Baath Party

Baath Party

name_english = Arab Socialist Baath Party
name_native = حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي

leader =
president =
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foundation = 1940
headquarters = Damascus (of the Syria-based party)
newspaper =
youth_wing =
membership =
ideology = Arab Nationalism, Arab Socialism, Secularism
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international = None
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website =
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The Arab Socialist Ba'th Party (also spelled Baath or Ba'ath; Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي) was founded in Damascus in the 1940s as the original secular Arab nationalist movement, to combat Western colonial rule. In Arabic, "baʿath" means renaissance or resurrection. It functioned as a pan-Arab party with branches in different Arab countries, but was strongest in Syria and Iraq, coming to power in both countries in 1963. In 1966 the Syrian and Iraqi parties split into rival organizations mainly for ideological reasons – the Qotri (or Regionalist) Syria-based party being aligned with the Soviet Union while the Qawmi (or Nationalist) Iraq-based party adopted a generally more centrist stance.cite news | first=Nikolaos | last=van Dam | coauthors= | title= The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics | date=1979 | publisher= I B Tauris | url = | work = | pages = | accessdate = | language = ] Both Ba'ath parties retained the same name and maintain parallel structures in the Arab world.

The Ba'ath Party came to power in Syria on 8 March 1963 and has held a monopoly on political power since. Later that same year, the Ba'athists gained control of Iraq and ran the country on two separate occasions, briefly in 1963 and then for a longer period lasting from July 1968 until 2003. After the "de facto" deposition of President Saddam Hussein’s Ba'thist regime in the course of the 2003 Iraq War, the invading US army banned the Iraqi Ba'ath Party in June 2003.

The Arabic word "Baʿath" means "renaissance" or "resurrection" as in the party’s founder Michel Aflaq’s published works "On The Way Of Resurrection". Ba'thist beliefs combine Arab Socialism, nationalism, and Pan-Arabism. The mostly secular ideology often contrasts with that of other Arab governments in the Arab world, which sometimes tend to have leanings towards Islamism and theocracy.

Inspired by a German social democrat slogan [ [] "Einheit Freiheit Vaterland" (Unity, Freedom, Fatherland) as a slogan of German Weimar Coalition 1919, different from Liberte, Egalite Fraternite (Freedom, equality, brotherhood) the French slogan)] , the motto of the Party is "Unity, Freedom, Socialism" (in Arabic "wahda, hurriya, ishtirakiya"). Unity refers to Arab unity, freedom emphasizes freedom from foreign control and interference in particular, and socialism refers to what has been termed Arab Socialism rather than to Marxism.

Underlying Political Philosophy

The Baath party and the Arabian national movement have been influenced by 19th century mainland European thinkers, notably conservative German philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte of the Königsberg University Kantian school [Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945, ed. Schwanitz, Wolfgang G., Frankfurt, Vervuert Verlag 2004 ISBN 3-86527-157-X] and center-left French “Positivists” such as Auguste Comte and professor Ernest Renan of the Collège de France in Paris [ Hazem Zaki Nuseibeh, The Ideas of Arab Nationalism, p. 76; Youssef M. Choueiri, Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World, p. 123] . Tellingly, Baath party co-founders Michel Aflaq and Salah al Bitar both studied at the Sorbonne in the early 1930s, at a time when center-left Positivism was still the dominant ideology amongst France’s academic elite.

The “Kulturnation” concept of Johann Gottfried Herder and the Grimm Brothers had a certain impact. Kulturnation defines a nationality more by a common cultural tradition and popular folklore than by national, political or religious boundaries and was considered by some as being more suitable for the German, Arab or Ottoman and Turkic countries.

Germany was seen as an anti-colonial power and friend of the Islamic world; cultural and economic exchange and infrastructure projects as the Baghdad Railway supported that impression. According to Paul Berman, one of the early Arab nationalist thinkers Sati' al-Husri was influenced by Fichte, a German philosopher and Nazi precursor, famous for his nation state socialism economic concepts, his antisemitic stance and his important influence on the German unification movement.

