Monday, December 8, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 19: 1967 to 1973 Period

Baath Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad in the late 1960s apparently now “favored…a bigger role for the private sector” in Syria, “looser” Syrian “links with the Eastern bloc and closer ties with the wealthy Arab Gulf states and the West,” according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom.

So “after the disastrous Syrian defeat in the June 1967 war with Israel”--in which Syria’s Golan Heights region was occupied by Israeli government troops—“Assad and Jadid were at odds,” according to the same book; and “on Feb. 25, 1969…armored forces under Hafez al-Assad’s command occupied strategic posts, including media establishments in Damascus.”.

In response to the way Hafez al-Assad had used the Syrian troops under his command in February 1969, the Baath Party’s National Congress then passed a resolution in early November 1970 “stripping” Hafez al-Assad “of his defense portfolio,” according to Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom. But in reaction to this Baath National Congress resolution, according to the same book, “Assad did not delay;” and “on the night of Nov. 12-13 [1970] his men arrested Jadid and his closest associates” and established the third Baath “corrective movement” military coup regime of Hafez al-Assad.

According to Patrick Seale’s preface to Contemporary Syria: Liberalization between Cold War and Cold Peace, “on wresting power from his more radical comrade Salah Jadid, [Hafez] Assad immediately set about cautiously reassuring and encouraging the business community” in Syria. And, according to Nabil Sukkar’s essay, “The Crisis of 1986 and Syria’s Plan for Reform,” that appears in the same book, Assad’s “takeover was warmly welcomed by the upper strata of” Syrian “society and the largest part of the” [Syrian “armed forces.” In addition, when {Hafez] Assad “took power in 1970 he…rolled back many of the most radical “Baath regime “programs, such as the…land reform policies,” according to The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs To Know by James Gelvin.

Then, “4 months after his putsch,” Hafez “Assad appointed his first 173-member parliament in February 1971,” which he named the Syrian “People’s Assembly,” according to Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom; and “the following year saw the formation of” Syria’s “Progressive National Front (PNF) linking the Baath Party and 5 others” Syrian “parties deemed to be `progressive’ and `patriotic,’” according to the same book. In 1972, for example, the Syrian Communist Party [SCP] became part of the PNF, two SCP leaders were among the PNF’s central leadership and the Syrian government posts of minister of state and minister of communications under the Baath regime were soon held by SCP members.

The May 1972 formation of Syria’s Progressive National Front thus linked the Baath Party and Baath regime with various leftist and nationalist Syrian political parties during the 1970s. But on Jan. 31, 1973 the members of the Syrian “People’s Assembly” parliament that Hafez Assad had appointed in February 1971 adopted a Syrian Constitution which constitutionally guaranteed the leading role of the Baath Party in Syrian political life; and on Mar. 12, 1973, this new Syrian Constitution was “overwhelmingly approved by a national referendum,” according to Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom.

Yet, according to an essay by Hans Gunter Lobmeyer, titled “The Syrian Opposition at the End of Assad Era,” that appeared in the 1994 book Contemporary Syria, “almost all the” Syrian “leftists who had not joined the National Patriotic Front openly rejected Assad’s permanent constitution” in 1973 “because of its deeply undemocratic character” and “a great part of the secular opposition” to Assad’s Baath regime “also turned into an anti-system force in 1973.”

But according to Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom, Syria’s “1973 Constitution stipulates that 51 percent of parliamentary deputies must be workers and peasants;” and under Article 28 of Syria’s 1973 Constitution, at least theoretically, “no one shall be kept under surveillance or detained except in accordance with the law,” “no one shall be tortured physically or mentally or be treated in a humiliating way” and “the law defines the punishment of whoever commits such an act.” In addition, at least theoretically, according to Article 38 of Syria’s 1973 Constitution:

“Every citizen has the right to freely and openly express his views in words, in writing, and through all the other means of expression. He also has the right to participate in supervised and constructive criticism in a manner that will safeguard the soundness of the domestic and nationalist structure and will strengthen the socialist system. The state guarantees the freedom of the press, printing, and publication in accordance with the laws.”

And, at least theoretically, according to Article 39 of Syria’s 1973 Constitution, “the citizens have the right to meet and to demonstrate peacefully within the principles of the Constitution,” although “the law regulates the exercise of this right.”

In 1973, according to The Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book, Our Roots Are Still Alive, Hafez Assad’s Baath regime apparently also felt itself “under strong” domestic “pressure to recover the occupied Golan Heights” territory of Syria that the Israeli military had first occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. So Assad held meetings with then-Egyptian government leader Anwar Sadat during 1973 to make “final plans for a limited war against Israel on two fronts,” according to the same book.  And during October 1973, according to Our Roots Are Still Alive, the following events happened:

“On Oct. 6, 1973, Egyptian troops launched a massive surprise assault across the Sue Canal, and Syrian tanks and soldiers stormed into the Golan Heights. Well-trained and well-equipped Arab soldiers drove back the Israeli occupiers in the initial fighting…Israel suffered thousands of casualties and lost large numbers of planes and tanks. As the fighting continued, Israel attacked the Syrian capital of Damascus. To punish the Syrians, Zionist leaders decided to reduce much of the Syrian economy to rubble. The Israeli air force bombed ports, factories, power plants and oil refineries throughout the country and government buildings in the capital. These attacks killed many civilians. As Israeli troops began to drive the Syrians back towards Damascus, the government formed popular militias to defend the city…On October 22 [1973], the United States and the Soviet Union pushed a cease-fire through the UN Security Council. Syria and Egypt accepted it quickly, and U.S. pressure eventually convinced the reluctant Israelis to agree to it...”

And between 3,000 and 3,500 Syrian soldiers were estimated to have also been killed by the Israeli military during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

(end of part 19)

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