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The Ba‘ath Parties (also spelled Baath or Ba‘th; Arabic: اﻟﺒﻌﺚ) comprise political parties representing the political face of the Ba‘ath movement. The original Ba‘ath Party functioned as a pan-Arab party with branches in different Arab countries. In 1966 the Party split into two, one branch based in Syria and the other in Iraq. Both Ba‘ath parties maintain parallel structures in the Arab world.
The Ba‘ath Party came to power in Syria on 8 March 1963 and has remained influential ever since; the Ba‘athists ruled Iraq from February 1963 until 2003. After the de facto deposition of President Saddam Hussein's Ba‘athist régime in the course of the 2003 Iraq war, the occupying authorities banned the Iraqi Ba‘ath Party in June 2003.
The Arabic word Ba‘ath means 'rebirth'. Ba‘athist beliefs combine Arab Socialism, militarism, nationalism, and Pan-Arabism. The mostly secular ideology often contrasts with that of other Arab governments in the Middle East, which sometimes tend to have leanings towards Islamism and theocracy.
The motto of the Party is Wahdah, Hurriyah, Ishtirrakiyah means "Unity, Freedom, Socialism". 'Unity' refers to pan-Arab unity, 'Freedom' emphasizes freedom from Western interests in particular, and 'Socialism' specifically references Arab Socialism.
Both the Syrian and the Iraqi Ba‘ath parties originated in the Ba‘ath movement, an Arab political movement which started in the early 20th century, founded by Syrian thinkers: most notably Michel Aflaq. Two other major proponents of early Ba‘athist ideology, Zaki al-Arsuzi and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, like Michel Aflaq, had careers as middle-class educators, influenced in their political thought by Western education. Many early Ba‘athists also professed Christianity. The movement also found support among the more republican wing of Iraqi soldiers in the British and later in the Hashemite services.
The early party formed in opposition to both French colonial rule and to the older generation of Syrian Arab nationalists, and advocated instead Pan-Arab unity and Arab nationalism. Its constitution blended non-Marxist socialism and nationalism. The early Syrian Ba‘athists opposed the influence of Europe in their country's affairs, and used nationalism and the notion of unifying the Arab world as a platform. Ba‘athists always claimed to speak for the entire Arab nation and the progress of the masses, though the party remained extremely small, factional and often reliant on nationalist radicals in the militaries. However, its influence quickly spread to other Arab countries by 1954-58, and branches formed in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The Syria-based Ba‘ath Party
The Ba‘ath party from the beginning intended to win power through peaceful means. The first success came in Syria, where the party became an important force, but dissolved itself upon the formation of the United Arab Republic (1958) in support of the new Nasserist government. After the break up of the United Arab Republic in 1961 the party and its ideology came under the wing of a group of military figures who plotted to overthrow the government and used some Ba‘athist ideology to justify their military rule.
The military coup came in 1963, and it brought the Ba‘ath Party to power in Syria. The new government promptly began a course of large-scale nationalization. From 1963, the Ba‘ath functioned as the only legal Syrian political party, but factionalism and splintering within the party led to a succession of governments and new constitutions. In 1966 a military junta representing the more radical elements in the party displaced the more moderate wing in power, purging from the party its original founders, Michel Aflaq and Bitar.
At this juncture the Syrian Ba‘ath party split into two factions: the "progressive" faction, led by Nureddin Atassi , which gave priority to neo-Marxist economic reform, and the so-called nationalist group, led by General Hafez al-Assad. Assad's following had less interest in socialism, favoring a militant posture on the Arab union and hostility toward Israel. Despite constant maneuvering and government changes, the two factions remained in an uneasy coalition of power until 1970, when, in another coup, Assad succeeded in ousting Atassi as prime minister. Assad, one of the longest-ruling leaders of the modern Middle East, remained at Syria's political helm until his death in 2000, when his son Bashar al Assad succeeded him as President.
