The Policies of Arab Socialist Regimes
The term “Arab Socialism” is used to refer to the political philosophy based on the union of Pan-Arabism and socialism (Stein & Steinbach, 2012). Arab socialism is different from the broader tradition of socialism perceived in the Arab world which preceded Arab socialism for over 50 years (Vatikiotis, 2015). Today, the Syrian government is represented by the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party. The party is loyal to the Pan-Arabism ideology and is present in other Arab countries. Egypt, on the other hand, is ruled by a constitutional government. Ba’athism enhances the creation and growth of a unified Arab state through the leadership of precursor party over the successful revolutionary government. The paper presents a comparison of the policies of Arab socialist regimes in Egypt and Syria.
The demise of Hafiz al-Asad in 2000 brought to an end the era that is still remembered in modern Syria. Asad was a founding father of Syria since its independence. His regime left such a large imprint on the history of the state that Syria is still being identified with Asad (Zisser, 2004).
Asad’s regime was succeeded by the rule of his son, Bashar. Bashar was familiar with the Western thinking and lifestyle. Therefore, he was to instigate the revolution in Syria’s domestic and foreign policies. Though the transfer of power between the father and the son was a success, it revoked criticism within the country as well as abroad regarding the suitability of the young leader at the time. Most people argued that Bashar had been selected as the President due to the lack of alternatives, since his elder brother had died in 1994 (Voll, 1994).
The Syrian Ba’th regime inherited by Bashar was personality-based and revolved around its founder and longtime leader, Hafiz al-Asad. Asad was a central pillar of the regime, serving as a force that unified the rival and varied components. The character of Asad acted as a source of power to the regime and offered support to various sectors of the Syrian society.
The Ba’th regime was family-led and even tribal. The Hafiz al-Asad’s family and the Kalbiyya tribe played a huge role in the society. It can be argued that it was also a communal regime considering its overreliance on the Alawite community for the support. During the second half of the 20th century, the regime indicated an ascendance of this community from a marginal inferior status to an influential sector (Vatikiotis, 2015).
The regime founded by Asad can evidently be described as versatile. Sometimes it exhibited a personality-based character, and at times the family, community, or tribe faced numerous challenges (Zisser, 2004). Additionally, the regime had a party coloration and a military character, thus, it also received support from the army and security forces.
The social regime in Syria was a product of the political and social revolution that took place in 1963 in the wake of Ba’th revolution (Voll, 1994). This portrayed the political and social-economic system ingrained in the state thereafter. The format of the regime comprised of the following forces:
- The Alawite community which constituted the primary element guaranteeing the viability of the regime;
- The rural Sunni community which constituted a senior partner in the coalition;
- Other minorities in Syria who were coalition members (Christians and Isma‘ilis);
- The gradual integration of other members in the coalition.
Meanwhile, his regime faced numerous challenges, both regional and international, which necessitated wise and calculated conduct of the foreign policy of Syria (Zisser, 2004). Additionally, there was a domestic reality of the dejected socio-economic system and demoralizing Syrian regime and the concealed Islamic threat. The situation was so bad that certain groups considered bringing changes in the Syrian regime.
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The liberalization group was formed in 1953 in order to replace the dispersed political parties (Voll, 1994). The main aim was to perform a political mobilization in support of the revolution command. In 1956, the late president Nasser put to an end the interim period and introduced a constitutional reform. The constitution did not allow political parties; hence, the National Union was formed as the only party for Egyptian citizens. In 1962, Nasser declared the formation of the Arab Socialist Union (Voll, 1994). Unlike its precursors, the Union was established for the working class and not the rest of Egyptian citizens.
Prior to the revolution, state penetration to the rural areas was restricted for the powerful local people. This was not the case under the rule of Nasser, as land reform abridged their socio-economic dominance. Besides, the integration of peasants into cooperatives transferred dependence from landlords to the governments. The Arab Socialist Union local branches cultivated peasant political activism and checked the independence of local notables from the regime.
In the late 1960s, most lefties left their illegal associations and joined the government. Most of them were occupied by notable positions, but their opinions and actions could not exceed the tolerance of the government. The late President Sadat dismissed Soviet sympathizers and various Marxists from the party in 1971, arguing they are inciting political unrest in his regime.