The Baath party also had a significant number of Arabic-speaking Christians among its founding members. For them, most prominently Michel Aflaq, a resolutely nationalist and secular political framework was a suitable way to evade faith-based minority status and to get full acknowledgement as citizens. Also, during General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's short-lived anti-British military coup in 1941, Iraq-based Arab nationalists (Sunni Muslims as well as Chaldean Christians) asked the Nazi German government to support them against British colonial rule.

After 1945, the traditional Arab Muslim elite failed to prevent the foundation of Israel and was not able to provide welfare and administrative standards comparable to the western world. The secular and highly disciplined Baath movement was seen as less corrupt and better organized. In multiethnic, multi-faith and highly divergent countries like Iraq and Syria, the Baath concept allowed non-Muslims, as well as secular-minded Sunni and Shia Muslims to work under one common roof [Schauplatz Irak. Hintergründe eines Weltkonflikts. Peter Heine, Herder, Freiburg; (November 2002) ISBN-10: 3451053713 (Irak stage - Backgrounds of a global conflict)] . The mentioning of a socialist stance allowed as well for a closer cooperation with the Soviet Union after 1945. Starting with the 1960s, the GDA had a stronger military involvement in Syria as well.


The Ba'ath Party was created as a cell-based organization, with an emphasis on withstanding government repression and infiltration. Hierarchical lines of command ran from top to bottom, and members were forbidden to initiate contacts between groups on the same level of organization; all contacts had to pass through a higher command level. This made the party somewhat unwieldy, but helped prevent the formation of factions and cordoned off members from each other, making the party very difficult to infiltrate, as even members would not know the identity of many other Ba'thists. As the U.S. and its allies discovered in Iraq in 2003, the cell structure has also made the Party highly resilient as an armed resistance organization.

A peculiarity stemming from its Arab unity ideology is the fact that it has always been intended to operate on a pan-Arab level, joined together by a supreme National Command, which is to serve as a party leadership for branches throughout the Arab world.

From its lowest organizational level, the cell, to the highest, the National Command, the party is structured thus:

* The Party Cell or Circle, composed of three to seven members, constitutes the basic organisational unit of the Ba'th Party. There are two sorts of Cells: Member Cells and Supporter Cells. The latter consist of candidate members, who are being gradually introduced into Party work without being allowed membership privileges or knowledge of the party apparatus; at the same time, they are expected to follow all orders passed down to them by the full member that acts as the contact for their Cell. This serves both to prevent infiltration and to train and screen Party cadres. Cells functioned at the neighborhood, workplace or village level, where members would meet to discuss and execute party directives introduced from above.

* A Party Division comprises two to seven Cells, controlled by a Division Commander. Such Ba'thist groups occur throughout the bureaucracy and the military, where they function as the Party’s watchdog, an effective form of covert surveillance within a public administration.

* A Party Section, which comprises two to five Divisions, functions at the level of a large city quarter, a town, or a rural district.

* The Branch comes above the Sections; it comprises at least two sections, and operates at the provincial level and also, at least in Syria, with one Branch each in the country's four universities.

* The Regional Congress, which combines all the branches, was set up to elect the Regional Command as the core of the Party leadership and top decision-making mechanism, even if this later changed to an appointive procedure in Syria. A "Region" ("quṭr"), in Ba'thist parlance, is an Arab state, such as Syria or Iraq or Lebanon, reflecting the Party's refusal to acknowledge them as nation-states.

* The National Command of the Ba'th Party ranked over the Regional Commands. Until the 1960s, it formed the highest policy-making and coordinating council for the Ba'th movement throughout the Arab world at large in both theory and practice. However, from 1966, there has existed two rival National Commands for the Ba'th Party, both largely ceremonial, after the Iraqi and Syrian Regional Commands entered into conflict and set up puppet National Commands in order to further their rival claims to represent the original party.

