Syria is a country that struggled to get its independence from 1920 to 1962 the country was fighting for stability and independence. For many years they were ruled by French but finally they managed get rid of France from the country. This essay is an analysis of the events that took place during that period.
Syrians Political History (1920-1963)
In April 1920 Lebanon was placed under the French mandate at the San Remo Conference, French proclaimed the establishment of Greater Lebanon. The new state included Mount Lebanon, the coastal cities and four Syrian districts in the Beka region, which were not that different from the Lebanon of Ottoman times.
In 1922 Syria was divided by French into three autonomous States; the Alawi region in the north, the Sunni which was a Muslim state in the centre, and a Druze state in the southern region. The three regions were late to be incorporated into a Federal Syria. Later in May, 1926 a constitution was proclaimed and the first president elected the same year. However, during this time, Leaders of the Sunni community were still calling for secession and union with Syria.
The French rule was extremely oppressive. Moubayed, (2005) explains how everything was under the control of the French including economy and financial management. French did not show any concern to the Syrians, French language was made compulsory in learning institutions. Almost everything in Syria was under French control and this made Syrians to be very bitter and disappointed. In the year 1925, Shaykh Salih ibn Ali led the Alawis in an intermittent revolt. Shaykh Ismail Harirwas a rebel in the Hawran and Sultan Pasha al Atrash who was the kinsman of the paramount chief of the Druzes, led a continuous rebellion in Jabal Druze. Mulhim Quasim did the same in the mountains around Baalbek.
Rich and educated Muslims who were supporting Faysal earlier, led an Arab nationalism in Damascus. They had numerous grievances against the French. There were particularly bitter because French was very reluctant to let them create a constitution for Syria, which would let Syria have its independence and freedom as the League of Nation had demanded. In 1925 Druze led a revolt which led to revolts in Aleppo and Damascus after it had spread all over Syria. Druze invaded Damascus and they started carrying out demonstrations against the French who in turn responded with brutality. As a result, 5000 Syrians died and reluctant order replaced the revolt.
In 1928, The French Military government assisted the Syrians to form a self government. A National Bloc comprised of several nationalist groups was formed, and centered in Damascus. That year, elections for a constituent assembly put the National Bloc in power and a constitution for the Syrians was drafted. The constitution provided for the reunifying of Syria and ignored the French rule. Later the French imposed a constitution that did not have the articles that would have given Syria unified self-government.
Syrians wanted to have a treaty with France, since Iraq had signed such a treaty with Britain in 1922. Hannanus’, a national leader died in 1935, and later followed by a general strike in 1936 whose outcome was treaty negotiations. The treaty was never ratified by the French government, but for the Syrians, it was still considered a huge step. Hashim Al Atassi was the first nationalist government president.
The treaty signed between Syria and Germany provided a few steps towards the independence of Syria. Many Syrians reacted against this treaty, although most choose to support France its allies. World War II broke out in 1939, which saw Syria’s fortunes change greatly in1940 when France fell to Nazi Germany. The situation changed rapidly later in 1940 when the British and Free French forces took Syria and Lebanon back from the Germans. Supported by the Free French and British, Syria declared independence in 1941.
In 1945 and 1946 after the World War II, France sought to re-establish Syria as a colony, and Syria was still under French control stemming from a League of the Nation’s Mandate. However, nationalistic pressure was too high in Syria, and the French were forced to relinquish their mandate and leave Syria. The early years of Syrian government were chaotic, with coups and counter-coups happening. There was also happened a duration of external conflict, when Syria was involved in clashes with Israel in from 1948. In 1947 the Baath Party was founded, with a goal of Arab unity, desired to unit all or most Arabs in to a single state. The Baath Party has been the dominant political party in Syria since its establishment.
In December 19, 1949 General Adib al-Shishakli launched the third coup of 1949, arresting Chief of Staff Sami al-Hinnawi and in November 1951, he launched his second coup, arrested the prime minister and forced President Atosi to resign. He dissolve parliament and outlawed all political parties and newspapers. In April 1952, he outlawed all the political parties in Syria. In 1954, army officers led a coup against the Al-Shishakli and military government, but returned a civilian government to power. Upon being overthrown, Shishakli attempted to restore the army to a normal position in order to legitimize his regime. He trimmed the military’s privileges and powers, which was resented by most of the military officers outside his inner circle.
In 1955, September 5, Shukri al-Quwatli was re-elected the president of Syria for the third time in his career. He ran against the independent Khalid al-Azm and he received ninety one votes while Azm got forty one votes. In 1958, Syria and Egypt came together to form a United Arab Republic (URA). The short- lived republic merged the two states to one entity. However, most of the power was in the hands of Egypt as the larger partner. This created a great deal of frustrations and unhappiness in Syria, and as a result of this uneven merger Syria broke away from the United Arab Republic in 1961.
Gamal Abd al-Nasser was the head of the new coalition state formed by Syria and Egypt, and he had even ordered for all political parties in Syria to be dissolved. Phillips, & Gritzner, (2010) explains that Gamal Abd al-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, creating shocking waves throughout the Arab World, and gaining unmatched popularity in Syria. President Quwatli responded by expelling the British and French Ambassadors from Syria. His intelligence service destroyed the British pipelines running through the Syrian Desert in November 1956.
Syria’s first constitution was adopted in 1963, providing many forms of democratic participation. In the same year these rights were suspended, because the government at the time declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law, which is still in force up to date. Ismael, Ismael, et al, (1991) states that in November, the same year, Amin al-Hafez created a new oath for officers in the Syrian army, where they were required to pledge to work for the Baath Party trinity of” Unity, Freedom and Socialism” before graduating.
Ismael, T. Y., Ismael, J. S., & Abu, J. K. (1991). Politics and government in the Middle East and North Africa. Miami: Florida International University Press.
Moubayed, S. M. (2005). Steel & silk: Men and women who shaped Syria 1900-2000. Seattle, Wash: Cune.
Phillips, D. A., & Gritzner, C. F. (2010). Syria. New York: Chelsea House.