The Alawis


The Alawis, also known as Alawites, Nusayris and Ansaris are a prominent mystical religious group centred in Syria who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam.
The Alawis take their name from علي بن أبي طالب (Ali ibn Abi Talib), cousin and son-in-law of Muḥammad, who was the first Shi'a Imam and the fourth and last "Rightly Guided Caliph" of Sunni Islam.
Until fairly recently, Alawis were referred to as "Nusairis", after Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d. ca 270 h, 863 CE) who is reported to have attended the circles of the last three Imams of the prophet Muhammad's line.
This name is considered derogatory, and they refer to themselves as Alawis.


The origin of the Alawis is disputed.
The Alawis themselves trace their origins to the followers of the eleventh Imam, Hassan al-'Askari (d. 873), and his pupil ibn Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr (d. 868). 
The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr known as al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo about 969.
In 1032 Al-Khaṣībī's grandson and pupil al-Tabarani moved to Latakia, which was then controlled by the Byzantine Empire.
Al-Tabarani became the perfector of the Alawi faith through his numerous writings.
He and his pupils converted the rural population of the Syrian Coastal Mountain Range and the plain of Cilicia to the Alawi faith.
Around the turn of the last century, some Western scholars believed Alawites to be descended from ancient Middle Eastern peoples such as Canaanites and Hittites.

Alawis and the Ottomans

Under the Ottoman Empire members of the Alawi sect were often ill treated, and they resisted an attempt to convert them to Sunni Islam.
The Alawites were traditionally good fighters, and revolted against the Ottomans on several occasions, and maintained virtual autonomy in their mountains.

In his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence wrote:
'The sect, vital in itself, was clannish in feeling and politics. One Nosairi would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever. Their villages lay in patches down the main hills to the Tripoli gap. They spoke Arabic, but had lived there since the beginning of Greek letters in Syria. Usually they stood aside from affairs, and left the Turkish Government alone in hope of reciprocity.'
On the other hand, throughout the 18th a century a number of Alawi notables were engaged as local Ottoman tax farmers (multazim).
In the 19th century some Alawis also supported the Ottomans against the Egyptian occupation (1831-1840),[27] while individual Alawis made careers in the Ottoman army or as Ottoman governors.
In the early part of the 20th century, the mainly Sunni notables sat on the wealth and dominated politics, while Alawites lived as poor peasants.

The French Mandate period

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under a French mandate.
On December 15, 1918, prominent Alawi leader Saleh al-Ali called for a meeting of Alawi notables in the town of Sheikh Badr, and urged them to revolt and expel the French from Syria. When the French authorities heard of the meeting, they sent a force in order to arrest Saleh al-Ali.
Al-Ali and his men ambushed them, and the French forces were defeated and suffered more than 35 casualties.
After the initial victory, al-Ali started to organize his Alawi rebels into a disciplined force, with its own general command and military ranks, which resulted in the Syrian Revolt of 1919.
In 1919, Al-Ali retaliated to French attacks against rebel positions by attacking and occupying al-Qadmus from which the French conducted their military operations against him.
In November, General Henri Gouraud mounted a full-fledged campaign against Saleh al-Ali's forces in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains.
They entered al-Ali's village of Ash-Shaykh Badr and arrested many Alawi notables.
Al-Ali fled to the north, but a large French force overran his positions and al-Ali went underground.
When the French finally occupied Syria in 1920, they recognized the term "Alawi", gave autonomy to them and other minority groups, and accepted them into their colonial troops.
On 2 September 1920 an Alawite State was created in the coastal and mountain country comprising Alawi villages; the French justified this separation with the "backwardness" of the mountain-dwelling people, religiously distinct from the surrounding Sunni population.
It was a division meant to protect the Alawi people from more powerful majorities.
Under the mandate, many Alawi chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawi nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence.
The French considered the Alawites, along with the Druze, as the only "warlike races" in the mandate territories, as excellent soldiers, and the communities from where they could recruit their best troops.
The region was both coastal and mountainous, and home to a mostly rural, highly heterogeneous population.
During the French Mandate period, society was divided by religion and geography: the landowning families of the port city of Latakia, and 80% of the population of the city, were Sunni Muslim.
However, more than 90% of the population of the province was rural, 62% being Alawite peasantry. 
In May 1930, the Alawite State was renamed "the Government of Latakia", the only concession the French made to Arab nationalists until 1936.
There was a great deal of Alawite separatist sentiment in the region, but these political views could not be coordinated into a unified voice.
This was attributed to the majority of Alawites being peasants "exploited by a predominantly Sunni landowning class resident in Latakia and Hama".
On 3 December 1936 (effective in 1937), the Alawite state was re-incorporated into Syria as a concession by the French to the Nationalist Bloc, the party in power of the semi-autonomous Syrian government.
In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawis, was given to Turkey by the French following a plebiscite carried out in the province under the guidance of League of Nations which favored joining Turkey.
However, this development greatly angered the Alawi community and Syrians in general.
In 1938, the Turkish military had gone into Alexandretta and expelled most of its Arab and Armenian inhabitants.
Before this, Alawi Arabs and Armenians were the majority of the province's population.
Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawi leader from Iskandarun province in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a founder of the Ba'ath Party along with the Eastern Orthodox Christian schoolteacher Michel Aflaq.
After World War II, Salman Al Murshid played a major role in uniting the Alawi province with Syria.
He was executed by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus on December 12, 1946 only three days after a hasty political trial.

The Alawites in an Independant Syria

Syria became independent on April 17, 1946.
In 1949, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups and the rise of the Ba'ath Party.
In 1958, Syria and Egypt were united through a political agreement into the United Arab Republic. The UAR lasted for three years.
In 1961, it broke apart when a group of army officers seized power and declared Syria independent anew.

A further succession of coups ensued until, in 1963, a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawi officers, including Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba'ath Party seize power.
In 1966, Alawi-affiliated military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba'ath that had looked to the founders of the Ba’ath Party, the Greek Orthodox Christian Michel Aflaq (see left) and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar (see right), for leadership

 ميشيل عفلق‎‎ - Michel Aflaq (1910 – 23 June 1989) was a Syrian philosopher, sociologist and Arab nationalist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of Ba'athism and its political movement; he is considered by several Ba'athists to be the principal founder of Ba'athist thought. He published various books during his lifetime, the most notable being 'The Battle for One Destiny' (1958) and 'The Struggle Against Distorting the Movement of Arab Revolution' (1975).

