Saturday, December 6, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 17: 1957 to 1961 Period

According to Albert Hourani’s foreword to Patrick Seale’s The Struggle for Syria, “the Anglo-American-Iraqi plan to overthrow the Syrian regime in 1957 broke down because the Syrian politicians who were supposed to carry it out proved unable to do so.” As Trinity University Professor of Middle East History David Lesch observed in his Syria and The United States book:

“The covert operation was apparently masterminded by the second secretary to the American legation in Damascus, Howard Stone, who had become somewhat notorious for his role in similar activities in Iran, Guatemala, and the Sudan. Reportedly, the objective was to return Colonel Adib al-Shishakli and his associate Colonel Ibrahim al-Hussayai to power…Among the Syrians Stone had recruited were several officers who…upon hearing about the details of the plot decided to divulge its contents to Syrian intelligence…”

So after an Aug. 6, 1957 announcement by a Syrian government delegation of “an external economic agreement with the Soviet Union,” the Syrian government “announced” on Aug. 12, 1957 that “it had uncovered an American plot to overthrow the regime” according to the same book.

Following the failure of the CIA’s apparent plot to install a pro-U.S. government regime in Syria in 1957, the anti-imperialist Syrian nationalist regime—with the support of the Syrian Communist Party—united with Nasser’s anti-imperialist, neutralist Egyptian regime on Feb. 1, 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. But apparently the Nasser regime then attempted to exercise too much control over Syria’s internal political life when it was part of the United Arab Republic. As Dilip Hiro observed in his Holy Wars: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, when Syria joined Egypt in early 1958 to form the United Arab Republic [UAR], “the ban on political parties in Egypt”—including the Baath Party—“was extended to Syria;” and, in addition, Nasser’s UAR regime nationalized certain Syrian business firms and was accused of trying to dominate Syria’s economy.  

According to an essay by Joseph Bahout, titled “The Syrian Business Community, its Politics and Prospects,” that appeared in the 1994 book Contemporary Syria, which Eberhard Kienle edited, “the rural landed and urban `aristocracy’…virtually ruled Syria from the mid-19th century until the late 1950s,” but “nationalizations first began in 1958, with the setting up of the United Arab Republic under the leadership of Nasser’s Egypt.”

So, not surprisingly, on Sept. 19, 1961 a Lt. Colonel in the Syrian military named Abd al-Karim al-Nahlawi led a rightist military coup which withdrew Syria from the Nasser regime’s United Arab Republic and restored Syrian parliamentary rule in Syria and Syrian political independence. As Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom noted:

“The UAR disintegrated…because of a rightist military coup in Damascus...The putsch was backed by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and by a well-to-do Syrian business community jolted by the nationalization decrees of July 1961…”

(end of part 17)

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