The Ba'th in Syria, 1954–1963

Syrian politics took a dramatic turn in 1954 when the military regime of Adib al-Shishakli was overthrown and a democratic system restored. The Ba'th, now a large and popular organisation, gained representation in the parliamentary elections that year. Ideologically-based organisations appealing to the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie and the working class were gaining ground in Syria, threatening to displace the old parties that represented the notables and bourgeoisie. The Ba'th was one of these new formations, but faced considerable competition from ideological enemies, notably the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which was intrinsically opposed to Arab nationalism and was seen as pro-Western, and the Syrian Communist Party (SCP), whose support for class struggle and internationalism was also anathema to the Ba'th. In addition to the parliamentary level, all these parties as well as Islamists competed in street-level activity and sought to recruit support among the military.

The assassination of Ba'thist colonel Adnan al-Malki by a member of the SSNP allowed the Ba'th and its allies to launch a crackdown on that party, thus eliminating one rival, but by the late 1950s, the Ba'th itself was facing considerable problems, riven by factionalism and faced with ideological confusion among its base. The growth of the Communist Party was also a major threat. These considerations undoubtedly contributed to the party’s decision to support unification with Nasser’s Egypt in 1958, an extremely popular position in any case. In 1958, Syria merged with Egypt in the United Arab Republic. As political parties other than Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union were not permitted to operate, the Ba'th along with Syria’s other parties faced the choice of dissolution or suppression.

In August 1959, the Ba'th Party held a congress which, in line with Aflaq’s views, approved of its liquidation into the Arab Socialist Union. This decision was not universally accepted in party ranks, however, and the following year a fourth party congress was convened which reversed it.

Meanwhile, a small group of Syrian Ba'thist officers stationed in Egypt were observing with alarm the party’s poor position and the increasing fragility of the union. They decided to form a secret military committee: its initial members were Lieutenant-Colonel Muhammad 'Umran, majors Salah Jadid and Ahmad al-Mir, and captains Hafiz al-Asad and 'Abd al-Karim al-Jundi.

The merger was not a happy experience for Syria, and in 1961, a military coup in Damascus brought it to an end. Sixteen prominent politicians signed a statement supporting the coup, among them al-Hurani and al-Bitar (although the latter soon retracted his signature). The party was in crisis: the secession was extremely controversial among Syrians in general and most unpopular among the radical nationalists who formed the Ba'th membership. A large section of the membership left in protest, setting up the Socialist Unity Vanguard and gaining considerable support. The leadership around Aflaq was bitterly contested for its timidity in opposing the separation. Al-Hawrani, now a determined opponent of reunification, left the Ba'th and re-established his Arab Socialist Party.

Aflaq sought to reactivate the splintered party by calling a Fifth National Congress held in Homs in May 1962, from which both al-Hawrani’s supporters and the Socialist Unity Vanguard were excluded. A compromise was reached between the pro-Nasser elements and the more cautious leadership. The leadership line was reflected in the position the congress adopted in favour of "considered unity" as opposed to the demands for "immediate unity" launched by the Socialist Unity Vanguard (later the Socialist Unity Movement), the Nasserists and the Arab Nationalist Movement. Meanwhile the Syrian party’s secret Military Committee was also planning how to take power, having been granted considerable freedom of action by the civilian leadership in recognition of its need for secrecy.

The Ba'th takes power in Syria and Iraq, 1963

In February 1963, the Iraqi Ba'th took power after violently overthrowing Abd al-Karim Qasim and quashing communist-led resistance.

That same year, the Syrian party’s military committee succeeded in persuading Nasserist and independent officers to make common cause with it, and they successfully carried out a military coup on 8 March. A National Revolutionary Command Council took control and assigned itself legislative power; it appointed Salah al-Din al-Bitar as head of a "national front" government. The Ba'th participated in this government along with the Arab Nationalist Movement, the United Arab Front and the Socialist Unity Movement.