صلاح الدين البيطار Salah ad-Din al-Bitar (1912 – 21 - July 1980) was a Syrian politician who, with Michel Aflaq, founded the Arab Ba'th Party in the early 1940s. During their student days in Paris in the early 1930s, the two worked together to formulate a doctrine that combined aspects of nationalism and socialism. Al-Bitar later served as prime minister in several early Ba'thist governments in Syria, but became alienated from the party as it grew more radical, and in 1966 fled the country. He lived most of the rest of his life in Europe, and remained politically active until he was assassinated by unknown persons in 1980.

They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi (see right) as the "Socrates" of their reconstituted Ba'ath Party.

The Assad Family

In 1970, then an Air Force General,  حافظ الأسد‎ - Hafez al-Assad (see right), an Alawite, took power and instigated a "Correctionist Movement" in the Ba'ath Party.
The coup of 1970 ended the political instability having lasted since the arrival of independence.
In 1971, al-Assad declared himself president of Syria, a position the constitution at the time allowed only for Sunni Muslims to hold.
In 1973, a new constitution was adopted that omitted the old requirement that the religion of the state be Islam and replaced it with the statement that the religion of the republic's president is Islam. Protests erupted when this was known.

In 1974, in order to satisfy this constitutional requirement, Musa Sadr, a leader of the Twelvers of Lebanon and founder of the حركة أمل - Amal Movement who had earlier sought to unite Lebanese Alawis and Shias under the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council without success, issued a fatwa stating that Alawis were a community of Twelver Shia Muslims.
Under the authoritarian but secular Assad government, religious minorities were tolerated more than before, but political dissidents were not.
After the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, his son  بشار حافظ الأسد‎ - Bashar al-Assad maintained the outlines of his father's governance.
In 2012, the Alawis comprised the overwhelming majority of the top military and intelligence offices.
Government employees from lower bureaucratic ranks are largely from the popular majority of the Sunni Muslim faith, who represent about 74% of Syria's population.
The Alawis are currently the politically most powerful religious affiliation in Syria and the only one in direct governmental control.

Alawite Beliefs

Alawis are self-described Shia Muslims, and have been called Shia by other sources, including the influential Lebanese Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon.
The Alawis get their beliefs from the Prophets of Islam, from the Quran, and from the books of the Imams from the Ahlulbayt such as the Nahj al-Balagha by Ali ibn Abu Talib.
At least one source has compared them to Baha'is, Babis, Bektashis, Ahmadis, and "similar groups that have arisen within the Muslim community", however the prominent Sunni Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni issued a dubious fatwah recognizing them as part of the Muslim community in the interest of Arab nationalism.
Sunni scholars such as Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, have categorized Alawis as pagans in their religious works and documents.

Many of the tenets of the faith are secret and known only to a select few Alawi.
According to some sources, Alawis have integrated doctrines from other religions (syncretism), in particular from Ismaili Islam and Christianity.
Alawites are reported to celebrate certain Christian festivals, "in their own way", including Christmas, Easter, and Palm Sunday, which make use of bread and wine (without alcohol).
It has also been suggested that they also practice a religious feast called by the Persian name Naw Ruz.
Their main feasts though are Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha, Mawlid an-Nabi Muhammad and the Shia feast Eid al Ghadeer.

Alawis in Syria

Traditionally Alawis have lived in the Alawite Mountains along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Latakia and Tartous are the region's principal cities.
Today Alawis are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs.
Alawis also live in all major cities of Syria.
They have been estimated to constitute about 15–20% of Syria's population - 4.5 million people.
There are four Alawi confederations—Kalbiyah, Khaiyatin, Haddadin, and Matawirah—each divided into tribes.
Alawis are concentrated in the Latakia region of Syria, extending north to Antioch (Antakya), Turkey, and in and around Homs and Hama.[58]
Before 1953 they held reserved seats in the Syrian Parliament, like all other religious communities.
After that, including for the 1960 census, there were only general Muslim and Christian categories, without mention of subgroups in order to reduce "communalism" (taïfiyya).

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The Druze


The Druze are a monotheistic religious community, found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which emerged during the 11th century from Ismailism school of Shia Islam.
Druze beliefs incorporate several elements from Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and other philosophies.
The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid "the People of Monotheism" or al-Muwaḥḥidūn "the Unitarians".
The Druze people reside primarily in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

The name Druze is derived from the name of Anushtakīn ad-Darazī (from Persian, darzi, "seamster") who was an early preacher.
Although the Druze consider ad-Darazī a heretic the name had been used to identify them.
Before becoming public, the movement was secretive and held closed meetings in what was known as Sessions of Wisdom.
During this stage a dispute occurred between ad-Darazi and Hamza bin Ali mainly concerning ad-Darazi's ghuluww (Arabic, "exaggeration"), which refers to the belief that God was incarnated in human beings, especially 'Ali and his descendants, including Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who was the current Caliph, and ad-Darazi naming himself "The Sword of the Faith" which led Hamza to write an epistle refuting the need for the sword to spread the faith and several epistles refuting the beliefs of the ghulat.
In 1016 ad-Darazi and his followers openly proclaimed their beliefs and called people to join them, causing riots in Cairo against the Unitarian movement including Hamza bin Ali and his followers which led to the suspension of the movement for one year and the expulsion of ad-Darazi and his supporters.
Although the Druze religious books describe ad-Darazi as the "insolent one" and as the "Calf" who is narrow minded and hasty, the name "Druze" is still used for identification and for historical reasons.
In 1018 ad-Darazi was assassinated for his teachings; some sources claim that he was executed by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.
Some authorities see in the name "Druze" a descriptive epithet, derived from Arabic dâresah ("those who study").
Others have speculated that the word comes from the Arabic-Persian word Darazo (درز "bliss") or from Shaykh Hussayn ad-Darazī, who was one of the early converts to the faith.
In the early stages of the movement, the word "Druze" is rarely mentioned by historians, and in Druze religious texts only the word Muwaḥḥidūn ("Unitarian") appears.
The only early Arab historian who mentions the Druze is the 11th century Christian scholar Yahya of Antioch, who clearly refers to the heretical group created by ad-Darazī rather than the followers of Hamza ibn 'Alī.
As for Western sources, Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler who passed through Lebanon in or about 1165, was one of the first European writers to refer to the Druzes by name.
The word Dogziyin ("Druzes") occurs in an early Hebrew edition of his travels, but it is clear that this is a scribal error.
Be that as it may, he described the Druze as "mountain dwellers, monotheists, who believe in 'soul eternity' and reincarnation."

