Syria’s Baath: A National Sideshow

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A Syrian man pours a traditional drink in central Damascus on 9 July 2013 as Syrians shop in preparation for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Photo: AFP - STR)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013

For a while now, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has shown great interest in the future of political parties in the region, asking his visitors whether ideology remains a potent factor in attracting young people.

The president had noticed that the large pro-regime protests that were organized around the country were attracting people who were not in the ruling Baath Party, but were perhaps concerned about their country’s future.

He made a point of developing contacts with these previously apolitical groups and extending them the assistance they needed to carry on their activities, which Assad is reported to have said “are no less important than what the army was doing on the battlefield.”

On Monday, reports emerged that the Baath had elected a completely new crop of party leaders, many of whom played important roles in recent years. But, aside from the fact that this is the president’s party, there was little interest in this development, with the exception of a narrow circle in the halls of government that may be affected by the change.

A few comments need to be made in this regard:

First, the fall of the Baathist Iraqi regime on the eve of the US invasion led to the implosion of the ruling party. The Iraqii Baath made a colossal error in the previous years by refusing to engage in any reassessment despite the near collapse of the state at all levels.

Second, the collapse of the Iraqi Baath negatively affected the region’s nationalist parties, but the Syrian wing had a greater margin of maneuver given the strength of the regime, not the party itself. Today, those most effective in dealing with the ongoing crisis are not the party cadre, as one would expect, but people with social and economic ties to the regime.

Third, the Syrian Baath has not undergone any kind of renewal on either the ideological or organizational levels, but Assad – despite realizing the need for a party shake-up – knows well that this requires a set of tools that he does not yet possess.

Fourth, in those places where the party has failed to be effective, the regime simply built parallel institutions to compensate, without touching the Baath. This is a sure sign that the party is incapable of keeping up with the changes around it and, therefore, its inability to play a central role in today’s crisis.

What has happened within the Baath is but a step into the void. No one can depend on such a development to produce any meaningful result. It can only be interpreted as a message to the nation that the time for radical reform has not come yet, and nothing matters more at the moment than the battles unfolding on the ground.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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