Monday, December 1, 2014

A People's History of Syria: Part 13: 1947 to 1949 Period

After the French imperialist troops in Syria finally left in 1946, formal political control over Syria was assumed by the Syrian Nationalist Bloc/Kutla Bloc group of Syrian elite politicians. But although the “Kutla Bloc maintained power under the guise of a parliamentary democracy led by” Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli, “the 1947 parliamentary election gave visible indication of…increasing public disenchantment” in Syria “with the Kutla Bloc politicians,” according to Trinity University Middle East History Professor David Lesch’s Syria and the United States.

A political split then developed within the Kutla Bloc; and members of the al-Quwatli regime’s ruling wing of the Kutla Bloc formed Syria’s Nationalist Party, while members of the non-ruling, dissident faction of the Kutla Bloc formed a second economically and politically conservative political party, “Hizb al-Sha’b or Populist (People’s) Party in August of 1948,” according to the same book.

The non-communist, but Pan-Arab nationalist, anti-imperialist and secular Baath (a/k/a/ Arab Socialist Resurrection) party that Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar had created in the 1940s also became more active in Syria in 1947; and, following the United Nations’ November 1947 vote to partition Palestine and the Zionist movement’s establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine in May 1948—that was strongly opposed by most people in Syria—the Baath party organized protest demonstrations that expressed support for Palestinian Arab national self-determination rights in Palestine. For example, as Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate recalled:

“…To mark the first anniversary of the 1947 United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine, the Baath brought the students out on strike….Demonstrators petitioned the Government demanding an immediate resumption of hostilities in Palestine, the rejection of all alliances with foreign powers, and the cancellation of a recent decree increasing the price of bread…”

In response, however, the Syrian “police reinforced by gendarmeries used tear gas to disperse the crowd;” and when the student strikes in support of Palestinian Arab national self-determination rights spread to other towns in Syria, the following events happened in Syria in late 1948 and early 1949, according to the same book:

“Police fired on mobs killing four people in Damascus. A state of emergency was declared over the whole country, the army moving into the capital with armored vehicles to impose a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and to prohibit gatherings of more than 3 persons.”

In response to the Zionist movement’s establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 in Palestine and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Palestine in the late 1940s, the civilian Syrian regime of Nationalist Party leader al-Quwatli had joined other Arab regimes in confronting militarily the Zionist movement’s military wing during the late 1940s Arab-Israeli War. But, as Syria and The United States recalled, “the regime of Shukri al-Quwatli was utterly discredited by its corrupt mishandling of a war that resulted in a humiliating defeat for Syria”; and “the discontent among the populace and in the military created an opening for the entrance of the army into Syrian politics with the overthrow of Quwatli by General Husni al-Za’im in March 1949, a position from which they have yet to retreat,” according to the same book.

The situation of Syrians of Jewish religious background also worsened especially following the Zionist movement’s establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine.  As the Encyclopedia Judaica noted:

“Of about 15,000 Jews in Syria in 1947, only about 5,300 remained in 1957. Most of them left during the 1940s...From 1948, the condition of Syrian Jewry continued to decline… Jewish property was confiscated, and Palestinian refugees were housed in the dwellings vacated in the Jewish quarters of Damascus and Aleppo…In addition, various limitations were imposed on them, in particular one forbidding them to leave the country…In March 1964, a decree was enacted which prohibited Jews from traveling more than three miles beyond the limits of their home towns….In 1968 the number remaining in Syria was estimated at about 4,000. Most lived in Damascus and Aleppo, and belonged to the middle classes and the poor.”

Yet, as The Encyclopedia Judaica also noted, between 1948 and 1968 the Syrians of Jewish religious background who lived in Qamishli, Syria still “lived among Muslim Kurds, who were not hostile;” and the Syrians of Jewish religious background who were “wealthy” generally “succeed in escaping” from Syria after 1948, “sometimes even with their capital.”

Syria and The French Mandate also indicated some additional reasons the civilian Syrian Nationalist Bloc’s regime that was established after the 1946 French military withdrawal was not popular with the Syrian military’s officer corps--that the newly independent civilian Syrian government had inherited from the French authorities:

“[Syrian] nationalist leaders distrusted the [Syrian] officer corps: they accused it of serving the French outright, or at least of serving French interests by remaining aloof from the nationalist struggle. After the French departed in 1946, one of the very first things the independence government did was to assert its control over the army by bringing it under civilian authority. It actually reduced the size of the army from 7,000 to 2,500 men between 1946 and 1948…The [Syrian] army’s reduction in size at a time when war in Palestine loomed large on the horizon and the scandals associated with the government’s inadequate provision of the army during that war exacerbated civilian-military relations and contributed directly to the army’s entrance into the Syrian political arena with the first coup in 1949.”

(end of part 13)

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