What's left of Syria's Baath party after 68 years?

What's left of Syria's Baath party after 68 years?
Comment: Bones and skulls, says Abdul Latif al-Saadoun, as the party's original principles of national revival withered and die or were corrupted.
4 min read
09 Apr, 2015
Syrians wave the Baath party flag [Getty]
About a decade ago, I was walking in central Damascus with an old Baathist who had left the party.

When we reached 29 Ayyar Street my companion yelled out in excitement: "This is where al-Rasheed al-Saifi coffee shop used to stand... this is where the Baath party was born and this...",

Before he could finish his sentence, I said: "And this is where the party is verging on falling into oblivion just like the coffee shop that housed it."

My companion was silent for a moment before handing me a document issued by the party's Syrian regional command that talked modernising the party - its concepts, way of thinking and organisational procedures. "Unfortunately, no one inside or outside the party can stop the party declining along with the country," he said.

At the time, Syria was clearly boiling beneath the surface, as the party that had professed freedom now dominated all aspects of daily life. You could not do anything without the party being present.

It is as if the party wanted to recreate the experience of its Iraqi counterpart. I sensed what was going on during my short visit, but I wanted to hear from a party member.

     That is how we are. Prisoners in the party's cave either by choice of by force.

After looking around fearing we were being watched and overheard, which we most likely were, my companion said: "Today our situation is like that of the hero in Jose Saramago's novel The Cave."

He explained that a potter was surprised people were not buying his pottery, even though the world had changed and no one was thinking about pottery.

Overcome with despair he decided to live in seclusion in a cave. In the cave he finds bones and skulls. In a moment of clarity he realises the world has collapsed and they are his remains and the remains of people he once knew.

He thinks of escaping but without knowing where to go or how his journey will end.

With a sorrowful look my companion said: "That is how we are. Prisoners in the party's cave either by choice of by force. In the cave of a country ruined by the party we imagine a reality that fits our desires, and we forget that what we imagine is not reality.

"The world has changed and the only thing that exists from our old world is the remains of bones and skulls. That summarises all that we have created. And now we are tryng to escape without knowing how or where."

We fell silent and continued to walk through the streets and alleyways and markets. We walked past buildings - some were old and smelled of mould, others were new. We walked past people who were walking aimlessly while others looked as if they were walking towards their deaths.

How much the world has changed and how many decades have passed since the Baath party was created, and professed itself to be a national renaissance movement that would revive and revitalise the Arab nation.

Dreams of unity, freedom and social justice had intoxicated the minds of those who gathered in al-Rasheed al-Saifi coffee shop.

They were adamant they would achieve "a deep, creative and all encompassing shift that would revive the nation and help it build a future that completes, exceeds and excels over its past".

However, things changed when the coffee shop group separated and their thoughts were overlooked.

Things changed when the party became an authority that mixed justice with injustice and transformed pure thought into a deadly ideology using its intelligence apparatus.

The party split into two opposing parties, and later its role declined, thought waned, and mistakes were compounded to the point to which the "nationalist revival project" was damaged and defeated in many arenas.

Therefore, the state of the Baath Party 68 years after it was created was no better than the potter in Saramago's novel, the only thing left was bones and skulls. The result of the world it created and which today it is trying to escape from, but without knowing how or where to go.        

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.