Philip S. Khoury
Political culture in Syria, indeed throughout the Fertile Crescent, did not change abruptly with the break up of the Ottoman Empire and the imposition of European rule after World War I. Rather, the exercise of political power followed the Ottoman model for thirty or more years after the collapse of the empire. It was only after World War II that this continuity was broken.
In order to support this contention, three periods of modern Syrian history, stretching from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1960s, need to be examined. Because the formation of political culture in Syria was intimately linked to the formation of a single elite in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, first it will be necessary to explain how this elite emerged and the character of its political role. This should tell us something about the foundations of politics in Syria. Then I will discuss the continuity of the elite's political role after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire--that is, between the two world wars, when Syria was ruled by the French. Finally, I will suggest the process by which this elite lost power after World War II, in the era of Syrian independence, and how and why political culture began to assume new forms and dimensions.
There always have been striking similarities between political developments in Syria and in the neighboring Arab regions. Political culture in the last century was shaped by a mixture of Ottoman administrative practices, local Arab traditions, and European intellectual and material influences. It was urban and rooted most deeply in the larger provincial cities of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. In Syria's case, independent rural