Syrian Social Nationalist Party

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Political party established in Lebanon in 1932 with the aim of uniting the Syrian nation.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) was founded in Beirut by Antun Khalil Saʿada, a Greek Orthodox intellectual, in November 1932. He served as the party's leader until his death in 1949, and the organization reflects his personality and ideas. The SSNP had a strong political influence on the twentieth-century history of the two states, Lebanon and Syria, where it was the most active. It was the first political party in the region to embrace radical, secular ideas which later had an impact on virtually every radical group organized in the two countries, especially the Baʿth Party. The SSNP offered minorities, particularly Greek Orthodox Christians, a vehicle for political action. Its ideology also influenced the development of Pan-Arabism, defining inter-Arab relations in the Levant.

The party's ideology, as defined by Saʿada, was grounded in three related tenets: radical social reform along secular lines, fascist-style rituals and organization, and a Pan-Syrian doctrine. Best known for its Pan-Syrian approach, emphasizing Syrian history and culture but opposing Arab unity, the SSNP called for the creation of a "Greater Syria," encompassing Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, in addition to Syria. In one of his publications, Saʿada wrote: "[The] Syrian homeland is that geographic environment in which the Syrian nation evolved. It has natural boundaries which separate it from other countries, extending from the Taurus range in the north-west and the Zagros in the northeast to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the south and including the Sinai peninsula and the Gulf of Aqaba, and from the Syrian Sea (Mediterranean) in the west, including the island of Cyprus, to the arch of the Arabian desert and Persian Gulf in the east. (This region is also called the Syrian Fertile Crescent, the island of Cyprus being its star.)" While this Pan-Syrian emphasis was the most prominent aspect of SSNP ideology, its appeal and influence also stemmed from its fascist qualities and emphasis on radical social reform.

Saʿada argued that Lebanon did not constitute a separate entity but was instead part of the Syrian nation. This philosophy led to clashes with Lebanese authorities. In 1949 Saʿada declared an armed revolt against the government and called on his supporters to carry weapons and attack police stations. With the help of Syrian leader Husni al-Zaʿim, Lebanese authorities retaliated and arrested Saʿada. He was executed in July 1949. Saʿada's death led to the overthrow of Zaʿim in Syria and to increased popularity for the SSNP in the 1950s. The killing of a major Baʿth party official and the adversarial relationship between SSNP members and Arab nationalists later caused the party to lose its support in Syria.

In the Lebanese upheaval of 1958, the SSNP allied itself with President Camille Chamoun against pro-Arab nationalist forces in Lebanon. Under attack in Syria, the leaders of the SSNP rightly feared that a victory of the government's opponents would close Lebanon to them. At the end of 1961, the SSNP was involved in an unsuccessful coup against the Lebanese government. As a result, the party was banned in Lebanon as well as in Syria. Many of the party leaders were arrested, and the other party members dispersed or left the organization.

During the Lebanese civil war (19751976), the SSNP regained some strength but remained a divided party. One faction retained Saʿada's original ideology. Another group, led by Inʿam Raad, believed it possible to combine Marxist doctrine with the ideology of the SSNP. This group also considered violence a legitimate means of achieving political aims. Raad and his group split from the original SSNP and joined the Lebanese National Movement. In September 1977 a third splinter of the SSNP was formed for the purpose of unifying the party.

Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad's government later co-opted Pan-Syrianism into what has been characterized as Syro-centric Arabism, and the Baʿth Party and SSNP cooperated as never before. Several factors helped to explain the reconciliation that took place. Asad grew up in a time and place in which SSNP ideology enjoyed great strength; the family of his wife had close ties to the party; and Asad saw practical, political advantage in accommodating the SSNP. Following decades of competition, they thus reached a mutually beneficial accommodation in which the SSNP became a client of the Syrian state. Even though it remained discredited in its pure, ideological form, a reborn, pragmatic Pan-Syrianism became more significant during the 1980s and after than at any time since the 1920s. For example, in the 1990 and 1994 elections, an SSNP member was elected to the Syrian parliament, albeit standing formally as an independent.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party has had a profound impact on politics in Lebanon and Syria, introducing a variety of new ideas to the region, including the ideological party, fascist leadership, complete political secularism, and the destruction of existing borders between states. Its repeated challenges to the Lebanese state also served to undermine the power and prestige of the Beirut government. Finally, it led the way in the use of violence to destroy the existing political order, with virtually every radical group in the region adopting aspects of its program.

see also asad, hafiz al-; pan-arabism; raad, inʿam; saʿada, antun.


Pipes, Daniel. Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Suleiman, Michael W. Political Parties in Lebanon: The Challenge of a Fragmented Political Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.

ronald bruce st john

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Syrian Social Nationalist Party

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