Ba?th Party

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The Ba˓th Party is the governing party in Iraq and Syria, and is theoretically committed to the cause of Arab nationalism and unity. The Ba˓th (Arabic for resurrection or renewal) Party was founded by two French-educated Syrian school teachers, Michel ˓Aflaq (Greek Orthodox Christian) and Salah al-Din al-Bitar (Sunni Muslim), in 1943. "Regional commands" of the Ba˓th were founded in many Arab countries, all in principle subject to the "national command" of the founders. The party's slogan, "unity, freedom and socialism," rallied students, intellectuals, and army officers to its cause in many Arab states, and it played an important role in the tumultuous politics of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan in the 1950s. However, the party never achieved a strong mass following and had little electoral success anywhere. The Ba˓th came to power in Syria in 1963 and in Iraq in 1968 through military coups. In power, the party in both countries effectively centralized control of the economy in government hands and instituted distributionist policies that originally benefited both the urban and rural middle and lower classes, though over time at the cost of economic growth and efficiency. Both the Syrian and Iraqi Ba˓th came to rely on religious minorities to staff sensitive military and security positions—Alawis in Syria and Sunnis in Iraq—as the popularity of the governments waned. A bitter split developed within the party in 1966, reflected in the extremely hostile relations between Ba˓thist Syria and Ba˓thist Iraq. Like many ruling parties, the Ba˓th lost much of its ideological élan once in power, and became the vehicle for increasingly personalized rule in Syria and Iraq.

See alsoNationalism: Arab .


Devlin, John F. The Ba˓th Party: A History from Its Origins to 1966. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1976.

Kienle, Eberhard. Ba˓th v. Ba˓th: The Conflict Between Syria and Iraq, 1968–1989. London: I. B. Tauris & Co., 1990.

F. Gregory Gause III