Today the Ba‘ath Party in Syria has little to do with its founding ideology. It has made little progress towards Arab unity, and has all but abandoned its commitment to socialism. For decades, Ba‘athism has served merely as a justification for the military dictatorship in that country.
The Syria-based Ba‘ath Party has branches in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan, Iraq (currently split into two factions), etc., although none of the non-Syrian branches have any major strength. Palestinians know their local Syria-based Ba‘ath Party as as-Saiqa (the Thunderbolt).
The Iraq-based Ba‘ath Party
Iraqi and Syrian Ba‘athism today differ widely and partially oppose each other, though they only split a long time after their creation. They share one common feature in that under Saddam Hussein Iraq also moved away from Ba‘athist principles.
In Iraq the Ba‘ath party remained a civilian group and lacked strong support within the military. The party had little impact, and the movement split into several factions after 1958 and again in 1966. It lacked strong popular support, but through the construction of a strong party apparatus the party succeeded in gaining power.
The Ba‘athists first came to power in the coup of February, 1963, when Abdul Salam Arif became president. Interference from the Syrian Ba‘athists and disputes between the moderates and extremists, culminating in an attempted coup by the latter in November, 1963, served to discredit the extremists. However, the moderates continued to play a major role in the succeeding non-Ba‘athist governments.
In July, 1968, a bloodless coup brought to power the Ba‘athist general Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Wranglings within the party continued, and the government periodically purged its dissident members. Saddam Hussein eventually succeeded al-Bakr in 1979 and ruled Iraq until 2003. Although almost all the Ba‘athist leadership had no military background, under Hussein the party changed dramatically and became heavily militarized, with its leading members frequently appearing in uniform.
The Party cell or circle, composed of three to seven members, constitutes the basic organisational unit of the Iraqi Ba‘ath Party. Cells functioned at the neighborhood or village level, where members would meet to discuss and execute party directives introduced from above. Since individual cells had little contact with one another, those higher up could vigorously enforce party loyalties from the top down. As the U.S. and its allies discovered in Iraq in 2003, cell organization also made the Party highly resilient.
A Party division comprised two to seven cells, controlled by a division commander. Such Ba‘athist cells occurred throughout the bureaucracy and the military, where they functioned as the Party's watchdog, an effective form of covert surveillance within a public administration.
A Party section, which comprised two to five divisions, functioned at the level of a large city quarter, a town, or a rural district.
The branch came above the sections; it comprised at least two sections, and operated at the provincial level.
The Party congress, which combined all the branches, elected the regional command as the core of the Party leadership and top decision-making mechanism.
The national command of the Ba‘ath Party ranked over the regional command. It formed the highest policy-making and coordinating council for the Ba‘ath movement throughout the Arab world at large.
In June 2003, the US-led occupying forces in Iraq banned the Ba‘ath party. Some criticize the additional step the US took -- of banning all members of the Ba‘ath party from the new government, as well as from public schools and colleges -- as blocking too many people from participation in the new government. Several teachers have lost their jobs, causing protests and demonstrations at schools and universities. Under the previous rule of the Ba‘ath party, one could not reach high positions in the government or in the schools without becoming a party member.
The party outside of Iraq
The Iraq-based Ba‘ath Party had branches in various Arab countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan. After the fall of the Saddam government, many branches have distanced themselves from the central party, such as the branches in Yemen and Sudan.
The branch amongst the Palestinians bears the name of Jabhat al-Tahrir al-'Arabiyah (the Arab Liberation Front , or ALF). ALF formed the major Palestian political faction in Iraq during the Saddam years.
An Iraq-oriented Ba‘ath Party branch formerly existed in Syria, which the Syrian government severely repressed.
- The five volumes of Michel Aflaq's "On The Way Of Resurrection" (Fi Sabil al Ba‘ath)in Arabic
- Brief Syrian-focused official description
- Death of the dragon - from a bitter opponent of the Ba‘ath
- The Constitution of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party
- Ba'th Party.org (in Arabic)
- Ba'th Party.org (in English)
- Sudanese Ba'th Party (in Arabic)
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