Early History

The Druze faith began as a movement in Ismailism, that was mainly influenced by Greek philosophy and gnosticism and opposed certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch.
The faith was preached by Hamza ibn 'Alī ibn Ahmad, a Persian Ismaili mystic and scholar.
He came to Egypt in 1014 and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the world to establish the Unitarian movement.
The order's meetings were held in the Raydan Mosque, near the Al-Hakim Mosque.
In 1017, Hamza officially revealed the Druze faith and began to preach the Unitarian doctrine.
Hamza gained the support of the Fātimid Caliph al-Hakim, who issued a decree promoting religious freedom.
Al-Hakim became a central figure in the Druze faith even though his own religious position was disputed among scholars.
Al-Hakim believed that "he was not only the divinely appointed religio-political leader but also the cosmic intellect linking God with creation".
Al-Hakim disappeared one night while out on his evening ride – presumably assassinated, perhaps at the behest of his formidable elder sister Sitt al-Mulk.
The Druze believe he went into Occultation with Hamza ibn Ali and three other prominent preachers, leaving the care of the "Unitarian missionary movement" to a new leader, Bahā'u d-Dīn.

Closing of the Faith

Al-Hakim was replaced by his underage son, 'Alī az-Zahir.
The Unitarian Druze movement, which existed in the Fatimid Caliphate, acknowledged az-Zahir as the Caliph, but followed Hamzah as its Imam.
The young Caliph's regent, Sitt al-Mulk, ordered the army to destroy the movement in 1021.
At the same time, Bahā'a ad-Dīn as-Samuki was assigned the leadership of the Unitarian Movement by Hamza Bin Ali.
For the next seven years, the Druze faced extreme persecution by the new caliph, al-Zahir, who wanted to eradicate the faith.
This was the result of a power struggle inside of the Fatimid empire in which the Druze were viewed with suspicion because of their refusal to recognize the new Caliph, Ali az-Zahir, as their Imam.
Many spies, mainly the followers of Ad-Darazi, joined the Unitarian movement in order to infiltrate the Druze community.
The spies set about agitating trouble and soiling the reputation of the Druze.
This resulted in friction with the new caliph who clashed militarily with the Druze community.
The clashes ranged from Antioch to Alexandria, where tens of thousands of Druze were slaughtered by the Fatimid army.
The largest massacre was at Antioch, where 5,000 Druze religious leaders were killed, followed by that of Aleppo.
As a result, the faith went underground in hope of survival, as those captured were either forced to renounce their faith or be killed.
Druze survivors were found principally in southern Lebanon and Syria.
In 1038, two years after the death of al-Zahir, the Druze movement was able to resume because the new leadership that replaced him had friendly political ties with at least one prominent Druze leader.
In 1043 Bahā'a ad-Dīn declared that the sect would no longer accept new pledges, and since that time proselytization has been prohibited.

The Crusades

It was during the period of Crusader rule in Syria (1099–1291) that the Druze first emerged into the full light of history in the Gharb region of the Chouf Mountains.
As powerful warriors serving the Muslim rulers of Damascus against the Crusades, the Druze were given the task of keeping watch over the crusaders in the seaport of Beirut, with the aim of preventing them from making any encroachments inland.
Subsequently, the Druze chiefs of the Gharb placed their considerable military experience at the disposal of the Mamluk rulers of Egypt (1250–1516); first, to assist them in putting an end to what remained of Crusader rule in coastal Syria, and later to help them safeguard the Syrian coast against Crusader retaliation by sea.
In the early period of the Crusader era, the Druze feudal power was in the hands of two families, the Tanukhs and the Arslans.
From their fortresses in the Gharb area (now in Aley District) of southern Mount Lebanon Governorate, the Tanukhs led their incursions into the Phoenician coast and finally succeeded in holding Beirut and the marine plain against the Franks.
Because of their fierce battles with the Crusaders, the Druzes earned the respect of the Sunni Muslim Caliphs and thus gained important political powers.
After the middle of the twelfth century, the Ma'an family superseded the Tanukhs in Druze leadership.
The origin of the family goes back to a Prince Ma'an who made his appearance in the Lebanon in the days of the 'Abbasid Caliph al-Mustarshid (1118–35 AD).
The Ma'ans chose for their abode the Chouf District in south-western Lebanon (southern Mount Lebanon Governorate), overlooking the maritime plain between Beirut and Sidon, and made their headquarters in Baaqlin, which is still a leading Druze village.
They were invested with feudal authority by Sultan Nur ad-Din Zangi and furnished respectable contingents to the Muslim ranks in their struggle against the Crusaders.

Persecution during the Mamluk and Ottoman Period

Having cleared Syria of the Franks, the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt turned their attention to the schismatic Muslims of Syria.
In 1305, after the issuing of a fatwa by the scholar Ibn Taymiyyah calling for jihad against all non-Sunni Muslims like the Druze, Alawites, Ismaili, and twelver Shiites, al-Malik al-Nasir inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Druze at Keserwan and forced outward compliance on their part to orthodox Sunni Islam.
Later, under the Ottoman Turks, they were severely attacked at Ayn-Ṣawfar in 1585 after the Ottomans claimed that they assaulted their caravans near Tripoli.
Consequently, the 16th and 17th centuries were to witness a succession of armed Druze rebellions against the Ottomans, countered by repeated Ottoman punitive expeditions against the Chouf, in which the Druze population of the area was severely depleted and many villages destroyed.
These military measures, severe as they were, did not succeed in reducing the local Druze to the required degree of subordination.
This led the Ottoman government to agree to an arrangement whereby the different nahiyes (districts) of the Chouf would be granted in iltizam ("fiscal concession") to one of the region's amirs, or leading chiefs, leaving the maintenance of law and order and the collection of its taxes in the area in the hands of the appointed amir. This arrangement was to provide the cornerstone for the privileged status which ultimately came to be enjoyed by the whole of Mount Lebanon in Ottoman Syria, Druze and Christian areas alike.

