As the Arab Spring enters its second year, major uprisings and revolts have occurred all over the Middle East, pushing for an end to the corrupt autocratic rule and an expansion of civil liberties and political rights. Most recently, images from Syria have emerged, depicting the government’s use of force to suppress the voice of its people. One might ask, “Is this the beginning of a revolution? Is the country on the path to democracy?” To assess this question and examine the future trends in the region, one must look back on the country’s somewhat tumultuous history, the relationship between the citizens and the state, and the political economy.
After a wave of Arab nationalism swept through the region, the authority of the Ottoman Empire was undermined. Thus, various ethnic groups under the empire began to secede and form their own nations. Syria was one of them. In 1919, the Syrian and Arabian nationalist wanted to set up an independent nation with Fasial, who was the son of Sharif Hussein, the leader of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula as their king. Instead, in 1920, the San Remo Conference put Syria under French control. This was later recognized by the League of Nations in 1922 where the French were given an official mandate to rule the country until it could stand on its own.
The French ruled oppressively, splitting the country into regions along ethnic and religious lines in order to divide and conquer. It wasn’t until World War II did Syria gain independence. Syria was granted de jure independence in 1941. Then, in 1943, President Shukri al-Kuwatly took power. However, the last French solider did not leave until 1946.
The first twenty-five years of Syrian independence was filled with extreme political instability and party factionalism. In 1949 through 1954 alone, there were four military coups. During this period, Baathism became very prominent in the Arab world. Started by Michael Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, the movement gained legitimacy by using sources that Arabians could identify with: history, religion, nationalism, development, freedom, and socialism (Gerner 112). Combined with Syria’s defeat in the war with Israel and the discontent among rural laborers and the urban poor, the movement was able to gain party support within the Syrian army.
However, Baathist began to lose some of their domestic power in 1957 to the Communist Party as the appeal of radical leftist positions grew due to the incompetence of democratic governments the anti-Western sentiment spreading through the Arab world (Congressional Quarterly 442). In order to regain the power they were losing, Baathists in power agreed to form a union with Egypt who was under the power of president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Thus, the United Arab Republic was formed in February 1958.
The disastrous union only lasted three and a half years. During the time period, Syria experienced a drought and an economic recession which the effects were not eased by the union with Egypt....