Syria's Democratic Years: Citizens, Experts, and Media in the 1950s

Syria's Democratic Years: Citizens, Experts, and Media in the 1950s

Syria's Democratic Years: Citizens, Experts, and Media in the 1950s

Syria's Democratic Years: Citizens, Experts, and Media in the 1950s

Synopsis

The years 1954-1958 in Syria are popularly known as "The Democratic Years," a brief period of civilian government before the consolidation of authoritarian rule. Kevin W. Martin provides a cultural history of the period and argues that the authoritarian outcome was anything but inevitable. Examining the flourishing broadcast and print media of the time, he focuses on three public figures, experts whose professions--law, the military, and medicine--projected modernity and modeled the new Arab citizen. This experiment with democracy, however abortive, offers a model of governance from Syria's historical experience that could serve as an alternative to dictatorship.

Excerpt

On may 5, 1955, the Syrian Defense Ministry journal al-Jundi (The Soldier) published attorney and radio show host Najat Qassab Hasan’s encomium for the Syrian Army’s deputy chief of staff, Colonel ‘Adnan al-Malki, who had been assassinated on April 22. Entitled “Sahib al-Raya” (The Standard Bearer), the article begins by describing a solemn ceremony held on Syria’s first Independence Day, April 17, 1946. “At that historic moment,” the Syrian president, Shukri al-Quwwatli, presented a newly designed army standard to a group of officers that included then–First Lieutenant al-Malki. According to Qassab Hasan, President al-Quwwatli, the officers, and “tens of thousands of men” witnessing the event “wept like children,” while the schoolchildren in attendance “displayed the humility and reverence of men.”

The ceremony that Qassab Hasan described instantiated a foundational premise of the young Syrian state’s constitutionally prescribed distribution of power, the subordination of military to civilian authority. By receiving the army’s flag from President al-Quwwatli, al-Malki and his colleagues publicly acknowledged the legitimacy oemotion, whether real or apocryphal, can only be explained by the perceived import of a momentous reality: with the end of the French Mandate, for the first time in history, all of the armed forces on Syrian soil were under the command of that country’s citizens. in other words, the consecration of this flag signified the Syrian armed forces’ transformation from a colonial police force into a true national army, the signal characteristic of sovereignty and a necessary precondition for the pursuit of “national” developmental goals.

Furthermore, the putative solemnity of the ceremony was evidence of a widespread perception: the most pressing and challenging task facing the vulnerable new Syrian state was pedagogical—the tutelage of citizens. and the placement of this eulogy in al-Jundi was doubly significant. Its appearance in a Defense Ministry publication endowed Qassab Hasan’s tribute with . . .

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