The Ma'an Dynasty

With the advent of the Ottoman Turks and the conquest of Syria by Sultan Selim I in 1516, the Ma'ans were acknowledged by the new rulers as the feudal lords of southern Lebanon.
Druze villages spread and prospered in that region, which under Ma'an leadership so flourished that it acquired the generic term of Jabal Bayt-Ma'an (the mountain of the Ma'an family) or Jabal al-Druze.
The latter title has since been usurped by the Hawran region, which since the middle of the 19th century has proven a haven of refuge to Druze emigrants from Lebanon and has become the headquarters of Druze power.
Under Fakhr-al-Dīn II (Fakhreddin II), the Druze dominion increased until it included almost all Syria, extending from the edge of the Antioch plain in the north to Safad in the south, with a part of the Syrian desert dominated by Fakhr-al-Din's castle at Tadmur (Palmyra), the ancient capital of Zenobia.
The ruins of this castle still stand on a steep hill overlooking the town. Fakhr-al-Din became too strong for his Turkish sovereign in Constantinople.
He went so far in 1608 as to sign a commercial treaty with Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany containing secret military clauses.
The Sultan then sent a force against him, and he was compelled to flee the land and seek refuge in the courts of Tuscany and Naples in 1614.
In 1618 political changes in the Ottoman sultanate had resulted in the removal of many enemies of Fakhr-al-Din from power, signaling the prince's triumphant return to Lebanon soon afterwards.
In 1632 Ahmad Koujak was named Lord of Damascus.
Koujak was a rival of Fakhr-al-Din and a friend of the sultan Murad IV, who ordered Koujak and the sultanate's navy to attack Lebanon and depose Fakhr-al-Din.
This time the prince decided to remain in Lebanon and resist the offensive, but the death of his son Ali in Wadi el-Taym was the beginning of his defeat. He later took refuge in Jezzine's grotto, closely followed by Koujak who eventually caught up with him and his family.
Fakhr-al-Din finally traveled to Turkey, appearing before the sultan, defending himself so skillfully that the sultan gave him permission to return to Lebanon.
Later, however, the Sultan changed his orders and had Fakhr-al-Din and his family killed on 13 April 1635 in Istanbul, bringing an end to an era in the history of Lebanon, which would not regain its current boundaries until it was proclaimed a mandate state and republic in 1920.
Fakhr-al-Din was the first ruler in modern Lebanon to open the doors of his country to foreign Western influences.
Under his auspices the French established a khān (hostel) in Sidon, the Florentines a consulate, and Christian missionaries were admitted into the country.
Beirut and Sidon, which Fakhr-al-Din beautified, still bear traces of his benign rule.

The Shihab Dynasty

As early as the days of Saladin, and while the Ma'ans were still in complete control over southern Lebanon, the Shihab tribe, originally Hijaz Arabs but later settled in Ḥawran, advanced from Ḥawran, in 1172, and settled in Wadi-al-Taym at the foot of mount Hermon.
They soon made an alliance with the Ma'ans and were acknowledged as the Druze chiefs in Wadi-al-Taym. At the end of the 17th century (1697) the Shihabs succeeded the Ma'ans in the feudal leadership of Druze southern Lebanon, although they reportedly professed Sunni Islam, they showed sympathy with Druzism, the religion of the majority of their subjects.
The Shihab leadership continued until the middle of the 19th century and culminated in the illustrious governorship of Amir Bashir Shihab II (1788–1840) who, after Fakhr-al-Din, was the most powerful feudal lord Lebanon produced.
Though governor of the Druze Mountain, Bashir was a crypto-Christian, and it was he whose aid Napoleon solicited in 1799 during his campaign against Syria.
Having consolidated his conquests in Syria (1831–38), Ibrahim Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, made the fatal mistake of trying to disarm the Christians and Druzes of the Lebanon and to draft the latter into his army.
This was contrary to the principles of the life of independence which these mountaineers had always lived, and resulted in a general uprising against Egyptian rule.
The uprising was encouraged, for political reasons, by the British.
The Druzes of Wadi-al-Taym and Ḥawran, under the leadership of Shibli al-Aryan, distinguished themselves in their stubborn resistance at their inaccessible headquarters, al-Laja, lying southeast of Damascus.

The 1860 Lebanon Conflict

The Druzes and their Christian Maronite neighbors, who had thus far lived as religious communities on friendly terms, entered a period of social disturbance in the year 1840, which culminated in the civil war of 1860.
After the Shehab dynasty converted to Christianity, the Druze community and feudal leaders came under attack from the regime with the collaboration of the Catholic Church, and the Druze lost most of their political and feudal powers.
Also, the Druze formed an alliance with Britain and allowed Protestant missionaries to enter Mount Lebanon, creating tension between them and the Catholic Maronites, who were supported by the French.
The Maronite-Druze conflict in 1840–60 was an outgrowth of the Maronite Christian independence movement, directed against the Druze, Druze feudalism, and the Ottoman-Turks.
The civil war was not therefore a religious war, except in Damascus, where it spread and where the vastly non-Druze population was anti-Christian.
The movement culminated with the 1859–60 massacre and defeat of the Christians by the Druzes.
The civil war of 1860 cost the Christians some ten thousand lives in Damascus, Zahlé, Deir al-Qamar, Hasbaya, and other towns of Lebanon.
The European powers then determined to intervene, and authorized the landing in Beirut of a body of French troops under General Beaufort d'Hautpoul, whose inscription can still be seen on the historic rock at the mouth of Nahr al-Kalb.
French intervention on behalf of the Maronites did not help the Maronite national movement, since France was restricted in 1860 by Britain, which did not want the Ottoman Empire dismembered.
But European intervention pressured the Turks to treat the Maronites more justly.
Following the recommendations of the powers, the Ottoman Porte granted Lebanon local autonomy, guaranteed by the powers, under a Christian governor.
This autonomy was maintained until World War I.

The Rebellion in Hauran

The Hauran rebellion was a violent Druze uprising against Ottoman authority in the Syrian province, which erupted in 1909.
The rebellion was led by al-Atrash family in an aim to gain independence, but ended in brutal suppression of the Druze, significant depopulation of the Hauran region and execution of the Druze leaders in 1910.

Modern History

In Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, the Druze have official recognition as a separate religious community with its own religious court system.
Druze are known for their loyalty to the countries they reside in, though they have a strong community feeling, in which they identify themselves as related even across borders of countries.
Despite their practice of blending with dominant groups in order to avoid persecution and because the Druze religion doesn't endorse separatist sentiments, urging the Druze to blend with the communities they reside in, nevertheless the Druze have had a history of brave resistance to occupying powers, and they have at times enjoyed more freedom than most other groups living in the Levant.