As historian Hanna Batatu notes, this took place without the fundamental disagreement over immediate or "considered" reunification having been resolved. The Ba'th moved to consolidate its power within the new regime, purging Nasserist officers in April. Subsequent disturbances led to the fall of the al-Bitar government, and in the aftermath of Jasim Alwan’s failed Nasserist coup in July, the Ba'th monopolized power.

Ideological transformation and division, 1963–1968

The challenges of building a Ba'thist state led to considerable ideological discussion and internal struggle in the party. The Iraqi party was increasingly dominated by Ali Salih al-Sa'di, an unsophisticated thinker according to Batatu, who took a hardline leftist approach, declaring himself a Marxist. He gained support in this from Syrian regional secretary Mahmud al-Shufi and from Yasin al-Hafiz, one of the party’s few ideological theorists. Some members of the secret military committee also sympathized with this line.

The far-left tendency gained control at the party’s Sixth National Congress of 1963, where hardliners from the dominant Syrian and Iraqi regional parties joined forces to impose a hard left line, calling for "socialist planning", "collective farms run by peasants", "workers' democratic control of the means of production", a party based on workers and peasants, and other demands reflecting a certain emulation of Soviet-style socialism. In a coded attack on Aflaq, the congress also condemned "ideological notability" within the party (Batatu, p. 1020). Aflaq, bitterly angry at this transformation of his party, retained a nominal leadership role, but the National Command as a whole came under the control of the radicals.

The volte-face was received with anger by elements in the Iraqi party, which suffered considerable internal division. The Nationalist Guard, a paramilitary unit which had been extremely effective, and extremely brutal, in suppressing opposition to the new regime, supported al-Sa'di, as did the B'athist Federation of Students, the Union of Workers, and most party members. Most of its members among the military officer corps was opposed, as was President Abd al-Salam 'Arif. Coup and counter-coup ensued within the party, whose factions did not shrink from employing the military in settling their internal differences. This eventually allowed 'Arif to take control and eliminate Ba'thist power in Iraq for the time being.

After disposing of its Nasserist rivals in 1963, the Ba'th functioned as the only officially recognized Syrian political party, but factionalism and splintering within the party led to a succession of governments and new constitutions. On 23 February 1966, a military junta led by Salah Jadid took power, and set out on a more radical line. Although they had not been supporters of the victorious far-left line at the Sixth Party Congress, they had now moved to adopt its positions and displaced the more moderate wing in power, purging from the party its original founders, Aflaq and al-Bitar.

The Syrian Ba'ath and the Iraqi Ba'ath were by now two separate parties, each maintaining that it was the genuine party and electing a National Command to take charge of the party across the Arab world. However, in Syria, the Regional Command was the real centre of party power, and the membership of the National Command was a largely honorary position, often the destination of figures being eased out of the leadership.

At this juncture, the Syrian Ba'th party split into two factions: the 'progressive' faction, led by President and Regional Secretary Nureddin al-Atassi gave priority to the radical Marxist-influenced line the Ba'th was pursuing, but was closely linked to the security forces of Deputy Secretary Salah Jadid, the country's strongman from 1966. This faction was strongly preoccupied with what it termed the "Socialist transformation" in Syria, ordering large-scale nationalization of economic assets and agrarian reform. It favored an equally radical approach in external affairs, and condemned "reactionary" Arab regimes while preaching "people's war" against Israel; this led to Syria's virtual isolation even within the Arab world. The other faction, which came to dominate the armed forces, was headed by Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad. He took a more pragmatic political line, viewing reconciliation with the conservative Arab states, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as essential for Syria’s strategic position regardless of their political color. He also called for reversing some of the socialist economic measures and for allowing a limited role for non-Baathist political parties in state and society.

