Ba'athism and Assad Syria

(To Federico Gozzi)

The Middle East has always been a prey to states that pursue colonialist and imperialist objectives, first for its strategic position, then for its natural resources, both useful for increasing the coffers of the various rulers. Starting from '900, however, the control of the area became fundamental, since dominating the Fertile Crescent one had access to the Suez Canal, which allowed enormous quantities of oil to reach Europe.

In 1916 there was the first Arab uprising against Ottoman rule. This uprising was supported by the British and the Allies, who, under the leadership of the officer Lawrence of Arabia, led the rebel troops to Damascus, winning the 30 September 1918. After that, the promise of freedom for the Arab nation, guaranteed by the Allies, was betrayed. England and France divided the Middle East area as if it were a cake, setting borders and creating protectorates based on the Agreements Sykes-Picot, dating back to the 1916.

Meanwhile, Europe was prey to major political upheavals: the Russian Revolution had begun in 1917, affirming a new political order that, at least in its intentions, claimed to defend the oppressed and the freedom of the peoples. In Italy, however, a teacher would soon have taken power, constituting a new state by forging it on the basis of a political model that combines Nationalism and Socialism: the Fascism. Even Germany was hit by the nationalist wave of those years, preparing to form a new political doctrine, or the Nazism. New political ideas that, in one way or another, influenced the Arab patriots, who were looking for a way to free themselves from foreign yoke, and a way to modernize their society, which was considered backward due to foreign domination and oppression exercised by religion.

The Arab problem was mainly their division into various tribes and states, without being able to achieve lasting unification. So it was that in the 1940, two teachers from Damascus, Michel Aflaq and Salah Al Bitar, formed in the early years of the 40 a new political association: the Baath. This term means "Arab Resurrection Party" and it had as fundamental pillars socialism, a secular culture and pan-Arab nationalism. According to Aflaq, at the first congress, only a dozen militants were present. The party reached a respectable dimension only in the 1952, when other Arabs joined, fascinated by the patriotic and socialist ideal of the Ba'ath. The new pan-Arab socialism founded one of the reasons for its success on the non-confessional basis of the party: both Muslims and Christians could join, without any religious discrimination. In fact, in the Ba'athist ideology, religious convictions do not count, but cultural belonging to Arab nation. Another reason for success was the fact that anyone, both men and women (considered equal to men), could join the Party and play an active role in it.

The Ba'ath, in the 1963, took power in both Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, it lasted until November of the same year, when it fell under the pressure of the military. A new Iraqi Ba'athist government was formed only in 1968. In Syria, however, the military led the coup and handed the government over to the Ba'athists. The Syrian Ba'ath, therefore, was not exempt from this: he had several coups of state until the 1971, the year in which Hafiz Al-Assad, Bashar's father, conquered power. With Assad, the father in power, Syria underwent a real turning point: an Alawite, a member of a religious minority, led the nation for the first time. Hafiz Al-Assad followed the party's socialist line, nationalizing the businesses, strengthening the secular and pan-Arab ethos and approaching the Soviet bloc, thus completing the Ba'athist revolution in Syria. There were numerous social reforms and public works promoted by him: Syria achieved energy self-sufficiency, public education was improved and the army was modernized. Other types of reforms carried out during his government helped to raise the standard and quality of life. In the 1982, repressed the Hama rebellion, led by the Muslim brotherhood (association of Sunni Muslims) making its power more solid and keeping the state united; this gave the possibility to Assad the father to eliminate the article of the Constitution which stated that only Muslims could be Syrian presidents.

Hafiz al-Assad's foreign policy was controversial: on the one hand he supported the Arab nations against Israel, so as to fight a war against the latter in the 1973, a conflict that ended with the occupation of the Golan Heights (claimed by Syria all 'today). On the other hand, however, he broke off relations with the Ba'athist Iraq of Saddam Hussein, event that led Syria, in the 90 years, to support the western intervention in Kuwait. One of the reasons for this political choice, that is to break with Hussein, was also the fact that the Syrian Ba'ath was more oriented towards socialism, while the Iraqi one had a more fascist imprint.

Hafiz Al-Assad died in the 2000, giving way to his son Bashar Al-Assad. The latter - in rupture with his father's foreign policy - has re-established relations with Hussein, supporting him on the occasion of US aggression in the 2003, and has attempted a diplomatic resolution with Israel on the issue of the Golan Heights. Moreover, Assad son, promoted social reforms and modernized the economy of the country, close an alliance with Iran and the countries of the former communist bloc, such as Russia and China.

Syria, through Bashar Al-Assad and the last existing bulwark of the Ba'ath, is therefore a spokesperson and protector of Arab aspirations and the Middle East, trying to fulfill the mission that the Ba'ath had set itself: the liberation of Arab nation from foreign oppression.