The Druze in Syria

Druze warriors preparing to go to battle with Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in 1925
In Syria, most Druze live in the Jebel al-Druze, a rugged and mountainous region in the southwest of the country, which is more than 90 percent Druze inhabited; some 120 villages are exclusively so.
The Druze always played a far more important role in Syrian politics than its comparatively small population would suggest.
With a community of little more than 100,000 in 1949, or roughly three percent of the Syrian population, the Druze of Syria's southeastern mountains constituted a potent force in Syrian politics and played a leading role in the nationalist struggle against the French.
Under the military leadership of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, the Druze provided much of the military force behind the Syrian Revolution of 1925–27. In 1945, Amir Hasan al-Atrash, the paramount political leader of the Jebel al-Druze, led the Druze military units in a successful revolt against the French, making the Jebel al-Druze the first and only region in Syria to liberate itself from French rule without British assistance.
At independence the Druze, made confident by their successes, expected that Damascus would reward them for their many sacrifices on the battlefield.
They demanded to keep their autonomous administration and many political privileges accorded them by the French and sought generous economic assistance from the newly independent government.
Well-led by the Atrash household and jealous of their reputation as Arab nationalists and proud warriors, the Druze leaders refused to be beaten into submission by Damascus or cowed by threats.
When a local paper in 1945 reported that President Shukri al-Quwatli (1943–49) had called the Druzes a "dangerous minority", Sultan Pasha al-Atrash flew into a rage and demanded a public retraction.
If it were not forthcoming, he announced, the Druzes would indeed become "dangerous" and a force of 4,000 Druze warriors would "occupy the city of Damascus."
Quwwatli could not dismiss Sultan Pasha's threat.
The military balance of power in Syria was tilted in favor of the Druzes, at least until the military build up during the 1948 War in Palestine.
One advisor to the Syrian Defense Department warned in 1946 that the Syrian army was "useless", and that the Druzes could "take Damascus and capture the present leaders in a breeze."
During the four years of Adib Shishakli's rule in Syria (December 1949 to February 1954) (on 25 August 1952: Adib al-Shishakli created the Arab Liberation Movement (ALM), a progressive party with pan-Arabist and socialist views), the Druze community was subjected to a heavy attack by the Syrian regime.
Shishakli believed that among his many opponents in Syria, the Druzes were the most potentially dangerous, and he was determined to crush them.
He frequently proclaimed: "My enemies are like a serpent: the head is the Jebel al-Druze, the stomach Homs, and the tail Aleppo.
If I crush the head the serpent will die." Shishakli dispatched 10,000 regular troops to occupy the Jebel al-Druze.
Several towns were bombarded with heavy weapons, killing scores of civilians and destroying many houses. According to Druze accounts, Shishakli encouraged neighboring bedouin tribes to plunder the defenseless population and allowed his own troops to run amok.
Shishakli launched a brutal campaign to defame the Druzes for their religion and politics.
He accused the entire community of treason, at times claiming they were agents of the British and Hashimites, at others that they were fighting for Israel against the Arabs.
He even produced a cache of Israeli weapons allegedly discovered in the Jabal.
Even more painful for the Druze community was his publication of "falsified Druze religious texts" and false testimonials ascribed to leading Druze sheikhs designed to stir up sectarian hatred.
This propaganda also was broadcast in the Arab world, mainly Egypt.
Shishakli was assassinated in Brazil on 27 September 1964 by a Druze seeking revenge for Shishakli's bombardment of the Jebel al-Druze.[
He forcibly integrated minorities into the national Syrian social structure, his "Syrianization" of Alawite and Druze territories had to be accomplished in part using violence, he declared: "My enemies are like serpent. The head is the Jabal Druze, if I crush the head the serpent will die" (Seale 1963:132).
To this end, al-Shishakli encouraged the stigmatization of minorities.
He saw minority demands as tantamount to treason.
His increasingly chauvinistic notions of Arab nationalism were predicated on the denial that "minorities" existed in Syria.
After the Shishakli's military campaign, the Druze community lost a lot of its political influence, but many Druze military officers played an important role when it comes to the Baathist regime.

Beliefs of the Druze

The Druze are considered to be a social group as well as a religious sect, but not a distinct ethnic group.
Also complicating their identity is the custom of Taqiya—concealing or disguising their beliefs when necessary—that they adopted from Shia Islam and the esoteric nature of the faith, in which many teachings are kept secretive.
Druze in different states can have radically different lifestyles.
Some claim to be Muslim, some do not.
The Druze faith is said to abide by Islamic principles, but they tend to be separatist in their treatment of Druze-hood, and their religion differs from mainstream Islam on a number of fundamental points.

God in the Druze Faith

The Druze conception of the deity is declared by them to be one of strict and uncompromising unity.
The main Druze doctrine states that God is both transcendent and immanent, in which he is above all attributes but at the same time he is present.
In their desire to maintain a rigid confession of unity, they stripped from God all attributes (tanzīh) which may lead to polytheism (shirk).
In God, there are no attributes distinct from his essence.
He is wise, mighty, and just, not by wisdom, might and justice, but by his own essence.
God is "the whole of existence", rather than "above existence" or on his throne, which would make him "limited."
There is neither "how", "when", nor "where" about him; he is incomprehensible.
In this dogma, they are similar to the semi-philosophical, semi-religious body which flourished under Al-Ma'mun and was known by the name of Mu'tazila and the fraternal order of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Ṣafa).
Unlike the Mu'tazilla, however, and similar to some branches of Sufism, the Druze believe in the concept of Tajalli (meaning "theophany").
Tajalli, which is more often misunderstood by scholars and writers and is usually confused with the concept of incarnation, the core spiritual beliefs of the Druze and some other intellectual and spiritual traditions.... In a mystical sense, it refers to the light of God experienced by certain mystics who have reached a high level of purity in their spiritual journey. Thus, God is perceived as the Lahut [the divine] who manifests His Light in the Station (Maqaam) of the Nasut [material realm] without the Nasut becoming Lahut. This is like one's image in the mirror: one is in the mirror but does not become the mirror. The Druze manuscripts are emphatic and warn against the belief that the Nasut is God.... Neglecting this warning, individual seekers, scholars, and other spectators have considered al-Hakim and other figures divine.
...In the Druze scriptural view, Tajalli 'takes a central stage.' One author comments that Tajalli occurs when the seeker's humanity is annihilated so that divine attributes and light are experienced by the person."
The concept of God incarnating either as or in a human seems "to contradict with what the Druze scriptural view has to teach about the Oneness of God, while tajalli is at the center of the Druze and some other, often mystical, traditions."


