Baath

(Means rebirth in Arabic)

The Baath movement was created in Damascus in the 40’s by the Christian Michel Aflak and the Sunni Muslim Salah ad-Din Bitar.

In 1953 the movement became known as the Baath Arab Socialist Party. It reached its zenith in the 60’s when it became one of the strongest expressions of Arab revolutionary nationalism.

Arab unity is at the core of Baath doctrine and prevails over all other objectives. According Michel Aflak the Arab peoples form a single nation with the aspiration of becoming a State with its own specific role in the world. Although persuaded of the importance of secularity, he recognized the impact of Islam and advocated socialism. In the 50’s the Baath Party called for a pluralist democracy and free elections. Although it is concerned about the Palestinian question, the Baath Party has not taken it up as a central cause.

The Baath Party entered early onto the political scene in Syria where military and civilian governments succeeded one another after independence. Changes were introduced in the ideology and organisation of the party. The turning point came in 1958, the year of the creation of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.) between Egypt and Syria. The Baath Party accepted to dissolve its Syrian section as it shared Nasser’s views on Arab and international politics. The breakdown of the U.A.R. in September 1961 triggered off a long internal crisis.

The failure of the U.A.R. caused some senior representatives to call into question the ideal of Arab unity. In Syria those known as « Regionalists » led by Hafez Al Assad, as opposed to the « Nationalists » who were more in favour of a strictly Arab line, became the dominant force within the party after it gained power in 1963. Founders of the party, including Michel Aflak, were forced into exile. Two pan-Arab headquarters were set up, one in Damascus, the other in Baghdad where Michel Aflak had found refuge after the Baath Party had risen to power in July 1968 with Saddam Hussein in a key position. The two parties were later tuned into instruments of state policy, the latest illustration being Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 which was seen as « a stage of Arab unification ».

Paradoxically, with its rise to power in Syria and Iraq, the Baath ideology began to decline. Its secular approach along with its socialist ideals remain however driving forces in internal politics.