Independent Syria

The National Party, the bearer of the independence movement, provided S. al-Kuwatli as the state president from 1943 to 1949 and the prime minister several times until 1958. Domestic political instability (several coups between 1949 and 1951) culminated in the military dictatorship of Adib Shishakli (* 1909, † 1964) in 1951. After his fall, H. Atassi took over the post of President in 1954, then al-Kuwatli again (until 1958) in 1955. A multi-party system developed in Syria. In terms of foreign policy, relations with the Arab neighbors Iraq and Jordan and the special relationship with Lebanon were changeable. With the rise of G. Abd el-Nasser in Egypt, Syria followed its striving for neutrality in foreign policy. In 1958, as a country located in western Asia according to, Syria and Egypt formed a state unit in the “United Arab Republic” (UAR). In 1961 a coup by the Syrian military restored Syria’s independence; the “Syrian Arab Republic” was proclaimed.

On March 8, 1963, the Ba’ath Party, founded in 1947, came to power in a military coup. Amin al-Hafiz (1963–66) became head of state. Under him, extensive nationalizations were carried out in the country’s economy. After a successful coup on February 23, 1966 against the previous government and the international Ba’ath leadership, the left-wing radical Syrian Ba’ath leadership appointed N. Atassi as head of state (1966-70). This development strained relations between the Syrian and Iraqi Baath leadership.

In terms of foreign policy, the new government initiated close relations with the USSR (Soviet military aid) and took a radically anti-Israeli line in the Middle East conflict. In the Arab-Israeli Six Day War (June 1967) Israel occupied the Golan Heights. The Syrian regime fell into a serious crisis in which radical and more pragmatic forces among the military and civilians faced each other. The outbreak of armed conflict between Jordan and the Palestinian militias in September 1970 (Black September) and the question of military participation in this conflict made the differences break out openly.

Syria under President Hafiz al-Assad

On November 16, 1970, a group led by Air Force General H. al-Assad overthrew the ruling Ba’ath leadership in a bloodless coup (“corrective movement”). Little by little, he set up a system that was completely personal to himself, and which also relied in a special way on members of the religious minority of the Alawites. Assad took over in 1971 the leadership of the Syrian and Pan-Arab Ba’ath parties, on March 12 he became president and held this office until his death (2000). Later he pursued mostly unrealized pan-Arab projects (including the 1971 Federation of Egypt, Syria and Libya; 1975 Supreme Political Command between Syria and Jordan; 1978 Syrian-Iraqi Charter of Action). In March 1972 the Ba’ath Party, other nationalist parties and the Communists formed a “National Progressive Front”; In 1973 a new constitution came into force. From 1979 onwards, internal disputes increased both within the regime itself and between it and a diverse opposition that resulted in the uprising in February 1982 led by a group of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Hama or in its bloody suppression (approx. 20,000 dead) and the ensuing massive imprisonment of opponents of the regime culminated. Islamist forces and the danger of interdenominational confrontation were largely eliminated. Because of the high number of political prisoners, the Assad regime was repeatedly confronted with accusations of serious violations of human rights.

After the war between Syria and Egypt against Israel (Yom Kippur War, October 1973), Syria got back parts of the Golan Heights including Kuneitras in a troop unbundling agreement (1974). The support of the Palestinians and the direct intervention of the Syrian armed forces in the Lebanese civil war (since June 1976, initially in favor, since 1982 in favor of Christian forces) strengthened Syria’s position in the Arab world. In its Middle East policy, Syria continued the “hard” line towards Israel; As one of the sharpest critics of the peace initiative of Egyptian President A. al-Sadat (1977), President Assad broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt.

The first  Gulf War 1980–88, in which Syria supported Iran in contrast to the other Arab states, once again intensified tensions between Syria and Iraq and Jordan. In 1983 Syria distanced itself from J. Arafat and thus favored differences within the PLO. The annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights by Israel (December 1981) and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon (June 1982 – July 1985) intensified Syria’s activities in Lebanon (including the prevention of a separate Israeli-Lebanese peace in 1983) and in the Arab camp. In view of the costly battles between the Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon and Israeli units, Syria and the USSR had expanded their friendship treaty (October 8, 1980) into a “strategic alliance” (June 20, 1982), emphasizing the military aspects. With the Taif Agreement (October 1989), Syria was officially declared a protecting power of Lebanon; through the friendship treaty of May 1991, Syria expanded its sphere of influence there.

The resumption of diplomatic relations with Egypt (1989), the accession to the anti-Iraqi alliance in the 2nd Gulf War 1991 for the liberation of Kuwait and the participation in the Middle East Peace Conference initiated in October 1991 increased the importance of Syria, which sees itself as a regional power. The peace conference also saw direct Israeli-Syrian talks about the return of the Golan Heights for the first time. The country has received international financial aid, particularly from Saudi Arabia, since the Second Gulf War. On April 27, 1994, Syria signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia. On the Syrian initiative, an Arab free trade area was founded on June 26th, 1997 (Syria, Egypt, Gulf states). Tensions between Syria and Turkey (including Syrian claim to Hatay, construction of Turkish dams on the Upper Euphrates, Kurdish policy) briefly intensified in October 1998 into a bilateral crisis. Finally, in late 1998, under pressure from Turkey, Syria gave its support to the PKK on; the so-called Adana Agreement allowed the Turkish army to penetrate up to 5 km into Syrian territory in order to fight “terrorists” (renewed in 2010).

Compared to the 1993 / 94–96 (under Israeli Prime Ministers I. Rabin and S. Peres) and again from 1999 (under E. Barak ), Israeli efforts to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East conflict, Syria under Assad insisted on his demand for an immediate and complete one Withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the occupied Golan Heights and from the so-called security zone in Lebanon as an indispensable precondition for negotiations. Because of the gradual evacuation from the part of Israel, they were last broken off by Syria in January 2000.

Independent Syria