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History, The Republic

Baghdad Pact, respected politician, Eisenhower Doctrine, Zaim, Greater Syria

The postwar period was marked by serious political instability. In 1944 a “Greater Syria” movement had been initiated to found a Syrian Arab state that would include Lebanon, Syria, and present-day Jordan and Israel. Many Syrian opponents of the movement feared the absorption of Syria into a larger Arab state and the consequent loss of Syrian national identity. The movement nevertheless gave impetus to Syrian adherence to the Arab League, which was formed primarily to prevent the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Syrian forces participated in the 1948 war between Arab forces and the newly established state of Israel. An armistice was concluded in July of the same year. On March 30, 1949, a military junta led by General Husni al-Zaim, a member of the Kurdish minority, seized power. Essentially a dictatorship and highly unpopular, the new regime was overthrown in August by another military junta, and Zaim was executed. General elections were held in November for a constituent assembly. A third coup d’etat, led by Colonel Adib al-Shishakli, a former chief of police and head of security, occurred in December. The constituent assembly promulgated a new constitution in September 1950 and, assuming responsibility as the chamber of deputies, elected the provisional chief of state Hashim al-Atasi, an elderly and respected politician, to the presidency.

Syrian and Israeli frontier forces clashed on numerous occasions in the spring of 1951. The hostilities, which stemmed from Syrian opposition to an Israeli drainage project in the demilitarized zone between the two countries, ceased on May 15, after intercession by the United Nations Security Council. Successive governmental crises during 1951 culminated, on November 29, in another coup d’etat engineered by Shishakli. President Atasi resigned shortly thereafter, and Shishakli and his associates formed a government. Shishakli promulgated a new constitution in 1953. He severely restricted civil liberties and ruled the country as a military dictator until March 1954, when he was ousted by another military group. Shishakli’s successors reinstated Atasi as president, reconvened the 1949 chamber of deputies, and restored the constitution of 1950.

After 1954 Syria appeared increasingly anti-Western and pro-Soviet. The government protested vigorously in 1955 against the creation of the Baghdad Pact, a defensive alliance formed in that year by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

In July 1956 the Syrian chamber of deputies formally established a committee to negotiate the terms of a possible federation with Egypt. The attacks on Egypt in October and November 1956 by Israel, the United Kingdom, and France intensified the growing Syrian resentment toward the West.

Syria denounced the Eisenhower Doctrine, promulgated in January 1957 to combat potential Communist aggression in the Middle East. In September, Syria accused Turkey of massing troops on the Syrian-Turkish border with the intent of executing a U.S.-backed attack on Syria. The USSR supported the Syrian charge, and the matter was brought before the UN General Assembly in October. The Syrian complaint was withdrawn, however, by consent of all the parties concerned, before any UN action was taken. Throughout 1957 Syria accepted increasing aid from the USSR. In October, the USSR agreed to provide aid to Syria, over a period of 12 years, for the construction of many large-scale development projects.

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