Druze Sacred texts include the Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom).


The Druze believe that many teachings given by prophets, religious leaders and holy books have esoteric meanings preserved for those of intellect, in which some teachings are symbolic and allegorical in nature, and divide the understanding of holy books and teachings into three layers.
These layers, according to the Druze, are:
The obvious or exoteric (zahir), accessible to anyone who can read or hear;
The hidden or esoteric (batin), accessible to those who are willing to search and learn through the concept of exegesis; and
The hidden of the hidden, a concept known as anagoge, inaccessible to all but a few really enlightened individuals who truly understand the nature of the universe.
Unlike some Islamic esoteric movements, known as the batinids at that time, the Druzes don't believe that the esoteric meaning abrogates or necessarily abolishes the exoteric one.
Hamza bin Ali refutes such claims by stating that if the esoteric interpretation of taharah (purity) is purity of the heart and soul, it doesn't mean that a person can discard his physical purity, as salah (prayer) is useless if a person is untruthful in his speech and that the esoteric and exoteric meanings complement each other.

Precepts of the Druze Faith

The Druze follow seven precepts that are considered the core of the faith, and are perceived by them as the essence of the pillars of Islam.
The Seven Druze precepts are:
Veracity in speech and the truthfulness of the tongue.
Protection and mutual aid to the brethren in faith.
Renunciation of all forms of former worship (specifically, invalid creeds) and false belief.
Repudiation of the devil (Iblis), and all forces of evil (translated from Arabic Toghyan meaning "despotism").
Confession of God's unity.
Acquiescence in God's acts no matter what they be.
Absolute submission and resignation to God's divine will in both secret and public.

Religious Symbols

The Druze strictly avoid iconography but use five colors as a religious symbol: green, red, yellow, blue, and white.
Each color pertains to a metaphysical power called Haad, literally meaning a limit, as in the limits that separate humans from animals, or the powers that makes the animal body human.
Each Haad is color coded in the following manner: green for Aql "the Universal Mind/Nous", red for Nafs "the Universal Soul/Anima mundi", yellow for Kalima "the Word/Logos", blue for Sabiq "the Potentiality/Cause/Precedent", and white for Tali "the Future/Effect/Immanence".
The mind generates qualia and gives consciousness.
The soul embodies the mind and is responsible for transmigration and the character of oneself.
The word which is the atom of language communicates qualia between humans and represent the platonic forms in the sensible world.
The Sabq and Tali is the ability to perceive and learn from the past and plan for the future and predict it.
The colors can be arranged in a vertically descending stripes or a five-pointed star.
The stripes is a diagrammatic cut of the spheres in neoplatonic philosophy while the five pointed star embodies the golden ratio, phi, as a symbol of temperance and a life of moderation.

The Druze are divided into two groups.
The largely secular majority, called al-Juhhāl (جهال) ("the Ignorant") are not granted access to the Druze holy literature or allowed to attend the initiated Uqqal's religious meetings.
They are around 80% of the Druze population and are not obliged to follow the ascetic traditions of the Uqqal.
The initiated religious group, which includes both men and women (about 20% of the population), is called al-ʻUqqāl (عقال), ("the Knowledgeable Initiates").
They have a special mode of dress designed to comply with Quranic traditions.
Women can opt to wear al-mandīl, a loose white veil, especially in the presence of other people.
They wear al-mandīl on their heads to cover their hair and wrap it around their mouths and sometimes over their noses as well.
They wear black shirts and long skirts covering their legs to their ankles.
Male ʻuqqāl grow mustaches, and wear dark Levantine/Turkish traditional dresses, called the shirwal, with white turbans that vary according to the Uqqal's hierarchy.
Al-ʻuqqāl have equal rights to al-Juhhāl, but establish a hierarchy of respect based on religious service
The most influential 5% of Al-ʻuqqāl become Ajawīd, recognized religious leaders, and from this group the spiritual leaders of the Druze are assigned.
While the Shaykh al-ʻAql, which is an official position in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, is elected by the local community and serves as the head of the Druze religious council, judges from the Druze religious courts are usually elected for this position.
Unlike the spiritual leaders, the Shaykh al-ʻAql's authority is local to the country he is elected in, though in some instances spiritual leaders are elected to this position.
The Druze believe in the unity of God, and are often known as the "People of Monotheism" or simply "Monotheists".
Their theology has a Neo-Platonic view about how God interacts with the world through emanations and is similar to some gnostic and other esoteric sects.
Druze philosophy also shows Sufi influences.
Druze principles focus on honesty, loyalty, filial piety, altruism, patriotic sacrifice, and monotheism.
They reject tobacco smoking, alcohol, and consumption of pork.
Also, in contrast to most Islamic sects, the Druze reject polygamy, believe in reincarnation, and are not obliged to observe most of the religious rituals.
The Druze believe that rituals are symbolic and have an individualistic effect on the person, for which reason Druze are free to perform them, or not.

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Syria - Reflections

الجمهورية العربية السورية
Al-Jumhūriyyah Al-‘Arabīyah As-Sūriyyah

In 1516, the Ottoman Empire invaded the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, conquering Syria, and incorporating it into its empire, before conquering Egypt itself the following year. From that time until the 20th century, Syria found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs.

ولايت سوريه‎
Vilâyet-i Sûriye

Ottoman Syria is a European reference to the area that during European Renaissance from the late 15th to early 18th century was called the Levant within the early period of the Ottoman Empire, the Orient until the early 19th century, and Greater Syria until 1918 when it was replaced by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration.
Ottoman Syria provinces were initially the Damascus Elayet and autonomous Principality of Lebanon.
Eyalet of Aleppo was formed out of Damascus Elayet in 1549, the Eyalet of Tripoli in 1579 and the Elayet of Safed/Sidon/Beirut was formed in 1660.
The Mutassariffate of Mount Lebanon was formed in 1861 designated for Christian autonomy; it remained through the Tanzimat reforms.
The Elayets were later transformed into the Vilayet of Syria, the Vilayet of Aleppo and the Vilayet of Beirut, following the 1864 Tanzimat reforms.
The province of Syria was sequently subpartitioned further into the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem in 1874.

