanon"), NY Firzli, Beirut, Dar-al-Tali'a Books, 1973
  • The Iraq-Iran Conflict, NY Firzli, Paris, EMA, 1981. ISBN 2-86584-002-6
  • Al-Baath wal Watan Al-Arabi [Arabic, with French translation] ("The Baath and the Arab Homeland"), Qasim Sallam, Paris, EMA, 1980. ISBN 2-86584-003-4
  • The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics, Nikolaos van Dam, London I B Tauris, 1979.
  • History of Syria Including Lebanon and Palestine, Vol. 2 Hitti Philip K. (2002) (ISBN 1-931956-61-8)

Endnotes

External links

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