The origin and nature of the Ba’thist rule in Syria and Iraq caused significant challenges to the popular legitimacy of these rules. The nature of Baath rule in Syria was based on tribe-like solidarity of the Alawites (splinter Islam with secret and Christian-like belief) which allowed them to dominate the Syrian army (Friedman, 1989: p.78). The opponents of the Ba’thist rule in Syria (Muslim Brotherhood), who came from the Sunni Muslim tribe, were angered by the tribe-like regime of the Ba’thist rule which sidelined them because they were not members of the Alawite tribe. This tribe-like politics was characterised by kin-group form of allegiance, survivalist quality and harsh reactions to other tribes (Friedman, 1989: p.87). This caused rebellion across the nation.
The case is similar in Iraq whereby the main sources of tensions which caused a challenge to the legitimacy of the Ba’thi regime originated from the creation of Iraq from three provinces namely: Basra, Mosul and Baghdad (Dawisha, 1999: p.554). The creation of this nation was forced, and lacked nationhood just the same way Syrian rule neglected the national community. The country was made up three groups with varying attitudes and interests: Arab Shi’i in the south, Arab Sunni in Central Iraq, and non-Arabs in the North. The Arab Sunni minority took over power in Iraq, followed by competition between Iraq identity, and ethnic and tribal loyalties and identities between the Arabs and Muslims (Dawisha, 1999: p. 554). This caused tension that challenged the legitimacy of Ba’thi rule when it took power in 1968.
Syrian and Iraq leaders used forceful tribal solidarities and autocracy to overcome the above challenges facing their regimes. In Syria, President Hafez Assad used his tribal army to retaliate against the Muslim Brotherhood instead of using consensus. All these were committed by the Alawite Army; his tribesmen. Most of the Muslim Brotherhood Members were also killed in Hamas by the Alawite Army. In February 1982, all buildings in Hamas (home of the Muslim Brotherhood) were brought down, and Muslim Brotherhood members found in Hamas were killed (Friedman, 1989: p.84). Similarly, the existence of multiple identities allowed Saddam to serve the political interests of his regime. He used his armed tribesmen under the principle of solidarity and loyalty to fight for his regime against attack by the British and US airstrikes in 1998 (Dawisha, 1999: p.567). This therefore shows that Saddam Husayn and Hafez Assad used their tribal solidarities to maintain the legitimacy of their regimes.
Dawisha, A. (1999). “Identity” and Political Survival in Saddam’s Iraq. Middle East Journal, 53(4), 553-567.
Friedman, T. (1989). From Beirut to Jerusalem. Anchor Books, pp. 76-105.