Territory of the Greater Syria under the Ottoman rule in its final historical period included modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Gaza Strip and parts of Turkey and Iraq.

Before 1516, historical or Greater Syria was part of the Mamluk Empire centered in Egypt.
The Ottoman Sultan Selim I conquered Syria in 1516 after defeating the Mamlukes at the Battle of Marj Dabiq near Aleppo in northern Syria.
Selim carried on his victorious campaign against the Mamlukes and conquered Egypt in 1517 following the Battle of Ridanieh, bringing an end to the Mamluk Sultanate.
The Syrian economy did not flourish under the Ottomans.
At times attempts were made to rebuild the country that had been shattered by the Mongols, but on the whole Syria remained poor.
The population decreased by nearly 30%, and hundreds of villages virtually disappeared into the desert.
At the end of the 18th century only one-eighth of the villages formerly on the register of the Aleppo pashalik (domain of a pasha) were still inhabited.

Syria and the First World War

In the midst of World War I two Allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed on the post war division of the Ottoman Empire into respective zones of influence.
The end of the war and defeat of the Central Powers, of which the Ottoman Empire was one, allowed the victorious Entente powers of Britain and France to realise its provisions.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, including what would become the state of Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine (including what would become the state of Jordan) – 'to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad' – agreement n° 7).
Initially, the two territories were separated by a border that ran in an almost straight line from Jordan to Iran, however, the discovery of oil in the region of Mosul just before the end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to 'Zone B', or the British zone of influence.
The borders between the 'Zone A' and 'Zone B' have not changed from 1918 to this date.
The two zones were recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations in 1920.

French Mandate

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under King Faisal of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq, however, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun.

 فيصل بن حسين بن علي الهاشمي‎ (Fayṣal ibn Ḥusayn; 20 May 1885 – 8 September 1933) was for a short time King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria or Greater Syria in 1920, and was King of the Kingdom of Iraq (today Iraq) from 23 August 1921 to 1933.
He was a member of the Hashemite dynasty.
Faisal encouraged overcoming cleavage between Sunni and Shiite to foster common loyalty and promote pan-Arabism in the goal of creating an Arab state that would include Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Fertile Crescent.
While in power, Faisal tried to diversify his administration by including different ethnic and religious groups in offices.
He faced great challenges in achieving this because the region was under European, specifically French and British, control and other Arab leaders of the time were hostile to his ideas as they pursued their own political aspirations for power.
In addition, Faisal’s attempt at pan-Arab nationalism inevitably isolated certain religious groups.

French troops occupied Syria later that year after the League of Nations put Syria under French mandate.
In 1925, Syrian resistance to French colonial rule broke out in full scale revolt.
Despite French attempts to maintain control by encouraging sectarian divisions and isolating urban and rural areas, the revolt spread from the countryside and united Syrian Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, Allawis, and Christians.

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 درزي - The Druze

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The Alawi

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Christianity in Syria

Once the rebel forces had besieged Damascus, the French military responded with brutal counter-insurgency techniques that prefigured those that would be used later in Algeria and Indo-China.
These techniques included house demolitions, collective punishments of towns, executions, population transfers, and the use of heavy armor in urban neighborhoods.
The revolt was eventually subdued via French aerial bombardment of civilian areas, including Damascus.
Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal's brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, France reneged on the treaty and refused to ratify it.
The allocation of seats in the provincial assembly was based on the 1938 census held by the French authorities under international supervision: out of 40 seats, 22 were given to the Turks, nine for Alawi Arabs, five for Armenians, two for Sunni Arabs, and two for Christian Arabs.
The assembly was appointed in the summer of 1938 and the French-Turkish treaty settling the status of the Sanjak was signed on July 4, 1938.

On September 2, 1938, the assembly proclaimed the Sanjak of Alexandretta as the Republic of Hatay, taking as an excuse that rioting had broken out between Turks and Arabs.
The Republic lasted for one year under joint French and Turkish military supervision.
The name "Hatay" itself was proposed by Atatürk and the government was under Turkish control.
The president Tayfur Sökmen was a member of Turkish parliament elected in 1935 (representing Antakya (Greek: Αντιόχεια) and the prime minister Dr. Abdurrahman Melek (see left), was also elected to the Turkish parliament (representing Gaziantep) in 1939 while still holding the prime-ministerial post.
In 1939, following a popular referendum, the Republic of Hatay became a Turkish province.
For the referendum, Turkey had crossed tens of thousands of Turks into Alexandretta to vote.
This referendum has been labeled both "phoney" and "rigged", and that it was a way for the French to let Turks take over the area, hoping that they would turn on Hitler.
With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government (see left) until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941
The Free French declared the conditional 'independence' of Syria again in 1941, but it wasn't until the Syrian Chamber of Deputies unilaterally voted on 30 November 1943 to remove article 116 of the constitution, which gave the French power of veto over any bill, that Syria gained any real measure of independence.
This was influenced by a similar move by the Lebanese Chamber on 8 November 1943 which the French failed to overturn by force because of British opposition.
On 27 December 1943 the Free French authorities agreed to transfer their remaining powers to Syria from 1 January 1944.
On February 26, 1945 Syria declared war on Germany and Japan.
Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

الجمهورية السورية - The Republic of Syria

Syrian independence was acquired in 1946.
Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s was marked by upheaval.
The early years of independence were marked by political instability.
In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War with the newly created State of Israel.
The Syrian army was pressed out of the Israeli areas, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan and managed to keep their old borders and occupy some additional territory.
In July 1949, Syria was the last Arab country to sign an armistice agreement with Israel.

In 1949, Syria's national government was overthrown by a military coup d'état led by Hussni al-Zaim thus ending democratic rule in a coup which was probably sponsored by the United States CIA.

Husni al-Zaim was the first military ruler of post-independence Syria. After a troubled career in the French-sponsored Army during the years of the French Mandate, he was discharged from service during World War II. President Shukri al-Quwatli re-appointed him to the Syrian Army in 1946 and he rose to become commander of Military Police, then Chief-of-Staff of the Syrian Army during the Palestine War of 1948. He launched a coup against President Quwatli on March 30, 1949 and ruled Syria for 137 days, only to be deposed, and killed, in August 1949. His era was marked with improved relations with the US, a harsh campaign against Syrian Communists, and signing of an armistice agreement with Israel.

