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PART 3



THE BAATH
A new movement evolved in Syria during the 1940's that offered the first specific plan for uniting the entire Arab speaking world into a nation state. Although it always remained small, nearly tiny, it resulted from a merger of Zaki Arsuzi' al-Baath al-Arabi, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar's Harakat al-Baath al- Arabi, and Akram Hawrani's Arab Socialist Party. The relationship among these three groups and their leaders was often strained, as each attempted to dominate the movement. By the mid-fifties, however, the Baath (Resurrection) party had a strong identity under the leadership of Aflaq and Bitar and asserted a militant Pan-Arabism with the motto of "One Arab Nation, One Immortal Mission".
Aflaq, a Sorbonne-educated Greek Orthodox Christian from Damascus, became the acknowledged ideologist of the movement. He refined the party's beliefs into a comprehensive ideology, accompanied with an organizational structure, that became an incontrovertible dogma. In short, the Baathists zealously worked to extend their beliefs and organization into the beliefs and government of a united Arab state. The party's uncompromising egotism made genuine cooperation with all other entities, which it regarded as inferior, impossible. Partnerships they might deign to enter could only be temporary until the Baathists could prevail. While Baathist goals corresponded closely with the developing Zeitgeist of the Arab world, other groups and individuals usually refrained from cooperating with them.

The fact that the Baathists usually had to operate clandestinely, sometimes even in Syria, and almost always in the rest of the Arab world, added to their fearsome reputation. Their need for secrecy even prevented members from knowing who belonged to the party. Also, it was never always clear who was the most powerful member of a particular segment of the party, despite its decisive hierarchial structure. Any member, however minor he might appear, could be the National Command's direct link to a local unit of the party. This, too, was essential to their security system, that required the few at the top to have full confidence in the loyalty and actions of the entire rank and file of the party, each of whom was carefully screened for membership and required to pass through a prolonged probationary period. This approach combined techniques al-Fatat, al-Qataniya, and al-Ahd had used in Ottoman times and the more modern methods of the communists to assure secrecy.

The Baathists conspired to evolve their party structure into the government of the entire Arab world, from each neighborhood to the national capital in Damascus. While they desired rapid success, their elitist approach to membership and their necessity for secrecy dictated slow growth. Confidence in their inevitable success and methodology allowed little deviation from the master plan. Circles of three to seven members constituted their smallest organizational unit, which they believed would evolve into neighborhood governments. Three to seven Circles constituted a Division to organize a little larger area. The exact amount of territory any of these units would cover depended on the number of party members in an area. Two or more Divisions comprised a Section and two or more Sections constituted a Branch. The Branch was a particularly crucial level in the organization, as it usually encompassed a whole city, a whole province, or perhaps represented the largest Baathist unit in an entire Arab state if the membership were sparse. Otherwise, in Baathist nomenclature an existing Arab state was a Region. A Regional Command, thus, existed in every state or Region that was under the direct control of the National Command.
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Copyright © 1996-1997, Dr. Emory Bogle
bogle@richmond.edu

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