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Ba'athism


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Refers to the political philosophy of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (hizb al‐ba'ath al‐arabi al‐ishtiraki). This party is the result of the 1952 merger of two parties—the Arab Ba'ath Party founded in 1947 and the Arab Socialist Party. The Arab Ba'ath or Renaissance Party was founded by three French‐educated Syrian intellectuals: Michel Aflaq, a Greek Orthodox Christian; Salah al‐Din Bitar, a Sunni Muslim, both of whom had a particular vision of Arab socialism and nationalism; and Zaki al‐Arsuzi, an Alawi, who first used the term, al‐ba'ath al arabi, for his followers but never joined the official party.

Michel Aflaq, the party's philosopher, took the idea of the Arab nation elaborated ‘scientifically’ by the Syrian Sati al Husri, a notion which became popular in Pan‐Arab nationalism taken up by many groups, and grafted onto the idea of the Arab nation the doctrine of Arab socialism (unrelated to Marxism) to form the guiding principles of Ba'athism. The slogan of the Arab revolution was Unity, Freedom (from colonialism), and Socialism. In Aflaq's view, there was no Syrian or Egyptian or other nation in the Middle East. There was only the Arab nation from which a single Arab state would eventually emerge. The unity of the Arab Nation would lead to the regeneration of the Arab character and society. Arab socialism did not focus on the needs of a dispossessed class but on the people as a whole. It was, in effect, a spiritual marriage of nationalism and socialism. Ba'athi doctrine indicated little confidence in gradual reform achieved through elections and pluralistic politics. For Aflaq, Islam was a part of Arabism and not incompatible with nationalism.

The Party's pan‐Arab ideology affected its organization. It began in Syria but soon spread to other Arab countries and local party organizations were set up in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Tunisia. As it spread, the parties were viewed as regional extensions of the umbrella organization, each of the states became a ‘region’ of the future all‐embracing single Arab state.

From 1953 onward, the Ba'ath gradually became a mass party in Syria. In 1957–8, it was in a position to support and press for the unity of Syria with a somewhat reluctant Egypt to form the United Arab Republic. The idea of unity with Egypt had considerable appeal in Syrian politics as an antidote to domestic instability and regional threats. However, at the time that a merger between Egypt and Syria was proposed, the Ba'ath party, fearing that their position was being undermined by leftist forces in the country, sought political unification in order to preserve and enhance their position. As a condition of the merger, Jamal Abd al‐Nasir (President of Egypt) required that all political parties and their activities, including the Ba'ath party, be suspended. After three years, the expectations engendered by the original enthusiasm for union dissipated in the inability of the merger to address the domestic political and economic concerns of crucial Syrian interest groups. Subsequent attempts at merger in 1963 also failed. Even when Ba'athist governments committed ideologically to Arab unity were involved (Syria and Iraq), attempts at political unity foundered on political realities—internal and factional divisions, ideological competition on a regional level, and a regional security environment that tempered attempts at cooperation. In these circumstances, though the vision of Arab unity remained embedded in Ba'ath ideology, the reality of regional as well as domestic politics required that Ba'athist states pursue national interests. As a consequence, the idea of a national state emerged in tension with the legitimacy of a state founded on the greater interests of the Arab nation.

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Subjects: Politics.


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