Later that year Zaim was overthrown by his colleague Sami al-Hinnawi.
A few months later, Hinnawi was overthrown by Colonel Adib al-Shishakli.
The latter undermined civilian rule and led to Shishakli's complete seizure of power in 1951. Shishakli continued to rule the country until 1954, when growing public opposition forced him to resign and leave the country.
The national government was restored, but again to face instability, this time coming from abroad.
After the overthrow of President Shishakli in a 1954 coup, continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military eventually brought Arab nationalist and socialist elements to power.
Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions.
During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria.
Later Syrian and Iraqi troops were brought into Jordan to prevent a possible Israeli invasion.
The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq's acceptance into the Baghdad Pact.
In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.
In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria.
This increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderon, a formerly Syrian city now in Turkey.
On the other hand, Syria and the USSR accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border.
During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.
Syria's political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser's leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt.
On 1 February 1958, Syrian president Shukri al-Kuwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.
The union was not a success, however.
Following a military coup on 28 September 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic.
Instability characterised the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on 8 March 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority.
The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Ba'ath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s.
The new cabinet was dominated by Ba'ath members.

حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي – قطر سورياThe First Ba'ath Government

The Ba'ath takeover in Syria followed a Ba'ath coup in Iraq, the previous month.
The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Ba'ath-controlled Iraq.
An agreement was concluded in Cairo on 17 April 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize.
Thereafter, the Ba'ath governments in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity.
These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Ba'ath government in Iraq was overthrown.
In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organisations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet.

The Second Ba'ath Government

On 23 February 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Ba'ath government on 1 March.
The coup leaders described it as a "rectification" of Ba'ath Party principles.
In June 1967 Israel captured and occupied the Golan.
The Six Day War had significantly weakened the radical socialist government established by the 1966 coup.
On 18 September 1970, during the events of Black September in Jordan, Syria tried to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian guerrillas.
Hafez al-Assad sent in armored forces equivalent to a brigade, with tanks, some of them allegedly hastily rebranded from the regular Syrian army for the purpose.
Other Syrian units were the 5th Infantry Division and Commandos.
On 21 September, the Syrian 5th Division broke through the defenses of the Jordanian 40th Armoured Brigade, and pushed it back off the ar-Ramtha crossroads.
On 22 September, the Royal Jordanian Air Force began attacking Syrian forces, which were badly battered as a result.
The constant airstrikes broke the Syrian force, and on the late afternoon of 22 September the 5th Division began to retreat.
The swift Syrian withdrawal was a severe blow to Palestinian guerillas.
Jordanian armored forces steadily pounded their headquarters in Amman, and threatened to break them in other regions of the Kingdom as well.
Eventually, the Palestinian factions agreed to a cease-fire.
King Hussein and Yasser Arafat attended the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, where the hostilities briefly ended.
The Jordanian-Palestinian Civil War shortly resumed, but without Syrian intervention.
By 1970 a conflict had developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Ba'ath Party.
The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the "Black September" hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Ba'ath leadership.

The Baath Party under Hafez al-Assad

On 13 November 1970, Minister of Defense حافظ الأسد - Hafez al-Assad effected a bloodless military coup, ousting the civilian party leadership and assuming the role of President.
Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control.
The Provisional Regional Command of Assad's Arab Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People's Council, in which the Baath Party took 87 seats.
The remaining seats were divided among "popular organizations" and other minor parties.
In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term.
In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Baath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria's 14 governorates.
In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People's Council, the first such elections since 1962.

Syrian Intervention in Lebanon

In early 1976, the Lebanese Civil War was going poorly for the Maronite Christians, so the Lebanese President Elias Sarkis officially requested Syria intervene militarily. After receiving their first mandate from Lebanese President, Syria was given a second mandate by the Arab League to intervene militarily in Lebanon. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent the Christians from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in this war, beginning the 30 year Syrian presence in Lebanon. Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many saw the Syrian Army's presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.
About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the war ended to find jobs in the reconstruction of the country. Syrian workers were preferred over Palestinian Arabs and Lebanese workers because they could be paid lower wages, but some have argued that the Syrian government's encouragement of citizens entering its small and militarily dominated neighbor in search of work, was in fact an attempt at Syrian colonization of Lebanon. In 1994, under pressure from Damascus, the Lebanese government controversially granted citizenship to over 200,000 Syrians resident in the country.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Hama Massacre

The authoritarian government was not without its critics, though most were quickly murdered.
A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical.
From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative الإخوان المسلمون - Muslim Brotherhood - led an armed insurgency against the government.
In response to an attempted uprising by the Brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing many thousands of dead and wounded.

Syria Under Bashar al-Assad

Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, after 30 years in power.
Immediately following al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34, which allowed his son, بشار حافظ الأسد Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party.
On 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian government statistics.
Bashar, who speaks French and English and has a British-born wife, was said to have "inspired hopes" for reform, and a "Damascus Spring" of intense political and social debate took place from July 2000 to August 2001.
The period was characterized by the emergence of numerous political forums or salons where groups of like minded people met in private houses to debate political and social issues.
The phenomenon of salons spread rapidly in Damascus and to a lesser extent in other cities. Political activists, such as, Riad Seif, Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani, Riyad al-Turk, and Aref Dalila were important in mobilizing the movement.
The most famous of the forums were the Riad Seif Forum and the Jamal al-Atassi Forum.
The Damascus Spring ended in August 2001 with the arrest and imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and a campaign of civil disobedience.


Syria was for much of its history a province of the Ottoman Empire.
It should be remembered that the eventual inheritors of the effects of the Ottoman Tanzimat were the Ottoman military, and this inheritance was passed on to all the military successors to the Ottomans in the various territories ruled by the Turks - including Syria.
It is for this reason that most of the regimes that followed the demise of the Ottoman Empire were controlled by a modernising, westernised military.

In Syria that military was not fully secularised, however, as it was controlled mainly by Alawis.

So what we now see in Syria is not a struggle of democracy against tyranny and dictatorship, as presented in the media, but rather a continuation of the apparently never ending struggle between Shia (Alawi) and Sunni - and it is this struggle that makes the possibility of a spreading, devastating Middle Eastern war a dangerous posibility.

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