The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

SYRIA: NATIONALISM AND COMMUNISM

by WALTER Z. LAQUEUR


I

THE SYRIAN CRISIS of August, 1957, brought into dramatic relief certain trends in that country, and made known to the general public a course of events that had started at least eighteen months previously and possibly earlier. What happened in August, 1957, was not really of world-shaking importance: the replacement of some military leaders by others and the signature of another Treaty with the Soviet Union for the supply of arms and economic aid. Syrian spokesmen were thus not entirely unjustified in deploring the Western 'hullabaloo' about the logical culmination of their policy between 1955 and 1957. But the gradual Syrio-Soviet rapprochement during those years seemed to have escaped Western attention, and the dénouement in summer, 1957, came as a shock to Western and some Middle Eastern capitals. The question generally asked was whether Syria had already become a Soviet satellite, or whether it would soon be the first Middle Eastern popular democracy. These questions baffled many observers, not perhaps because the situation itself was so complicated, but because the Syrian phenomenon was a new, and hence an unfamiliar one. As a possible standard pattern for other Arab and Asian countries, it is worth exploring in detail.


II

The rise of the radical forces in Syria has to be viewed in the wider context of Syrian domestic politics during the last twenty years, the failure of parliamentary democracy, the disintegration of the traditional parties. Torn by factional strife, the old parties had become

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