The Baath: A promised revival that never materialized

What achievements can the Baath claim seven decades after its creation? Nothing but misery and defeat it brought to the Arab peoples.
by Bassem Ajami

21 April 2019 | 13:23

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 21 April 2019 | 13:23

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks in an interview with AFP, on February 2016 in Damascus. (AP Photo)

On the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the Baath party, there is little to celebrate.

The Baath, (Renaissance), was founded in 1947 on the pan Arab ideal. While it was established by a Christian, Michel Aflaq, and preached secularism, its vision of renaissance was based on the Islamic model.

From the outset, the Baath ideology suffered from major weaknesses.

The new Arab renaissance, as envisioned by the Baath, would bring another Arab message beside Islam. This was summed up in the party's official slogan "One Arab Nation, With an Eternal Message." Yet no one ever explained what the message was.

Another weak point in the Baath ideology was language. The party considered that language represents a bond that unites the Arab peoples. However, no one ever said why should the Arabic language unify the Arabic-speaking peoples any more than English or Spanish, for example, unite the English or Spanish speaking peoples.

Still, the Baath set the stage for authoritarian regimes in a number of Arab countries. It believed that the Arab nation could only reach renaissance through a revolutionary process. In view of the Baath, the Arab revival was hindered by the state system which was plagued by "feudalism, sectarianism, regionalism and intellectual reactionism".

These problems, the Baath believed, could only be overcome through a revolutionary process. A revolution could only succeed if the revolutionaries were "pure and devoted to the task." This made the Baath an elitist party in a perpetual state of revolution. It also paved the way for purging not only its opponents but also for a purge within its own ranks.

Thus, the party that was supposed to revive Arab glory turned into a brutal system that tolerated no criticism, let alone opposition.

Its founder and theorist, Aflaq, immigrated to Brazil a frustrated man, where he lived in impoverished circumstances. Commenting on the state of the party, he told a reporter "this is not the party I envisioned."

What caused Aflaq's frustration was the fierce rivalries that plagued the party, which caused it to deviate from its original ideal. Although the Baath managed to take over the regimes in Syria and Iraq, relations between the two countries became strained, and each purged political aspirants within the party.

Interestingly, Aflaq later changed his mind. After being recalled from his miserable retirement in Brazil by Saddam Hussein, and offered a comfortable living in Baghdad, he called the Baath "God's gift to the Arab world, and Saddam Hussein the gift of the Baath to Iraq."

In 1979, soon after becoming president in a bloodless revolt, Saddam Hussein, claimed that a Syrian inspired conspiracy against him had been uncovered. He had more than 50 of the party's leadership executed.

It took an American invasion to end the rule of the Baath in Iraq, while only a direct Russian intervention saved, for now, the Baath regime in Syria.

What achievements can the Baath claim seven decades after its creation? Nothing but the misery and defeat it brought to the Arab peoples. The revival it promised never materialized. It was replaced by tyranny and corruption.

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