Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 14: 1949 to 1953 Period

According to Patrick Seale’s The Struggle for Syria, Husni al-Za’im (who had been the Syrian Army’s Chief of Staff--although just a colonel prior to his Mar. 29-30, 1949 coup) was initially “supported by a handful of nationalist officers and radical politicians” in Syria; and apparently al-Za’im’s March 1949 military coup was also supported by the Democratic Truman Administration. As David Lesch’s Syria and The United States noted, “the United States intervened in Syria in early 1949 to place an individual in power who American officials admitted was a `Banana Republic dictator type’ who `did not have the competence of a French corporal’ but did have a `strong anti-Soviet attitude’ and showed he was willing to talk peace with Israel;” and “in assisting General Husni al-Zai’im to overthrow the discredited Shukri al-Quwatli regime in March 1949, the United States felt it was riding a wave of popular discontent in Syria.”

The same book also observed that “Za’im was all and more of what the United States thought he could be” and “he concluded an armistice agreement with Israel.., approved the TAPLINE (Trans-Arabian Oil Pipeline) concession which transported ARAMCO (Arab-American Oil Company) oil from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean, cracked down on communists and leftists in Syria, and displayed a willingness to accept American military assistance…”

According to The Struggle For Syria, “to seize power, Za’im had harnessed the resentment of a group of nationalist officers” and “`Palestine’ had been the magic slogan with which he had won the dissident army to his cause.” Yet after the French government whose troops had occupied Syria until 1946 also expressed support for Za’im’s new regime in early April 1949, “the eagerness with which Zai’m” then “sought to conclude an armistice” with the Israeli government “came as a shock to his entourage,” who also thought “his alliance with the French was too blatant,” according to the same book.

In addition, after Za’im’s new Syrian military coup regime began formal talks with the Israeli government in April 1949, “most sources agree that the” then-monarchist but still anti-Zionist “Iraq government, displeased with Za’im’s attitude…and impatient to see established in Damascus a government more friendly to itself, was ready to bring him down,” according to The Struggle For Syria; and the then-monarchist Iraqi government got “in touch with a group of Syrian officers and politicians who included the commander of the First Brigade, Colonel Sami al-Hinnawi,” according to the same book.

So, not surprisingly, the following happened in August 1949 in Damascus, a week after “Colonel Hinnawi moved” a column of his troops “within 20 miles of Damascus, on the pretext that the armoured cars, recently withdrawn from the first [brigade], needed servicing,” according to The Struggle For Syria:

“…A few hours before dawn on Aug. 14 1949, the column moved on the capital…Small detachments of 2 or 3 vehicles made for the houses of Prime Minister…and police headquarters.., radio station, and central bank. Lt. Fadlallah Abu Mansar led a task force of 6 armored cars…to the presidential residence…Fadlallah shot his way in and confronted Za’im in pajamas in the hall…Za’im was bundled into an armored car…The High Command had sentenced [Syrian President] Za’im and [then-Syrian prime minister Mashind] Barazi to death…They were then shot and the news of the coup was announced to the public.”

But on Dec. 19, 1949, another Syrian colonel named Adib al-Shishakli “engineered the third coup’d’etat within a year,” according to Syria and the United States; and “there is some indication that the United States might have encouraged Shishakli’s coup, although it is not yet known what role, if any, it played.” And after December 1949, “Shishakli chose to rule behind the throne (manipulating 7 different civilian cabinets in the next 23 months) until late 1951, when he came out in the open and established a military dictatorship,” according to the same book. As The Struggle For Syria observed:

“…Adib al-Shishakli…was the dominant…influence on Syrian affairs from his first coup in December 1949 to his fall in February 1954…Shishakli’s rule made the Syrian army an unashamedly political instrument…

“To quell any opposition, the Government in mid-January 1952 ordered the dissolution of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, closing its offices and schools throughout the country. Similar repressive measures were taken against Faysal al-`Aval’s Socialist Cooperative Party. Civil servants and trade unionists were prohibited from taking part in political activity, a measure which was followed in April [1952] by a general ban on all political parties…Shishakli had, within 6 months, set up a highly centralized dictatorship, silencing his critics by traditional police methods…”

So, not surprisingly, an unsuccessful attempt was made in December 1952 to overthrow Shishakli in another military coup that was “allegedly initiated” by the anti-imperialist, socialist, non-communist, pan-Arab nationalist Baath party leaders, Salah al-Din Biter and Michel Afleq, according to David Lesch’s Syria and The United States; and “by the beginning of 1953 Shishakli was still without any significant organized political support,” according to the same book.

(end of part 14)

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