After the 1967 war, Egypt wars and the demonstrations of 1967, the state experienced significant political challenges which witnessed citizens demanding more democratic rights and self-expression for political affiliations (Stein & Steinbach, 2012). While in office, President Sadat introduced the motto of the rule of law and institutional state. Further, he cultivated the establishment of political forums in accordance with the principles of the Egyptian revolution. Additionally, he allowed the three platforms (the Liberal Socialist Organization, Egypt Arab Socialist Organization, and the National Progressive Unionist Organization) to work as separate entities. In 1976, Sadat declared the three platforms as political parties (Stein & Steinbach, 2012).
Sadat’s regime was succeeded by Nasser’s Arab socialism. Nasser’s regime aimed at implementing his policy of Arab socialism internally, particularly after the situation in Syria. Nasser drew up a National Charter which established a framework for the new constitution that was to be adopted. The Charter reflected changes from the nationalist goals of the original revolution. It emphasized that Egypt is an Arab nation governed by Islamic principles.
Besides, Nasser’s Arab socialism gave warnings to those focused on avoiding the heightened polarization of the Arab world between Islamic fundamentalism and Marxism between East and West (Stein & Steinbach, 2012).
Comparison of Syrian and Egyptian Socialist Regimes
Unlike Syria, the situation in Egypt is different. The peace achievements by Sadat and the partial political liberalization remain popular. The socialist regime has improved the national economy and foreign currency earnings from the canal, tourism, and oil, as well as the income earnings of the Egyptians working in Arab oil states (Stein & Steinbach, 2012). However, Sadat’s regime was not enough to ensure that an average Egyptian gets enough of the novel national cake to recompense for the ending of food subsidies, inflation, and control of rent. This socialist regime left many poor Egyptians dissatisfied especially after the cruel demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria in 1977.
Similar to Sadat’s socialist regime, Nasser’s Arab socialism also could not solve the immense problems of poverty in Egypt (Stein & Steinbach, 2012). Nonetheless, Nasser’s Arab socialism had a structured concern for the poor as compared to Sadat’s policy of liberalizing foreign trade and enhancing foreign investments. Nasser’s legacy still lives in Arab countries today. This is perhaps due to the leader’s seriousness of social purpose and the great confidence he portrayed while facing the world. A new generation is looking for a new principle but is unconvinced in the dictatorial personality-due to the regimes restraining them from using their education and talent preventing them from power and responsibility.
This is similar to the socialist regimes in Syria. Apparently, Bashar inherited a functioning though aging governmental system. As such, he had much time to make changes in the regime. Bashar tried integrating more sectors in the regime with an aim of reinforcing non-governmental institutions in Syria. Bashar was aware that the future of Syria laid in the enhanced functioning of the governmental system, particularly the economic and social institutions. This included diffusing the political suffocation in the atmosphere that had existed for over forty years, as well as co-opting population groups into the productive development of the nation. However, these reforms were unsuccessful, forcing Bashar to retain the old policies of the social regime. Though the regimes made significant mistakes influencing the country’s performance, they were not as fatal to affect the stability of the Syrian state.
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Arab socialist regimes existed in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. This paper has focused on the socialist regimes in Syria and Egypt. Evidently, the regimes in Syria rely mainly on an inner circle of loyal administrators, the army, and the Ba’th Party. The ruling regime integrates the members of the ruling family, tribe, community, and coalition partners. The socialist regimes in Syria have been able to attain great success. However, there are many changes proposed which have never been achieved. Thus, the policies used by the founder of the state continue to exist even today. On the other hand, the situation in Egypt is different. As indicated above, great achievements have been marked by the policies used by different regimes. For instance, Sadat achieved peace and a partial political liberalization. His successor Nasser implemented his Arab socialism regime which enabled Egypt to face the world with confidence.
The regimes in the two states are generally similar, as both have not been able to completely liberate their lands from the problems they are facing. As such, it is important for both states to adopt regimes that will change their circumstances for the better.