Sunday, November 30, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 12: 1943 to 1946 Period

Although Syria was formally recognized as independent when it was occupied by UK troops during World War II, “the essential prerogatives of sovereignty—full legislative and administrative powers and control over the armed forces—had” still “to be wrested from the French,” according to Patrick Seale’s The Struggle for Syria. So after its Lebanese members were authorized to form a separate Lebanese Communist Party in Lebanon in 1943, the Syrian Communist Party-- which Khalid Bakdash led—participated in a 1943 election in Syria under European colonial rule and campaigned on a platform which called for: 1. Independence and Freedom for Syria; 2. Unity in the cause of national independence; and 3. The creation of truly representative institutions in Syria.

According to The Struggle for Syria, “…In Syria…France was reluctant to give up her…`special position’ there” after World War II, but because the UK had “guaranteed Syrian…independence” when it occupied Syria militarily in 1941, “decisive support for the Syrian nationalist leaders in the final tussle with the French” (after French troops had returned to Syria) was given by the UK government in 1945.

Yet before people in Syria finally won their political independence from French government rule on Apr. 17, 1946 (when the last contingent of French imperialist troops left Syria), large demonstrations of Syrians demanding the withdrawal of French troops from Syria had to be held in the last week of January 1945 and on May 29 and May 30, 1945; and, in response, French military authorities in Damascus had “bombed the city from the air and shelled the newer quarter in Damascus, killing many people and making thousands homeless,” according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom. As Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate recalled:

“…Large anti-French demonstrations in Damascus in the last week of January 1945 were countered by a visible display of French military strength in the Syrian capital…By May [1945] the French were reinforcing the garrisons, mainly with the much dreaded and hated Senegalese troops…

“Demonstrations broke out in Damascus…Anti-French activities quickly spread all over Syria…The French military command…shelled and bombed Damascus from the air between the evening of May 29 [1945] and noon on May 30 [1945]…The newer, modern quarters received the brunt of French punishment…The number of Syrian casualties and the amount of physical destruction was heavy. It included 400 dead, countless injured…Renewed anti-French protests in the towns of Syria…brought by spring [1946] a complete withdrawal of French troops and other military personnel from Syrian territory…”

As a political alternative to Syria’s secular nationalist and secular left anti-imperialist groups, during the middle of the 1930s, the anti-imperialist Muslim Brotherhood of Syria had been established in Aleppo “when Syrian students…returning from Egypt began forming branches in different cities under the title Shabab Mohammad (Young Men of Mohammed),” according to Dilip Hiro’s Holy Wars: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism; and Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood at this time also “had stood for an end” to French rule in Syria and “for social reform along Islamic lines” in Syria.

But in 1944 the headquarters of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood was moved to Damascus and a friend of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, named Mustafa al Sibai, was elected as General Supervisor of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. Then, according to Holy Wars, “once the French departed” from Syria in 1946, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood “concentrated on socio-economic issues, always stressing its opposition to secularism and Marxism;” and “it drew the bulk of its support from” Syria’s “urban petty traders and craftsmen” who, with their families “composed about one-sixth of the Syrian population.” 

(end of part 12)

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