Ba’athism is an ideology which emerged in the Middle East in the twentieth century. It is a revolutionary ideology which stands for Arab nationalism, Pan-Arabism, anti-imperialism and socialism, though the ideology has taken different forms in different countries and periods. Ba’ath (Arabic: بعث) is an Arabic word which translates to ‘’resurrection’’ or ‘’revival’’. This term reflects what the groups and movements behind the ideology strive to accomplish, namely a rebirth of Arab culture, nationalism, values and society. The main thinker and founder of Ba’athism is Michel Aflaq. Due to Aflaq’s efforts Ba’athism has been established in the past in Syria and Iraq.
The emergence of Arab nationalism in the early twentieth century falls in line with the historical developments of the time as well as earlier ideological developments. Among the historical developments, is the Ottoman Empire’s neglect of the Arab region as well as their overusage of the region's agricultural resources during the period of World War I. After the Ottomans, there was the imperialist presence of the French and the British in former Ottoman regions like Syria and Iraq. The combination of being ruled by others as well as the rise of nationalist ideologies across the globe had given rise to Arab nationalism and eventually Ba’athism.
Since the first establishment of a Ba’athist party in Syria in the 1940s, there have been a number of different Ba'athist parties and figureheads. The most prominent examples are Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar al-Assad in Syria. There are different forms of Ba'athism. However, the core principles can be reduced to the writings and ideas of Michel Aflaq. These principles are Arab nationalism, revolution, pan-Arabism, anti-imperialism and socialism.
When Aflaq speaks of (Arab) nationalism in an essay, he describes it as unconditional and even unquestionable love for the Arab nationality. Part of the love for the Arab nationality is to be of “useful service” to the Arab nation. This idea of the Arab citizens’ individual responsibilities and services ties in with the socialist aspects of Ba'athism.
In an address to a branch of the Arab Ba’ath Party, Aflaq speaks of ‘the Arab mission’. This ‘Arab mission’ is to return the Arabs to the greatness they were in the past and to unite the Arab regions to form one nation, also known as pan-Arabism. He says: “The experience in which our struggle takes place is that of the Arab nation dismembered into different countries and statelets, artificial and counterfeit; we struggle until we can reunite these scattered members[…]”. According to Aflaq, this mission can only be accomplished through revolution: “Our past was a revolution and we will never reach its level or meet with it except through revolution.”
Ba'athism in SyriaEdit
The beginning of the Ba'ath party in SyriaEdit
In the year 1943, the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party was founded in Syria by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. The two met when they were studying in Paris from 1928 to 1934. The two were already nationalists before they went to study in France. However, it is during their stay in France that they learned about and adopted the ideas of socialism. They returned to Syria to work as teachers and in 1943 started the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party. Syria became independent from France in 1946 and continued as a democracy. However, Syria still had problems within but also problematic relationships with the surrounding countries. The country was still in chaos and figuring itself out when the army decided to take matters into its own hands in 1949 by overthrowing the government. After this, a series of coups followed in quick succession. In 1958, Egypt and Syria formed a union to become the United Arab Republic. However, Syria decided to separate after 3 years in 1961, because Egypt was too dominant in the union. Throughout the years, Ba'athist ideas had been spreading in Syria and also within parts of the Syrian army. This resulted in a Ba'athist coup in 1963 by army officers. Among these officers was Hafez al-Assad who later in 1970 seized power in Syria.
Syria under the al-Assad reignEdit
Hafez al-Assad and his son Basher al-Assad have ruled Syria under the Ba’ath party and their version of the Ba’ath ideology. Hafez al-Assad ruled over Syria from 1970 until his death in 2000. During his reign, many atrocities as well as assassinations took place against those who opposed him. After his death, his son Basher al-Assad succeeded him and to-date rules over Syria. Under his reign, the Syrian Civil War started.
Ba'athism in IraqEdit
The beginning of the Ba'ath party in IraqEdit
After the Ba’ath party was established in 1943 in Syria, Ba’athism reached Iraq in the late 1940s and became well known among young university students. In 1951, Fu ‘ad al-Rikabi became the founder and first leader of the Iraqi Regional Branch. The Iraqi Regional Branch was an Iraqi version of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. With time, more students became a member of the Iraqi Ba’ath party. By 1955, its members numbered 300. In 1956, Saddam Hussein became a member as well. On July 17, 1968, the party succeeded in overthrowing the government after a failed coup d'état in 1963, and began its thirty-five-year domination of Iraq.
Important events during the reign of the Ba'ath partyEdit
After the overthrow in 1968, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was appointed as the new president of Iraq. During his reign, he nationalised the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which stimulated the economic growth of the country. In July 1979, Saddam Hussein took over the presidentship of al-Bakr and started his twenty-four-year rulership. In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war emerged, which has seen eight years of severe violence and is notable for the use of chemical and biological warfare. In 1990, Iraq led the invasion of Kuwait, which led to its second major war, namely the Gulf war in 1991. In 2003, the reign of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party came to an end when the United States led the invasion of Iraq, also known as the start of the Iraq war.
In May 2003, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) recognized, through Resolution 1483, the military occupation of Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom. They ended the economic sanctions, which had been in place for thirteen years, and permitted humanitarian aid, reconstruction and the establishment of a new government. Despite the optimistic plans for the future, Iraq was close to collapse at the end of 2006, which was also caused by the execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30th. The loss of the then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his party, who was at power since 2006, during the 2010 elections for a new assembly and government, and the departure of the US forces in 2011 contributed to a tense situation. In addition to the political tension, Iraq has also suffered a lot from Islamic extremist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS until today.
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