Learn more about Baath Party
The Arab Socialist Baath Party (also spelled Ba'th or Ba'ath; Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي) was founded in 1947 as a radical, secular Arab nationalist political party. It functioned as a pan-Arab party with branches in different Arab countries, but was strongest in Syria and Iraq, coming to power in both countries in 1963. In 1966 the Syrian and Iraqi parties split into two rival organizations. Both Baath parties retained the same name, and maintain parallel structures in the Arab world.
The Baath Party came to power in Syria on 8 March 1963 and attained a monopoly of political power later that year. The Baathists ruled Iraq briefly in 1963, and then from July 1968 until 2003. After the de facto deposition of President Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in the course of the 2003 Iraq war, the occupying authorities banned the Iraqi Baath Party in June 2003.
The Arabic word Ba'th means "resurrection" or "renaissance" as in the party's founder Michel Aflaq's published works "On The Way Of Resurrection". Baathist beliefs combine Arab Socialism, 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. Due to the party's mixture of strong nationalism with socialism, some have labelled the Baath Party a fascist movement, though this definition is hotly disputed and the subject of much debate.
The motto of the Party is "Unity, Freedom, Socialism" (in Arabic wahda, hurriya, ishtirakiya). "Unity" refers to Arab unity, "freedom" emphasizes freedom from foreign control and interference in particular, and "socialism" refers to what has been termed Arab Socialism rather than to Marxism.
The Baath party originated with two separate nationalist groups in Syria. The first of these, initially known as harakat al-ihyaa al-'arabi (the Arab Resurrection Movement), was set up by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar in the 1940s. It was a relatively small group of intellectuals and students, and Aflaq was its main theoretician. His ideology was essentially a form of romantic nationalism coupled with a vague socialism which rejected, however, the idea of class struggle. The second group formed around Zaki al-Arsuzi, a prominent figure in the resistance to French plans to annex the Syrian province of Iskandarun to Turkey. Al-Arsuzi's conception of the Arab nation was essentially a linguistic one, and historian Hanna Batatu also charges him with racialism and a mystical tendency influenced by his Alawite religion. According to some sources, in 1940 Arsuzi founded a group known as al-Baath al-'arabi (the Arab Resurrection); in other sources, he only used this as the name of a bookshop he opened in Damascus. In any case, he seems to have been the first to adopt the name.
Al-Bitar and Aflaq were from middle-class Damascus families, the former a Sunni Muslim and the latter a Greek Orthodox Christian. Both had studied in Paris, coming under the influence of European nationalist and Marxist ideas, as well as the secular historicism of leading 19th century French thinkers such as Ernest Renan and Auguste Comte. The two men, along with al-Arsuzi and another major proponent of early Baathist ideology, Shakeeb Dallal, had careers as middle-class educators.
These groups had 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. Their ideology blended non-Marxist socialism and nationalism. The early Syrian Bathists opposed the influence of Europe in their country's affairs, and used nationalism and the notion of unifying the Arab world as a platform.
 Foundation of the Arab Baath Party
In 1943, al-Arsuzi was deserted by most of his supporters, the bulk of whom, led by Wahib al-Ghanim, joined the Aflaq-al-Bitar group in 1945. The Arab Baath Party came into existence the same year, when its first central committee was formed. Aflaq and al-Bitar were its leaders. The party was officially established two years later at its first party congress, held in Damascus on April 7, 1947.
It remained a relatively small party, with a following essentially among intellectuals, until it merged with the Arab Socialist Party of Akram al-Hawrani in 1952. The party's name was changed to the Arab Socialist Baath Party, while the constitution and rules of Aflaq and al-Bitar's party were adopted unchanged. A new national command was elected, composed of Aflaq, al-Bitar, al-Hawrani, and Antun Maqdisi, a supporter of al-Hawrani. In 1954 the second party congress ratified the merger.
Al-Hawrani was a popular figure known for his campaigns against the feudal landlordism prevalent in Hama province and his participation in the Rashid Ali movement in Iraq and resistance to Zionism in Palestine. His support gave the Baath both a wider popular base and a foothold in the officer corps of the Syrian military. However, this was at best a mixed blessing: Batatu records that many of his followers retained a personal loyalty to him rather than becoming committed party men.
The Baath claimed to speak for the entire Arab nation and in the course of the 1950s its influence spread to other Arab countries, with branches forming in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. It was soon to play a prominent role in the turbulent politics of both Syria and Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s, a role that by the end of the 1960s would lead it to power in both countries but also ultimately to its transformation from a competitive, ideological political party into an instrument of rule in one-party regimes in both countries.
 The Baath in Syria, 1954 - 1963
Syrian politics took a dramatic turn in 1954 when the military regime of Adib al-Shishakli was overthrown and a democratic system restored. The Baath, now a large and popular organisation, gained representation in the parliamentary elections that year. Ideologically-based organisations appealing to the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie and the working class were gaining ground in Syria, threatening to displace the old parties that represented the notables and bourgeoisie. The Baath was one of these new formations, but faced considerable competition from ideological enemies, notably the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which was intrinsically opposed to Arab nationalism and was seen as pro-Western, and the Syrian Communist Party (SCP), whose support for class struggle and internationalism was also anathema to the Baath. In addition to the parliamentary level, all these parties as well as Islamists competed in street-level activity and sought to recruit support among the military.
The assassination of Baathist colonel Adnan al-Malki by a member of the SSNP allowed the Baath and its allies to launch a crackdown on that party, thus eliminating one rival, but by the late 1950s the Baath itself was facing considerable problems, riven by factionalism and faced with ideological confusion among its base. The growth of the Communist Party was also a major threat. These considerations undoubtedly contributed to the party's decision to support unification with Nasser's Egypt in 1958, an extremely popular position in any case. In 1958 Syria merged with Egypt in the United Arab Republic. As political parties other than Nasser's Arab Socialist Union were not permitted to operate, the Baath along with Syria's other parties faced the choice of dissolution or suppression.
In August 1959 the Baath Party held a congress which, in line with Aflaq's views, approved of its liquidation into the Arab Socialist Union. This decision was not universally accepted in party ranks, however, and the following year a fourth party congress was convened which reversed it.
Meanwhile, a small group of Syrian Baathist officers stationed in Egypt were observing with alarm the party's poor position and the increasing fragility of the union. They decided to form a secret military committee: its initial members were Lieutenant-Colonel Muhammad 'Umran, majors Salah Jadid and Ahmad al-Mir, and captains Hafez al-Assad and 'Abd al-Karim al-Jundi
The merger was not a happy experience for Syria, and in 1961 a military coup in Damascus brought it to an end. Sixteen prominent politicians signed a statement supporting the coup, among them al-Hurani and al-Bitar (although the latter soon retracted his signature). The party was in crisis: the secession was extremely controversial among Syrians in general and most unpopular among the radical nationalists who formed the Baath membership. A large section of the membership left in protest, setting up the Socialist Unity Vanguard and gaining considerable support. The leadership around Aflaq was bitterly contested for its timidity in opposing the separation. Al-Hawrani, now a determined opponent of reunification, left the Baath and re-established his Arab Socialist Party.
Aflaq sought to reactivate the splintered party by calling a Fifth National Congress held in Homs in May 1962, from which both al-Hawrani's supporters and the Socialist Unity Vanguard were excluded. A compromise was reached between the pro-Nasser elements and the more cautious leadership. The leadership line was reflected in the position the congress adopted in favour of "considered unity" as opposed to the demands for "immediate unity" launched by the Socialist Unity Vanguard (later the Socialist Unity Movement), the Nasserists and the Arab Nationalist Movement. Meanwhile the Syrian party's secret Military Committee was also planning how to take power, having been granted considerable freedom of action by the civilian leadership in recognition of its need for secrecy.
 The Baath takes power in Syria and Iraq, 1963
On February 8 1963, the Iraqi Baath took power after bloodily overthrowing Abd al-Karim Qasim and quashing communist-led resistance.
That same year, the Syrian party's military committee succeeded in persuading Nasserist and independent officers to make common cause with it, and they successfully carried out a military coup on 8 March. A National Revolutionary Command Council took control and assigned itself legislative power; it appointed Salah al-Din al-Bitar as head of a "national front" government. The Baath participated in this government along with the Arab Nationalist Movement, the United Arab Front and the Socialist Unity Movement.
As historian Hanna Batatu notes, this took place without the fundamental disagreement over immediate or "considered" reunification having been resolved. The Baath moved to consolidate its power within the new regime, purging Nasserist officers in April. Subsequent disturbances led to the fall of the al-Bitar government, and in the aftermath of Jasim Alwan's failed Nasserist coup in July, the Baath monopolised power.
 Ideological transformation and division, 1963 - 1966
The challenges of building a Baathist state led to considerable ideological discussion and internal struggle in the party. The Iraqi party was increasingly dominated by Ali Salih al-Sa'di, an unsophisticated thinker according to Batatu, who took a hardline leftist approach, declaring himself a Marxist. He gained support in this from Syrian regional secretary Mahmud al-Shufi and from Yasin al-Hafiz, one of the party's few ideological theorists. Some members of the secret military committee also sympathised with this line.
The far-left tendency gained control at the party's Sixth National Congress of 1963, where hardliners from the dominant Syrian and Iraqi regional parties joined forces to impose a hard left line, calling for "socialist planning", "collective farms run by peasants", "workers' democratic control of the means of production", a party based on workers and peasants, and other demands reflecting a certain emulation of Soviet-style socialism. In a coded attack on Aflaq, the congress also condemned "ideological notability" within the party (Batatu, p. 1020). Aflaq, bitterly angry at this transformation of his party, retained a nominal leadership role, but the National Command as a whole came under the control of the radicals.
The volte-face was received with anger by elements in the Iraqi party, which suffered considerable internal division. The Nationalist Guard, a paramilitary unit which had been extremely effective, and extremely brutal, in suppressing opposition to the new regime, supported al-Sa'di, as did the Baathist Federation of Students, the Union of Workers, and the bulk of the membership. Most party members among the military officer corps were opposed, as was President Abd al-Salam 'Arif. Coup and counter-coup ensued within the party, whose factions did not shrink from employing the military in settling their internal differences. This eventually allowed 'Arif to take control and eliminate Baathist power in Iraq for the time being.
 Baathist power in Syria
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From 1963, the Baath functioned as the only legal Syrian political party, but factionalism and splintering within the party led to a succession of governments and new constitutions. On 23 February 1966 a military junta led by Salah Jadid took power, and set out on a more radical line. Although they had not been supporters of the victorious far-left line at the Sixth Party Congress, they had now moved to adopt its positions and displaced the more moderate wing in power, purging from the party its original founders, Aflaq and al-Bitar.
At this juncture the Syrian Baath party split into two factions: the "progressive" faction, led by Nureddin al-Atassi, which gave priority to neo-Marxist economic reform, and the so-called nationalist group, led by Hafez al-Assad. Assad was unenthusiastic about the radical and increasingly unpopular socialist line the Baath was pursuing. He also favoured a more cautious approach in external affairs: he viewed a reconciliation with the conservative Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, as essential for Syria's strategic position. 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. The Baath Party in Syria became virtually indistinguishable from the state, with membership numbers well over one million reflecting the fact that party membership was vital to advancement in many sectors. Other socialist parties accepting the basic orientation of the regime were permitted to operate again, and in 1973 the National Progressive Front was established as a coalition of the legal parties; the Baath remained firmly in control. Meanwhile, supporters of the far-left line formed the Democratic Arab Socialist Baath Party, which remains in existence to this day as an illegal opposition party in Syria and in exile.
The Syrian Baath and the Iraqi Baath were by now two separate parties, each maintaining that it was the genuine party and electing a National Command to take charge of the party across the Arab world. However, in Syria the Regional Command was the real centre of party power, and the membership of the National Command was a largely honorary position, often the destination of figures being eased out of the leadership.
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 and as Regional Secretary of the party.
The Baath holds 135 of the 250 seats in the Syrian parliament, a figure which is dictated by election regulations rather than by voting patterns.
 The party outside Syria
The Syria-based Baath 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. Among the Palestinians, as-Sa'iqa, a member organization of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is the Syrian Baath party branch.
 The Iraq-based Baath Party
Iraqi and Syrian Baathism 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 Baathist principles.
In Iraq the Baath 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 Baathists first came to power in the coup of February, 1963, when Abd al-Salam 'Arif became president. Interference from the historic leadership around Aflaq and disputes between the moderates and extremists, culminating in an attempted coup by the latter in November, 1963, served to discredit the party. After Arif's takeover in November 1963, the moderate military Baathist officers initially retained some influence but were gradually eased out of power over the following months.
