Syria: Revolution from Above

Syria: Revolution from Above

Syria: Revolution from Above

Syria: Revolution from Above


This study examines the development of the Syrian state as it has emerged under thirty-five years of military-Ba'thist rule and, particularly, under President Hafiz al-Asad. It analyzes the way in which the fragility of the post-independence state, unable to contain rising nationalist struggle and class conflict, opened the way to the Ba'th party's rise to power and examines how the Ba'th's 'revolution from above' transformed Syria's socio-political terrain.


The death of Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad on June 10, 2000 marked the end of an era for Syria and the Arab world. In the last decade of his life, Asad had an almost unique stature as the last credible standard bearer of Pan-Arab nationalism. His death arguably signals the end of this Arab dream.

His career paralleled the rise of the Ba'th Party and the consolidation of the modern Syrian state. The son of an Alawi peasant family, Asad rose to power through the Ba'th Party and the military, and was part of the Ba'th military cabal which overthrew Syria's feudal oligarchy in 1963. He was a member of the leadership that launched the Ba'th revolution from above including the land reform, the expansion of education and the state-sponsored industrialisation which benefited Syria's popular strata. He was also defence minister in the government that, in the name of the Palestine cause, provoked the disastrous 1967 war with Israel in which Syria lost the Golan Heights. From this trauma, Asad emerged determined to recover the lost land and honour from Israel.

Taking sole power in 1970, Asad thereafter created a stable state, turned Syria from a victim of stronger forces into a respected regional player, and conducted a tenacious struggle to contain Israeli dominance in the Middle East. Unlike Sadat, who abandoned Arab rights, and Saddam who squandered his country's bright future in reckless adventures, Asad was rightly admired by many as the one Arab leader to combine nationalist principle with a realistic strategic vision.

But this was achieved at significant economic cost and with the sacrifice of political freedoms. Asad's personalisation of power enervated all political institutions. Nothing more strikingly signals the failure of Syria's political modernisation than the seeming transformation of a radical republic into a new dynasty; this Asad engineered. If the result is the continued stability of a fragmented society, many Syrians will consider the price to have been a reasonable one. But Asad leaves his son and successor Bashar al-Asad formidable challenges: to bring the economy into the modern world and to satisfy the desires of the younger generation for a better, freer and more peaceful life. Asad failed, as well, to reach the honourable peace in the pursuit of which he mortgaged Syria's future; it is up to his successors to do so without sacrificing the standards for an honourable settlement which he established.

It is this story, the saga of modern Syria, of which Hafiz al-Asad was both a typical product and a major shaper, which the following pages will tell.


Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.