Radical Political Influence

Syria Table of Contents

The ouster of Shishakli brought out once more the conflicts among the diverse political elements of the country. Cabinet succeeded cabinet as shifting coalitions of conservatives on the one hand and left-wing socialists on the other vied for supremacy. By 1955 the balance began to swing in favor of leftwing elements, notably the Baath Party and the Syrian Communist Party, the only parties in Syria with effective organizations and definite platforms and the only ones not based on sectarian interests. Their platforms coincided on some issues, and they sometimes cooperated in achieving their goals: economic and political reform aimed at dislodging the ineffective entrenched leadership that was at once quasi-feudal, mercantile, and Western connected; Arab unity; and close cooperation with the Soviets to counter alleged Western designs on the Arab homeland.

Anti-Western sentiment had been ever-present in independent Syria, resulting from deep disappointment over perceived British betrayal at Versailles and resentment of French policies under the mandate. It had reached a high pitch after the creation of Israel, considered another example of Western connivance against the Arabs, but was subdued by the pro-Western Shishakli. In 1955 it was vocal again under the stimulation of local politicians and Soviet propaganda. The British-French-Israeli invasion of Sinai in late 1956 gave it additional impetus.

The gradual ascendance to power of left-wing radicals brought close relations with the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Several barter agreements were signed between 1954 and 1956; cultural agreements were concluded, missions were exchanged, and an arms deal was signed in 1956. At the same time, Syria became increasingly isolated from its Arab neighbors.

During 1957 the conservatives were virtually eliminated as a political factor. In May they suffered a crushing defeat in byelections after four traditionally conservative representatives were convicted of conspiracy. Later that year conservatives failed in an effort to form an effective coalition in parliament to counter the radicals, and conservative and moderate army officers failed to dislodge known Communists from strategic posts in the army. By the end of 1957, Baathists, with their Communist and other left-wing allies, were in control of the government.

The success of the radicals in gaining control resulted largely from close cooperation between the Baathists and Communists. The Communists had been growing rapidly in number and strength as popularity of the East and dislike of the West grew, and, by the end of 1957, they threatened Baathist domination of the radical alliance. Moderates in Syria and abroad feared an imminent Communist takeover. The Baathists became alarmed when a new radical party was formed to counter their influence and to cooperate with the Communists. The last months of 1957 saw a fierce behind-the-scenes struggle for supremacy within the radical camp.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress