Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 21: 1978 to 1980 Period

In response to the 1976 decision by Hafez Assad’s Baath regime to intervene militarily in Lebanon’s civil war on the side of the pro-imperialist right-wing Lebanese groups, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood began to express its opposition to Assad’s Baath regime in more violent ways. As Dilip Hiro’s Holy Wars recalled:

“…In June 1976 Assad intervened militarily in the year-old Lebanese civil war on the side of Maronite Christians against the alliance of Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians. This shocked and alienated large segments of Syrian society…The Brotherhood, now led by Adnan Saad al Din (a one-time member of the Egyptian brotherhood) accused Assad of acting as an agent of Maronite, Israeli and American interests…Soon after Assad’s intervention in the Lebanese civil war, the Brotherhood decided to wage a jihad against his regime…During the first half of the jihad the Brotherhood’s military units—called Combat Vanguard of Fighters—carried out assassinations of Baathist officials, Alawi leaders, security agents and informers…”

Yet by the late 1970s, many more Syrians were still members of Syria’s ruling Baath party than were members of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. In 1978, for example, 200,000 Syrians were members of Syria’s Baath party but only 30,000 Syrians were members of the Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, according to the same book.

But in 1979, during “the second phase of the” Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s “jihad the Brotherhood’s military units combined attacks on police stations, Baath Party offices, army units and government buildings with large-scale demonstrations and strikes...,” according to Holy Wars; and “they heralded this phase with a daring assault on the Aleppo Artillery School on June 16, 1979” in which “the Brotherhood fired machine-guns and lobbed hand grenades at an assembly of some 200 Alawi cadets, killing 83 of them.”

In response, Syrian government authorities then arrested 300 Muslim Brotherhood activists. But on Aug. 31, 1979, “the Damascus Bar passed a…resolution demanding the lifting of the State of Emergency, the release of all political prisoners and freedom of association” in Syria, according to Alan George’s Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom.

Yet according to Nabil Sukkar’s “The Crisis of 1986 and Syria’s Plan for Reform” essay in Contemporary Syria, “between 1979 and 1982 the situation” in Syria “came close to that of a civil war,” “open clashes occurred between government forces and armed supporters of the Islamist-led opposition” and “in February 1982, these confrontations culminated in an uprising in the city of Hama which was quelled by government troops, leading to the destruction of most of the city.” As Holy Wars recalled:

“…In early March [1980]…the merchants of Aleppo, protesting against price controls, declared an immediate general strike…In Hama, the third largest city, the local residents demonstrated for free elections, a liberalized economy and a jihad…Soon the national syndicate of lawyers, engineers, doctors and academics issued statements demanding the lifting of the state of emergency (which had been in force since 1963), the release of political prisoners and an end to sectarianism.”

But in response, on Apr. 6, 1980 the Assad regime ordered “11,000 troops” of Syria’s “Special Units under their commander, Ali Haydar, to Aleppo;” and these Syrian government troops “cordoned off the city, undertook house-to-house searches,” “marched off thousands of residents to detention centers” and “killed or executed several hundred people,” according to the same book. And similar methods of repression were used by Syrian troops to end the protests in Hama.

In addition, the executive councils of the Syrian professional syndicates were dissolved by Hafez Assad on Apr. 9, 1980 and 5,000 more Syrian opponents of the Baath regime were imprisoned. As Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom observed:

“Parallel to Islamist terrorism, the regime faced…criticism from intellectuals, professionals and activists from secular opposition parties. Protest strikes were organized by…doctors’ and engineers’ associations…While responding to the Islamists’ terrorism with mounting brutality of its own, the regime also moved to crush its non-violent and non-Islamist opponents. The lawyers’, engineers’ and doctors’ associations were disbanded in 1980 and their leaderships imprisoned. Thousands of Islamist suspects were detained, but so were hundreds of intellectuals and activists from secular opposition parties…”

But according to Holy Wars, Hafez Assad’s regime “coupled the clamp-down” of April 1980 “with promises to release all” Syrian “political prisoners and respect the rule of law;” and, according to Nabil Sukkar’s essay in the 1994 Contemporary Syria book, in 1980 the Baath regime “ordered a massive pay-rise for” Syrian “workers and employees in the public sector.”

(end of part 21)

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