In July, 1968, a bloodless coup brought to power the Baathist general Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Wranglings within the party continued, and the government periodically purged its dissident members. Emerging as a party strongman, Saddam Hussein eventually used his growing power to push al-Bakr aside in 1979 and ruled Iraq until 2003. Although almost all the Baathist 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 Baath 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 Baathist 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 Baath Party ranked over the regional command. It formed the highest policy-making and coordinating council for the Baath movement throughout the Arab world at large.
 Post-Saddam Hussein
In June 2003, the U.S.-led multinational occupying forces in Iraq banned the Baath party. Some criticize the additional step the CPA took — of banning all members of the Baath party from the new government, as well as from public schools and colleges — as blocking too many skilled 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 Baath party, one could not reach high positions in the government or in the schools without becoming a party member.
Many members and supporters of the former Baath Party are alleged to be involved in the Iraqi insurgency. They are most active and draw most of their support from within the Sunni Triangle. However after the capture of Saddam Hussein most Baathist groups have started to take up a more Islamist character in a bid to increase their support.
In October 2006, President George W. Bush of the United States delivered a speech in which he affirmed that the U.S. had helped the Iraq government form plans to "resolve the most difficult issues dividing their country." Among other things, he stated that the Iraq government will seek to reform the "de-Baathification process." 
 The party outside Iraq
The Iraq-based Baath Party had branches in various Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Mauritania 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.
In Lebanon, the party is led by Liberal Sunni MP for Tripoli Abdul-Majeed Al-Rafei and Nicola Y. Firzli, Beirut-based real estate entrepreneur and scion of a prominent Greek Orthodox Christian family that fought against Ottoman Turkish rule in the Middle East.
The party works amongst the Palestinians through the Arab Liberation Front (Jabhat al-Tahrir al-'Arabiyah). ALF formed the major Palestinian political faction in Iraq during the Saddam years. It is numerically small, but gained some prominence due to the support given to it by the Iraqi government. It is a member organization of PLO.
In Bahrain, Rasul al-Jishi leads the local faction of the Baath Party, the Nationalist Democratic Rally Society (Jami'at al-Tajammu' al-Qawmi al-Dimuqrati), which in an alliance with radical Islamists opposes the Bahrain government.
An Iraq-oriented Baath Party branch formerly existed in Syria, which the Syrian government severely repressed. It was led by former Sunni president Amin al-Hafez who returned to Aleppo in 2003, after having lived in exile in Iraq for more than three decades.
- The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, Hanna Batatu, London, al-Saqi Books, 2000. ISBN 0-86356-520-4
- The Iraq-Iran Conflict, NY Firzli, Paris, EMA, 1981. ISBN 2-86584-002-6
- Al-Baath wa-Lubnân [Arabic only] ("The Baath and Lebanon"), NY Firzli, Beirut, Dar-al-Tali'a Books, 1973.
- Syria: Politics and Society, Derek Hopwood, London, Unwin Hyman, 1988. ISBN 0-04-445039-7
- Asad: The Sphinx of Damascus, Moshe Maoz, New York : Grove Weidenfeld, 1988, pp.169-183.
- The Syrian Doctrine of Strategic Parity, Ahmed Khalidi and Hussein Agha, in Judith Kipper and Harold H. Saunders, ed., The Middle East in Global Perspective, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991, pp.186-218.
- Syria: Revolution from Above, Raymond Hinnebusch, London : Routledge, 2001, pp.139-164.
- Baath Party membership card: Image:Baath-side1.jpg Image:Baath-Side2.jpg
 External links
- Iraqi Baath, National Command Site
- The five volumes of Michel Aflaq's "On The Way Of Resurrection" (Fi Sabil al Ba'th)in Arabic
- The (Iraqi) Baath party web site. It also include a section about the defence committee of Saddam Hussain in Arabic
- Online magazine (Sympathetic to the Goal of the Baath with sections about Saddam and the Baath) in Arabic, English and French
- Brief Syrian-focused official description
- Death of the dragon - from a bitter opponent of the Baath
- The Constitution of the Arab Socialist Baath Party
- Syrian wing of the Baath Party (in Arabic)
- Syrian wing of the Baath Party (in English)
- Sudanese Baath Party (in Arabic)ar:بعث
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