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The Founding Moment of the Levant’s Degeneration: the Military Coup!

The Founding Moment of the Levant’s Degeneration: the Military Coup!

Wednesday, 9 September, 2020 - 10:00

When was the founding moment of the Arab Levant’s modern degeneration, that degeneration whose dramatic climax we are undergoing today?

There are those who said that this moment was the 1948 Nakba; others said it was the 1967 Naksa. Some said it was the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991 or the American war in Iraq in 2003. Of course, there are others who trace this initiation back to the Arab revolutions of 2010-11, and those who, in contrast, trace it back to these revolutions’ defeat.

In all likelihood, the founding moment came with the birth of the military coup. Initial exercises for those coups were witnessed in 1936 in Iraq, with Bakr Sidqi, then in Syria with Husni al Zaim in 1949. But as a comprehensive regime, the coup was seen first in Egypt, with Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952, particularly by 1954, before the degeneration exacerbated with Baathists in Syria and Iraq.

For military coups are what locked history and made change impossible. People’s freedom and initiative became banned unless they were deployed against a foreign enemy, near or far, real or imagined.

This regime, the regime of coups, claimed it wanted to establish Arab unity and socialism and liberate Palestine, not to mention “the liberation of man.” We do not need to be reminded that it failed to achieve any of these objectives, but we may need to be reminded that all its failures, including its military defeats, did not end with changing it. This system was failing, while the peoples were failing to change it. The expression “eternal” which Hafez al-Assad and his era were described with, best characterizes this regime.

This does not imply that we, the peoples of the Levant, lived in an ideal world before the coups and their regime, and there is thus no need for nostalgia or romanticization of a bygone golden era. At the time, agrarian land distribution was extraordinarily uneven and corruption was part and parcel of public life. Playing a political role was the notables’ exclusive prerogative and access to education was a great privilege. The defeat of 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel illustrated these deficiencies comprehensively and extensively.

With that, the coups did not lead us on a path to salvation. The potential for change was not closed off. Parties, unions, and a free press had been in place. There were politicians like Khaled al-Azm and Nazim al-Qudsi in Syria, Kamel al-Chadirji and Fadhil al-Jamali in Iraq, and Mustafa al-Nahas and Makram Ubaid in Egypt. In Lebanon, the President of the Republic, Bechara El-Khoury, was ousted in a “White Revolution” in 1952.

Gamal Abdel Nasser came up with the idea that the confrontation of “the corruption of political life” justifies military coups that disrupt everything. For its part, the Cold War, and with it the persistence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, pushed in the same direction, especially since Washington, London and Moscow did not fail to encourage coups that benefited one and harmed the other.

However, the deep breakdown was in the acceleration of change carried out by the groups that moved to monopolize power, the groups that found in the military establishment a tool that could allow them to gain control and modernize tyranny, while they found their pretext in nationalism and Palestine. Thus, a state ideology emerged, and it was imposed on society.

Whoever deviated from it was either a traitor or a spy. There are now “friends” and “enemies” of the people, and between them a relation of violence, either explicit or implicit, emerged. Given the breakdown in the means of expression and assembly, there was an increasing regression to crude primordial ties, those of religious sects and ethnicities, accompanied with the nourishment of civil strife’s requisites. There is now an infallible leader, an absolute father of the children who have been born and those who will be born. Influenced by the totalitarian regimes in Europe and having been educated by them, the military regime nationalized public life, and history was locked off.

What was true within countries was also true for their surroundings. This crisis-ridden regime discharged its many crises through wars and mobilization, instilling among the Arab peoples unprecedented degrees of hostility for one another under the banner of Arab unity. We have seen this among the Egyptians and Syrians, Egyptians and Yemenis, as we have seen it among the Syrians and Lebanese, Syrians and Iraqis, Iraqis and Kuwaitis. With Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, a wall of caution and suspicion arose between the Levant and the Gulf, which rises by a meter soon after it drops an inch.

Addressing and warning about this issue are not among the luxuries of writing and thinking. It is a prerequisite for understanding much of what is happening today in the Arab Levant, as it gives us a perception of its origins. Understanding this, in itself, may not lead us to avoid tragedy. Still, it may grant us a degree of immunity against the myths that the military coup regime made use of, while its descendants and kin are still making of them in order to perpetuate devastation.

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