Despite constant maneuvering and government changes, the two factions remained in an uneasy coalition of power. After the 1967 Six-Day War, tensions increased, and Assad's faction strengthened its hold on the military; from late 1968, it began dismantling Salah Jadid's support networks, facing ineffectual resistance from the civilian branch of the party that remained under his control. This duality of power persisted until November 1970, when, in another coup, Assad succeeded in ousting Atassi as prime minister and imprisoned both him and Jadid. He then set upon a project of rapid institution-building, reopening parliament and adopting a permanent constitution for the country, which had been ruled by military fiat or provisional constitutional documents since 1963. The Ba'th Party was turned into a patronage network closely intertwined with the bureaucracy, and soon became virtually indistinguishable from the state, while membership numbers were increased to well over one million (reflecting both a conscious desire to turn the previous vanguard party into a regime-supporting mass organization, and the fact that party membership was now vital to advancement in many sectors). The party simultaneously lost its independence from the state, and was turned into a tool of the Asad regime, which remained based essentially in the security forces. Other socialist parties that accepted the basic orientation of the regime were permitted to operate again, and in 1972 the National Progressive Front was established as a coalition of these legal parties; however, they were only permitted to act as junior partners to the Ba'th, with very little room for independent organization.

During the factional struggles of the 1960s, three breakout factions from the party had emerged. A pro-Nasser group split from the party at the breakup of union with Egypt in 1961, and later became the Socialist Unionists' party. This group later splintered several times, but one branch of the movement was coopted by the Ba'th into the National Progressive Front, and remains in existence as a very minor pro-regime organization. The far-left line of Yasin al-Hafiz, which had impressed Marxist influences on the party in 1963, broke off the following year to form what later became the Revolutionary Workers' Party, while Jadid's and Atassi's wing of the organization reunited as the clandestine Arab Socialist Democratic Baath Party. Both the latter organizations in 1979 joined an opposition coalition called the National Democratic Gathering.

Hafez al-Assad, one of the longest-ruling leaders of the modern Arab world, remained as president of Syria until his death in 2000, when his son Bashar al Assad succeeded him as President and as Regional and National Secretary of the party. Since then, the party has experienced an important generational shift, and a discreet ideological reorientation decreasing the emphasis on socialist planning in the economy, but no significant changes have taken place in its relation to the state and state power. It remains essentially a patronage and supervisory tool of the regime elite.

The Ba'th today holds 134 of the 250 seats in the Syrian Parliament, a figure which is dictated by election regulations rather than by voting patterns, and the Syrian Constitution stipulates that it is "the leading party of society and state", granting it a legally enforced monopoly on real political power.

The party outside Syria

Through its Damascus-based National Command, the Syrian Ba'th Party has branches in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan, Iraq (currently split into two factions),Fact|date=January 2008 etc., although none of the non-Syrian branches have any major strength. Among the Palestinians, "as-Sa'iqa", a member organization of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is the Syrian Ba'th party branch.

The Iraq-based Ba'ath Party


In Iraq, the Ba'th party remained a civilian group and lacked strong support within the military. The party had little impact, and the movement split into several factions after 1958 and again in 1966. The movement was reported to have lacked strong popular support, [The Economist, London, 24–30 June 1978, p. 78.] but through the construction of a strong party apparatus the party succeeded in gaining power.

The Ba'thists first came to power in the coup of February 1963, when Abd al-Salam 'Arif became president. Interference from the historic leadership around Aflaq and disputes between the moderates and extremists, culminating in an attempted coup by the latter in November 1963, served to discredit the party. After Arif’s takeover in November 1963, the moderate military Ba'thist officers initially retained some influence but were gradually eased out of power over the following months.

In July 1968, a bloodless coup brought to power the Ba'athist general Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr. Wranglings within the party continued, and the government periodically purged its dissident members. Emerging as a party strongman, Saddam Hussein eventually used his growing power to push al-Bakr aside in 1979 and ruled Iraq until 2003. Although almost all the Ba'thist leadership had no military background, under Hussein the party changed dramatically and became heavily militarized, with its leading members frequently appearing in uniform.


