Several leaders are mentioned in Lecture 2. Pick one of the leaders who impacted Syrian history and discuss how their leadership qualities, or lack thereof, influenced the course of Syrian history.
Michel Aflaq was a Syrian leader who influenced Syrian history tremendously. Aflaq was born a Syrian Christian in Damascus. His life’s work was dedicated to Arab nationalism, the idea that Arabs should have their own state which reflects Arab values, culture, and language. Aflaq joined with Qustantin Zuraiq, another Arab Orthodox Christian, to advocate for an Arab state. While Zuraiq, even from a Christian perspective, publicly advocated for Islam and indicated that an Arab state needed Islam to survive, Aflaq ended up leaving Christianity and converting to Islam. From his fellow friend that he met at the Sorbonne, Salah Al-Bitar, the two ended up founding the the Arab Ihya (Arab Revitalization) movement, which became the Ba’ath (Renaissance) Party. This endeavour was a response to French occupation and the annexation of land by the hand of the Turks. The Ba’ath party was clearly anti-imperialist, bourgeois, and wanted workers and peasants to take on leadership roles and overthrow the rules; in short, it was a socialist-inspired movement. The Party took over on March 8, 1963, and seized power in a coup. The Ba’ath Party is now the party of the incumbent Assad family, first Hafez al-Assad in 1971, and his son Bashar al-Assad in 2000. Without Michel Aflaq, the current situation in Syria, for better or for worse, would be impossibly different. Therefore, this strong figure is indispensable for Syrian and Middle Eastern history, and his strength as a pan-Arab leader cannot be gainsaid.
Hi Joshua –
Thank you for your short contribution about Michel Aflaq. Reading your text summarised very well how a lot of the modern politics of Syria are linked to former occupation of the Middle East through European Powers like France and Great Britain. What was fascinating me, when I took the classes, was to learn that the Arab Nationalism alongside the Islamic Revival was to a certain extend inspired by Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that later, Hafez al-Assad cracked down hard on the MB when their ideology wasn’t compatible anymore with keeping him in charge in Syria.
It depends on how far back or how far ahead the influence is or has taken place. For me, the leader who impacted Syrian history and continues to impact Syria is Hafez al-Assad. He used his gravitas, inelegance, and fearlessness to create a dynasty or coerced governmental aristocracy. As long as the same family is in charge in a nation diverse and compact like Syria the people will suffer, greatly.
Hafez al-Assad manipulated the Syrian constitution to give him control over so many areas in the country. Including veto power over parliament. Unlike the United States where a Congress can overturn the President’s veto, the Syrian Parliament cannot. This is crucial because this structures the Constitution to empower every serious concern of government to go through one man. This distinct heritage has carried its way into the modern rule of Syria. The son of Hafez al-Assad has worked closely with the Parliament to do the same thing. Political scientist predict that he will set it up for his son to take his place in 2028.
Dynasties are as old as ancient Israel. King David and his lineage sat on the throne for decades perhaps a century, but that was a monarchy that feared God. Not God generally, but God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who we know now as the Father of Jesus Christ. Hafez al-Assad should have used his leadership to operate a Federalist type government. After all Syria is quite diverse in region. It seems there is a pattern in the Near East of a tribal culture. It would make sense to have a Federal government that can bring together the Christians, Muslims, and Druze.
As Americans we often get to brag that we have the oldest government in the western world. That is only true because great men did not believe the Constitution was just a piece of paper. They truly believed it and upheld it. They also understood that man is bent toward sin. Therefore, if Hafez al-Assad would have had that frame of mind Syria would be a prosperous nation and a free nation at that.