Recently, I have just been working on finishing my project, so rather than spend time here telling you how it has been going, I am going to post a recent excerpt. I will say, however, that I am finding progress easier, and am anticipating wrapping up the history section by sometime this Friday or Saturday. I have also been trying to get the point of view of important magazines, so recently I have spent a lot of time reading articles on Syria in The Economist.
This is a section on the founding of the Baath party and middle eastern politics in the ’50s and ’60s:
” The Baath party was founded in Damascus in 1943 by two high school teachers, Michael Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. Interestingly, while Aflaq was a Greek Orthodox Christian, al-Bitar was a Sunni Muslim. The party had two slogans, which give a somewhat accurate representation of its priorities “One Arab Nation with an Eternal Mission” and “Unity, Freedom, and Socialism.”
In the years subsequent to its founding, the Baath party stayed mostly in Syria, advocating Arab unity, although largely unsuccessfully, due to the fact their membership stayed in the relatively low hundreds. In 1947, they developed their own constitution, but the party didn’t see real growth until 1952, when it merged with the Syrian Socialist Party and formed the Arab Socialist Baath Party, or the ASP. Baath in Arabic means renaissance, and these parties played on the Arab pride in their great and storied history to gain support. This move took the parties constituency of around forty-five hundred people and expanded the diversity of their constituency to include lower class members. The leader of the Syrian Socialist Party, Akram al-Hourani, had gained much respect as a leader of peasant farmers in the region of Hama, near the western edges of Syria, and it was these farmers that made up the beginnings of the Arab Socialist Baath Party’s constituency. Al-Hourani was forced to take refuge in nearby Lebanon during Shishakli’s dictatorial reign, but after his downfall, he returned and support for the new ASP party grew rapidly, as resentment towards the upper classes made the ideas of liberal economic philosophy popular. Historian and Syrian specialist Patrick Seale says that the followers of the Baath party were “a coalition of the white-collar urban class, schoolteachers, government employees and the like, with revolutionary peasants.” (Seale 47)
The 1950s saw massive support for radical leftist political ideals, mostly because of the humiliation of “al-Nakba,” the Cold War raging between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis in Egypt (in which Western nations would attempt to ensure their control of what Arabs viewed as sovereign Egyptian soil, with Israeli involvement on the side of the West). Western interventions into Middle Eastern affairs throughout this decade only served to increase the negative, resentful feelings held by Arabs, and it was no wonder that the policies (communism and socialism) of Eastern Asia that were giving the United States so much trouble gained popularity; anything anti-western did during this time. Syria, like most Middle Eastern nations, saw this evolution close at home, in the results of their elections—in 1954, the Baath Party (which had grown to become the most prominent leftist party in Syria) received fifteen percent of the vote and won twenty-two of about one hundred and fifty seats in the Syrian parliament, making it second (and a close second) in popularity only to the more conservative People’s Party. “