In June 2003, the US-led occupation forces in Iraq banned the Ba'ath party. Some criticize the additional step the US took — of banning all members of the Ba'th party from the new government, as well as from public schools and colleges — as blocking too many experienced people from participation in the new government. Several teachers have lost their jobs, causing protests and demonstrations at schools and universities. Under the previous rule of the Ba'ath party, one could not reach high positions in the government or in the schools without becoming a party member. This ban was partially revoked in January, 2008.cite news | first=Sebastian | last=Usher | coauthors= | title=Baathist mistake corrected amid concern | date=2008-01-12 | publisher= | url = | work =BBC News | pages = | accessdate = 2008-01-12 | language = ] [cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=Rice in surprise Iraq visit | date=2008-01-15 | publisher= | url= | work=Al Jazeera | pages = | accessdate= | language=English]

The party outside Iraq

The Iraq-based Ba'th Party had branches in various Arab countries, such as Lebanon, Mauritania and Jordan. After the fall of the Saddam government, some branches have distanced themselves from the central party, such as the branches in Yemen and Sudan.

In Lebanon, the party is led by former Sunni MP for Tripoli Abdul-Majeed Al-Rafei and Nicola Y. Firzli, Beirut-based real estate entrepreneur and scion of a prominent Greek Orthodox Christian family that fought against Ottoman Turkish rule.

In Yemen, the 'Qawmi'/pro-Saddam branch of the Baath party is led by Dr Qasim Sallam (former MP for the district of Ta'izz), a US-educated philosopher author of "The Baath and the Arab homeland" (1980).

The party works amongst the Palestinians directly through the Arab Liberation Front (known as ALF or "Jabhat al-Tahrir al-'Arabiyah") founded by Zeid Heidar, and indirectly through the relatively small pro-Iraqi wing of Fatah formerly led by Khaled Yashruti. ALF formed the major Palestinian political faction in Iraq during the Saddam years. It is numerically small, but gained some prominence due to the support given to it by the Iraqi government. It is a member organization of PLO.

In Bahrain, Rasul al-Jeshy leads the local pro-Saddam faction of the Ba'th Party, the secular Nationalist Democratic Rally Society ("Jami'at al-Tajammu' al-Qawmi al-Dimuqrati"), which in an alliance with Shiite Islamists opposes the Bahrain government’s economic policies.

An Iraq-oriented Ba'th Party branch led by exiled Ba'th party co-founder Salah ad-Din al-Bitar and Gen. Amin Hafiz formerly existed in Syria, which the Syrian government severely repressed.



* "The Old Social Classes and New Revolutionary Movements of Iraq", Hanna Batatu, London, al-Saqi Books, 2000. ISBN 0863565204
* "Al-Baath wa-Lubnân" [Arabic only] ("The Baath and Lebanon"), NY Firzli, Beirut, Dar-al-Tali'a Books, 1973
* "The Iraq-Iran Conflict", NY Firzli, Paris, EMA, 1981. ISBN 2-86584-002-6
* "Al-Baath wal Watan Al-Arabi" [Arabic, with French translation] ("The Baath and the Arab Homeland"), Qasim Sallam, Paris, EMA, 1980. ISBN 2-86584-003-4
* "The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics", Nikolaos van Dam, London I B Tauris, 1979.
* "History of Syria Including Lebanon and Palestine, Vol. 2" Hitti Philip K. (2002) (ISBN 1-931956-61-8)


* [ Yemeni govt. sues Baath party Chairman Qasim Sallam for article critical of Saudi Arabia] (US Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices/Feb 2001)

External links

* [ The five volumes of Michel Aflaq’s "On The Way Of Resurrection" (Fi Sabil al Ba'th)] Ar icon
* [ The (Iraqi) Baath party web site. It also include a section about the defence committee of Saddam Hussain] Ar icon
* [ Brief Syrian-focused official description]
* [ Death of the dragon - from a bitter opponent of the Ba'ath]
* [ The Constitution of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party]
* [ Syrian wing of the Ba'th Party] Ar icon
* [ Syrian wing of the Ba'th Party] En icon
* [ Sudanese Ba'th Party] Ar icon

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