United Arab Republic

Syria Table of Contents

Seeing no way to preserve its position through domestic maneuvering, the government turned to Egypt's President Gamal Abdul Nasser for help. Discussions about a union between Syria and Egypt had been held in 1956 but had been interrupted by the Suez crisis. The subject was brought up again in December 1957, when the Baath Party announced that it was drafting a bill for union with Egypt. Although the Baath Party knew that Nasser's declared hostility to political parties would mean the end of its legal existence, it calculated that the group most affected would be the Communists, whose counterparts in Egypt were being ruthlessly persecuted. The Baathists expected Nasser to dissolve all parties but envisaged a special role for themselves in the new state because of their continued support of Nasser and their identification with his views. For his part, Nasser was reluctant to burden himself with a troubled Syria and agreed to the union only after a Syrian delegation convinced him of the seriousness of the communist threat. The union of Syria and Egypt in the United Arab Republic (UAR) was announced on February 1, 1958, and later ratified by a plebiscite in each country.

The form in which the UAR emerged was not what the Baathists had envisioned. One of Nasser's conditions for union was that the two countries be completely integrated, not just federated as the Syrians proposed, and Syria soon found itself dominated by the stronger, more efficient Egypt. The Provisional Constitution of 1958 called for a unitary cabinet and a 600-member assembly, composed of 400 Egyptians and 200 Syrians, half of the members being drawn from the then-existing national assemblies. Syria and Egypt were designated regions of the UAR, each headed by an appointed executive council. Nasser was unanimously chosen president of the republic, and two of the four vice presidents were Syrians, one of them Akram Hawrani, leader of the Baath Party. The first cabinet included 14 Syrians out of 34 members, all of them leading politicians and military figures whom Nasser wanted removed from their bases of power. As expected, all political parties were dissolved; but the Baathists did not find themselves in the favored position they expected. The UAR was completely run by Nasser.

Although a number of nationalization and land reform measures had been implemented in Syria, Nasser felt that socialist reform and integration with Egypt were moving too slowly and, in October 1959, appointed Egyptian Vice President Abdul Hakim Amir to supervise policy in Syria. The Syrians, however, were increasingly dissatisfied with Egypt's domination. Egyptians took over a large number of the important administrative posts in Syria, and Syrian army officers were transferred to Egypt while Egyptians took posts in Syria. Growing political unrest in Syria was exacerbated by an economic crisis brought about by prolonged drought. Nasser made little apparent effort to placate Syrian dissatisfaction and continued with his planned integration of the UAR. On September 28, 1961, a military coup was staged in Damascus, and Syria seceded from the UAR.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress