Syria and Iraq, two neighboring Arab states, are both under highly personalized rule and share a unique fraternal bond. Both are descended from the same ideological branch of the Arab nationalist tree: the revolutionary populism of the Ba‘th party. Both regimes seized power in the late 1960s, deposing weak and unpopular dictatorships. True, the rulers in Damascus and Baghdad have long been at odds over who is the "true" leader of the Arab vanguard, but the shared ideological genealogy and structural resemblances of the two regimes inevitably invite comparison between them.
Never has this been more the case than in the past two years. In the year 2000, power in Syria passed from father to son. On the death of Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad, his son Bashshar ascended to the presidency. All observers of Iraq now ask the inevitable question: Is Saddam planning to do the same? And can he bring it off?
These questions are impossible to answer. Yet they do invite a closer comparison of the regimes in Syria and Iraq. Do they still carry the same "genetic code" from their remote origins in Ba‘th ideology? Or are they very different systems, despite the many superficial resemblances? These questions can be answered—and the answers suggest that Syria's present may not provide a blueprint for Iraq's future.Shared Code
Both regimes share the same ideological forbearer: Sati‘ al-Husri, an ex-Ottoman official turned theorist of Arab nationalism. In the 1920s, Husri led the migration of Arab nationalist thought away from the French ideal of "a nation by choice" to enthusiasm for German-inspired, Volk
Husri did not regard the nation as a voluntary association. Instead, he believed that the "nation is a living organism which has developed organically through common language and history, which—like all living organisms—is determined by subjective impulses."2
An individual's national affiliation, therefore, is inevitable and predetermined; it is not a matter of free choice by the individual.3
The idea was refined still further by Michel ‘Aflaq, the Syrian founder of the Ba‘th party, who stressed the unity of all Arabic speakers, "from the [Atlantic] Sea to the Gulf." The Arab nation (umma
) awaited the emergence of an Arab Prussia, which would impose a political union on the nation, and give political expression to its single cultural identity. As Ba‘thists, both Hafiz al-Asad and Saddam Husayn imbibed this same worldview and mastered its political vocabulary.
The Ba‘th party, with its emphasis on Arabism, became the perfect ideological tool in the hands of ambitious minorities. In 1966, a cadre of the Ba‘th party, made up mainly of ‘Alawis from Syria's northwest, seized power in Damascus. Two years later a rival wing of the same Ba‘th party, dominated by Sunnis from the region of Takrit, removed the ‘Arif regime in Baghdad. (Sunnis in Iraq are also a minority; Iraq has a Shi‘ite majority and sizable Kurdish population.) Within ten years, Asad and Saddam had pushed and purged their way from Ba‘th "revolutionary committees" to the status of undisputed leaders.
In consolidating their control in Syria and Iraq, Saddam and Asad had to curtail their adherence to pan-Arab ideology in favor of "Ba‘thism in one country." This is not to say that the Syrian and Iraqi Ba‘th versions of nationalism were devoid of pan-Arab sentiment. But after the collapse of the proposed Iraq-Syria union in 1978, even the most fervent Ba‘thists relegated pan-Arabism to a distant ideal.4
Asad replaced pan-Arabism with an ideology of civic nationalism, aimed at meliorating the ‘Alawi-Sunni conflict inherent in modern Syria. While orthodox Ba‘thism insisted on defining nationhood as an outcome of culture, Asad built Syrian nationhood and his own legitimacy on a French-inspired ideal: the nation as a group of people who have opted to live together under a common government. He presented himself as someone who led by popular consent, expressed through a succession of (closely supervised) elections and plebiscites. It is this tradition of autocratic republicanism that Asad bequeathed to Bashshar. The ruler in such a system does not govern Syria but governs the institutions of the state. The existence of these mediating institutions confers an aura of legitimate republicanism to the system.
Saddam, in contrast, built Iraqi nationalism on the notion of cultural nationalism, supplemented by the idea of civic-territorial nationhood. The emphasis on cultural nationalism, intertwined with the leadership cult of Saddam himself (Saddamiya
), reduced republicanism to the margins of Iraqi politics. Saddam became the embodiment of the nation. In such a system, it is not sufficient merely to control the institutions of state. The ruler must fulfill a quasi-monarchic role as the cultural embodiment of the nation. In his own person, he must unite all sectarian and ethnic communities.
But to understand how completely the Syrian and Iraqi paths have diverged, it is necessary to enter into more detail. Their distinct modern histories indicate just how differently these two regimes evolved, despite their common ideology.Iraq: Follow the Leader
Colonial partition forced Kurds and Shi‘ites to live within the boundaries of the new Iraqi state under the Sunni Hashemite monarchy. But the Kurds preferred a national community inclusive of their ethno-linguistic brethren across the border in Syria, Turkey, and Iran. And the Iraqi Shi‘ites, despite practicing a distinctly Arab form of Shi‘ism which delineated them from their Iranian co-religionists, still felt alienated and disenfranchised by the Iraqi state.5
Ruling Iraq required the production of an overarching mythology that could overcome the attractions of competing identities.
Upon the Iraqi Ba‘th's ascent to power in 1968, it began to elaborate an official national narrative that transcended ethnic and sectarian cleavages between Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shi‘ites. The new regime renamed provinces after Mesopotamian place-names and celebrated ziggurats and the other symbols of ancient Babylonian and Mesopotamian civilizations. In so doing, the Ba‘th reminded all Iraqis of a common heritage forged in antiquity, that predated the emergence of modern cleavages. True, that heritage had been lost to collective memory, but it could be redeemed through archaeological recovery. Since no one remembered it anyway, it could be manipulated at will.6
And since great kings ruled Iraq in antiquity, the regime presented the cult of the leader as a feature of Iraqi culture. As the historian Amatzia Baram has noted, the state-directed cult of Saddam began by depicting the leader as embodying "the whole Iraqi people … as the heir and equal, indeed, sometimes superior to great Mesopotamian figures."7
After the establishment of an Islamic republic in neighboring Iran in 1979, this myth no longer sufficed to bind all of Iraq together. Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, appealed strongly to Iraqi Shi‘ites, who had a long history of religious and political contact with Iran and who chaffed under the secular, Sunni-dominated Iraqi state.8
To combat Khomeini, the Ba‘th invented a new vocabulary, for a new myth. The first was to invent Islamic credentials for Saddam and the Ba‘th, thereby breaking Khomeini's monopoly over religious imagery and rhetoric. The second was to move toward the secular, republican ideal of popular legitimacy, in order to stress the differences between "medieval" Iran and "progressive" Iraq.
And so the Ba‘th began to appropriate symbols of Islam for itself. This was not a completely new departure: Ba‘th ideologues had never conceived of Arab nationalism as a strictly secular ideology. Despite a generally secular orientation, the founding ideologue Michel ‘Aflaq maintained that
Everything that Islam has achieved in victories and culture was in the germinal in the first twenty years of the message…. Therefore the meaning which Islam reveals … is that all the efforts should be directed to strengthening the Arabs and awakening them and that these efforts should be within the framework of Arab nationalism.9
The goal of the Ba‘th ("Resurrection") Party was to recreate the Arab spirit that had manifested itself in early Islam—a purely Arab Islam that discarded ossified religious practice and invigorated the nationalism latent in Islam.10
Saddam thus cast the Iran-Iraq war as a conflict between Arab Muslims and Persian infidels, stressing the preeminent status enjoyed by Arabs in Islam:
Islam was revealed in the Arabic language in the Arabian Peninsula…. Therefore non-Arab Muslim nations should rely on the Arabs in issues concerning the interpretation of Islam…. How can a man like Khomeini claim to represent the Muslims, while he has never been heard speaking Arabic?11
Implicit throughout Saddam's rejection of "the Khomeini religion" was the accusation that any Iran-centered practice of Islam was shu‘ubiya
—a term originally applied to non-Arab Muslims, mainly Persians, who resisted Arab claims to be the prime inheritors of the prophet. The Ba‘th sought to portray Khomeini and Iran as heirs of these early Islamic dissenters.12
Saddam then invited Iraqi Shi‘ites to divest themselves of their shu‘ubi
tendencies and their reverence for Iranian religious leaders and return to the authentically Arab Islam.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam emphasized Arab primacy in Islam by referring to Qadisiya
, the Arab-Muslim defeat of Sasanid Persia in the year 636. Iraqi media repeated this motif of Muslim Arabs defeating pagan Persians incessantly throughout the war in films, stamps, outdoor panoramas, and murals.13
Saddam inserted himself in the center of the epic: in Iraqi parlance the war is commonly called "Saddam's Qadisiya
" (Qadisiyat Saddam
). The Ba‘th daily newspaper ath-Thawra
explained that the appellation had been chosen "because there are so many similarities between the Qadisiya
of Sa‘d [ibn Abi Waqqas, the Muslim leader who defeated the Persians in 636] and that of Saddam [that] even the passage of time and change of generations could not obscure them."14
Saddam made the connection especially palpable in the twin Victory Arches commissioned in 1985 and completed in 1989. The crossed swords are supposed to resemble the swords wielded by Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas during the original Qadisiya
, while the hands rising from the earth are exact replicas of Saddam's.15
The message is unmistakable: Saddam is a modern link in the long chain of Arab-Muslim heroes who have graced Iraq; Saddam's war (the Iran-Iraq war) is a living extension of Islamic history.
Saddam, while portraying himself as a major figure in Islamic history, also connected himself specifically to Shi‘ite history and memory. In 1982, a Shi‘ite cleric, ‘Ali Kashif al-Ghita, whom the Ba‘th had co-opted, added the title mujahid
(one who engages in jihad) to Saddam's honorific. Jihad, in Ba‘th parlance, was an "Arab-Muslim conception of liberation war" originating in Imam Husayn's resistance to the despotism of the usurpers, making Saddam a rightful successor to the revered Shi‘ite saint.16
Amir Iskander, in his 1980 semi-official biography of Saddam, produced a family tree showing Saddam to be a descendent of the first Shi‘ite imam, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.17
Saddam's penchant for public displays on a white horse, reminiscent of Imam Husayn's horse at Karbala, made the appeal even more explicit.18
Saddam personalized his "protection" of Shi‘ism by bringing Shi‘ites into the newly created National Assembly (see below) and renovating their holy shrines.19
By introducing himself into the center of Shi‘ite mythology, Saddam sought to harness Shi‘ite sectarian identity to the larger Iraqi state and integrate Shi‘ite consciousness into Iraqi nationhood while respecting Shi‘ite particularism.
Saddam's second approach was to draw the contrast between Ba‘thist Iraq and Islamic Iran as a clash between secular modernity and medieval obscurantism. Khomeini's theory of government revolved around the rule of the jurists, acting to enforce the divine will of God. Saddam countered with a claim that the Ba‘th regime represented the will of the people. Beginning in early 1979, Saddam, then vice president under Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, invited all Iraqis to consider themselves part of the Ba‘th endeavor:
The organizational structure of the Ba‘th Party … encompasses the entire map of Iraq. The new organizational structure of the party includes all Iraqis who believe in Iraqi soil.20
On June 20, 1980, the Ba‘th implemented the first election for the National Assembly (al-majlis al-watani
), the first elections in Iraq since before the 1968 coup, followed by a referendum that confirmed Saddam's new position as president of the republic. Although the elections were staged, the ritual of participation in modern, secular political activity reinforced the supposed difference between the Iraqi republic and the reign of the ayatollahs in Iran.21
In a telling mixture of Islamic ritual and modern nationalist custom, National Assembly members were reported to have signed a declaration of allegiance (wathiqat al-bay‘a
With love we swear, with our soul we shall redeem, and with our blood we make this covenant with the president, the struggler Saddam Husayn … Ba‘thist Iraq shall live forever and the flag … of the hero of all-Arab liberation, Saddam Husayn, shall fly forever.22
Loyalty to Saddam as the leader thus preceded allegiance to Ba‘thism, even in official political discourse.
The 1990 Kuwait war provides another flash of insight into Iraqi concepts of political legitimacy. Iraq made several overlapping arguments justifying its seizure of Kuwait. One argument was pan-Arabist: the move was presented as a step in the fulfillment of the ultimate goal of Arab unity. Another was Arab socialist: the invasion promised the equalization of wealth among the Arab states. Yet another was "progressive": the annexation replaced a reactionary monarchy, and installed a vanguard, populist and "progressive" Arab regime.
Still, no argument had more prominence than the representation of Kuwait as the nineteenth Iraqi province, severed from Iraq by British imperialism—an appeal to a purely Iraqi sense of territorial nationalism. This is plainly articulated in a statement by the Regional Command Council (RCC), Iraq's top governing body, on August 8, 1990, which employed an organic metaphor to describe Iraqi nationalism:
[The invasion] place[s] issues in their proper perspective by bringing in the part and branch, Kuwait, to the whole, origin, and source, Iraq; and to rectify what time had wronged and to cancel the injustice and unfairness that had hit Iraq in the heart of its entity before the day of the call; the RCC has decided to return the part and branch, Kuwait, to the whole and root, Iraq, in a comprehensive, eternal, and inseparable union.23
Almost simultaneously, though, Saddam resorted to his previous tactic of uniting Arabism with Islam and using the notion of Arab-Islamic unity to legitimatize his regime:
Arabs, Muslims, believers in God, wherever you are: This is the day for you to stand up and defend Mecca, which is the captive of the spears of the Americans and Zionists….The rulers there not only disregarded their people and the Arab nation; not only challenged their people and the Arab nation; but challenged God when they placed Mecca and the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad under foreign protection.24
The words Allahu akbar
("God is the greatest") were added to the Iraqi flag.25
It is difficult to tell which aspect of Saddam's appeal—the pan-Arab, the progressive, the Islamic, or the purely territorial—was intended for domestic consumption. Of course, none proved effective in maintaining the integrity of the Iraqi army or polity under the U.S.-led onslaught.
The simultaneous uprisings among southern Shi‘ites and northern Kurds forced Saddam to confront his domestic opponents in both word and deed. In March 1991, several communiqués appeared over the name of a "Supreme Committee" of nine Shi‘ite religious leaders (mujtahids
) who promised to oversee Iraq's transition from Ba‘thism to a government based on Islam. Ayatollah Kho'i, the highest-ranking Shi‘ite religious figure in Iraq, who had long avoided political involvement, apparently endorsed the communiqués. The Shi‘ite ghost seemed to have returned, and Saddam acted quickly to exorcise it.
The elderly Kho'i was abducted by the Ba‘th and taken to Baghdad. In a televised meeting with Saddam, Kho'i denounced the uprising and expressed dismay over the destruction it had brought to the Shi‘ites and their holy shrines. Kho'i then retired under house arrest to Najaf where he died a few years later.26
Saddam subsequently made a great public display of protecting the holy tombs in Najaf and Karbala, funding their renovation, reconstruction, and expansion. The episode represented the culmination of Saddam's efforts to integrate Shi‘ite consciousness into Iraqi nationalism. Rather than suppress the ethnic and sectarian distinctiveness of Shi‘ites, Saddam embraced sectarian ideas (like reverence for ayatollahs), better to coopt Shi‘ites into a larger concept of Iraqi nationalism. In this bargain, Shi‘ites would become more Iraqi; Saddam would become more Shi‘ite.
After defeating the Shi‘ite uprising (intifada
), Saddam continued his manipulation of cultural symbols, this time on the tribal level. Tribal chiefs and representatives began to appear in the presidential palace carrying rifles and banners, performing the traditional hosa
war dance before Saddam himself. Shi‘ite tribes from Basra and Najaf added Saddam's portrait to their tribal banner. Occasionally, Saddam even visited the tribes in their own domain, meeting the tribesmen and accepting gifts of robes and gold-plated guns, traditional symbols of virility. By participating in their rituals, Saddam began to interact with the tribes as a supreme tribal leader (shaykh al-mashayikh
). And immediately after Saddam's crushing of the intifada
, tribal leaders made public declarations of allegiance to Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity. They referred to Saddam Husayn as "the people's loved one and the architect of modern Iraq," swearing allegiance in the name of Islam and their "deep-rooted [tribal] traditions." Saddam reciprocated by swearing to defend these same tribal ways.27
In sum, Saddam's survival has depended upon a deft manipulation of differing and sometimes contradictory myths of solidarity, each one of which is an antidote to some strain of disaffection or separatism. It is impossible to institutionalize this kind of balancing act, since balances shift too fast for institutions to adjust to them. Only a leader's quick response can achieve and maintain the necessary balance. Saddam's balancing act creates nothing that can be passed on; at best, his successor might seek to imitate or duplicate his performance.Syria: Cast a Ballot
While less heterogeneous than Iraq, Syria also had a Sunni political elite and a number of peripheral disenfranchised minorities, including ‘Alawis, Druze, and Ismailis. These displaced the Sunni notables who had monopolized Syrian politics, and they then competed for political dominance. But the act of balancing among the various ethnic and religious groups was less complicated in Syria because none of Syria's neighbors has a powerful claim on the allegiance of its inhabitants. The key to power in Syria proved to be reconciling the Sunni majority to heterodox minority rule.
As an ‘Alawi, Hafiz al-Asad took great pains to legitimate his rule in civil terms. His admiring biographer, Patrick Seale, reports Asad frequently saying: "I am a man of institutions."28
He always grounded his legitimacy upon his election to this or that office in the formal structures of power. Unlike Saddam, who did not have his name printed on a ballot before the late 1970s, Asad went to the trouble of assuring that all Syrians regularly went through the motions of voting for him, his party, and his programs in pseudo-democratic exercises:
In less than three years, Asad summoned Syrians no fewer than five times to the ballot box: to confirm him as president, to elect representatives to the People's Assembly, to approve the constitution, to elect the governate councils, and in foreign affairs to pronounce on Syria's proposed, but never realized, federation with Egypt and Libya.29
In 1973 Asad declared that the people are "the source of every authority … One element must invariably inhere in all [political and syndicalist] institutions: the free choice and the free desire of the masses of the people."30
While candidates in the 1973 and 1977 parliamentary elections were pre-selected by the regime, and the parliament itself had very limited authority, Asad made sure the Ba‘th emerged not as the sole party but as part of a national progressive front, in coalition with the Communists and Nasserists.31
While Asad made some efforts to propagandize through allusion to Syria's Hittite and Assyrian heritage, such a celebration of the pre-Islamic (jahili
) legacy by the regime would undoubtedly have offended Syria's Sunni majority, who already suspected ‘Alawis of religious deviance.32
By focusing on civic participation rather than cultural heritage, Asad hoped to reduce Sunni sectarian feelings and to create a Syrian civic spirit that transcended sectarianism.
Asad was not so cavalier as to discount Islam completely. His ‘Alawi predecessor, Salah Jadid, was content to maintain the fiction of Sunni hegemony while actually controlling the government through the Ba‘th party. Asad used this tactic for a few years after his 1970 "Corrective Movement" when he assumed the title of prime minister and left the presidency to an obscure Sunni schoolteacher.33
But when the Ba‘th party proposed a new "corrected" constitution in 1973, it omitted any reference to Islam as state religion and any stipulation that the head of state be Muslim, provoking general strikes in the Sunni cities of Hama, Homs, and Aleppo. It taught Asad a lesson he never forgot.
Henceforth, Asad gave up on compelling Sunni acceptance of political secularization. He insisted that the Syrian constitution restore the Islamic clauses and appealed to a Lebanese Shi‘ite cleric, Sayyid Musa as-Sadr, for a ruling as to whether Syria's ‘Alawis could be considered (Shi‘ite) Muslims. Sadr obliged, and Asad could then ascend to the Syrian presidency, both as a constitutionally legitimate and religiously acceptable leader.34
Even as he tried to gain Sunni legitimacy, Asad was careful to cultivate his image as a sympathizer with Sunni Islam as Syria's civic religion. Fundamentalism was another matter. In his "concession" to the Sunnis on the Islamic clauses, Asad insisted on "rejecting every uncultured interpretation of Islam that lays bare an odious narrow-mindedness and a loathsome bigotry, Islam being the religion of love, progress, social justice, and equality for all."35
Asad allied himself with members of the ulema who were tolerant of his vision of the limited role of religion in politics, and he marginalized those ulema who favored a stricter or more puritanical Sunni fundamentalist interpretation.36
While Asad often appeared in the Syrian media praying in Sunni mosques, he was never pictured in prostration (sujud
), the ultimate gesture of devotion. In 1974, the Syrian daily ath-Thawra
devoted front-page photos to Asad performing the minor, out-of-season pilgrimage to Mecca (‘umra
), but he never completed the full pilgrimage (hajj
Just as the pressure of the Iranian revolution forced Saddam to modify his culture-based nationalist discourse, the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon compelled Asad to alter his civil nationalism. In 1976, when Asad dispatched the Syrian army to aide the Christians, disaffection with the Ba‘th regime was already high due to the perception of widespread corruption and economic crisis. Sunni Islamists began to attack government servants and other prominent figures, particularly targeting ‘Alawis. The violence culminated in February 1982 when Asad dispatched his brother Rif‘at and his largely ‘Alawi defense companies to crush the Muslim Brethren uprisings in Hama, Homs, and Aleppo.38
Under threat, Asad reverted to political sectarianism and even to nepotism.
Asad still maintained a taboo on mentioning sects, although these rules could be bent in public and ignored in private.39
The Islamists, in contrast, made a point of publicly inciting sectarian sentiment in order to fuel their revolution. In 1980, in the midst of the crisis, the "Command for the Islamic Revolution" published a manifesto in which they explicitly denounced "the ‘Alawi sect," Asad and his "butcher playboy brother [Rif‘at]," and their sectarian regime.40
As the crisis peaked, Asad made his most explicit appeal for Islamic legitimacy:
Yes! I believe in God and in the message of Islam.... I was, I am, and I will remain a Muslim, just as Syria will remain a proud citadel flying high the flag of Islam! But the enemies of Islam who traffic in religion will be swept away!41
While this statement was more forceful (and forced) than Asad's 1973 "concession" on the Islamic clauses of the constitution, he demonstrated the same reservations in identifying himself with mainstream Sunni Islam. The "message of Islam" which Asad accepted was distinct from the puritanical Sunnism espoused by the Muslim Brethren. Asad reserved the right to practice Islam as a national Syrian religion.
Searching for a means to rehabilitate his image among the Sunnis after years of confrontation, Asad took the exceptional step of appropriating the bay‘a
, the oath of loyalty traditionally associated with the ascension of a caliph as a head of the Muslim state. The bay‘a
implies reciprocal obligation: the leader promises fidelity to divine prescriptions, the populace swears loyalty to the leader. In Asad's resurrection of the bay‘a
in the mid-1980s, such contracts were often signed in blood, bringing the relationship between ruler and ruled even closer than it had been under the caliphate by implying a kinship ("blood") bond between Asad and his people. But indulging in such potent and public Islamic and primordial rituals was uncharacteristic of Asad. By the 1990s, Asad was sufficiently secure to restore the primacy of secular symbols of rule.42
In ruling Syria, then, the ruler faces only one basic dilemma: reconciling Sunni Muslims. Asad, a member of a marginally Islamic minority, found a formula for achieving this, after some trial and error. This left him free to construct a series of institutions that embodied the principles of a Syrian civil state. A personality cult developed around Asad all the same, but the cushion of these institutions made it possible for the Syrian regime to tolerate a far wider range of political expression than its Iraqi counterpart. These institutions are assets that can be passed down to a successor, who can preside over Syria without personifying every aspect of its culture.Their Three Sons
It was no accident, then, that the rituals of Bashshar al-Asad's succession were made up almost entirely of popular election and a constitutional amendment. The day after Hafiz al-Asad's death, a nine-man interim committee, made up exclusively of top government, party, and military figures, nominated Bashshar as the sole candidate for the presidency. A constitutional amendment was quickly passed, lowering the minimum age of the presidency from 40 to 34 years of age—precisely Bashshar's age. In elections held on July 10, Bashshar received 97.3 percent of all ballots cast. Of course, these civic processes were hardly democratic. As Karl Marx observed, the Bonapartist state "was contained in a finished state within the parliamentary republic. It only required a bayonet thrust." But even Louis Napoleon required a plebiscite to establish the Third Empire.43
Bashshar, like his father, felt most legitimate in a dark conservative suit, reflecting the decorum of civil legitimacy and uniformity.
Saddam's sons, ‘Udayy and Qusayy, face a far more daunting challenge. To match Saddam's success at political survival, they must emulate his ability to personify every sub-culture in Iraqi society. Saddam has been able to transform himself, like a political chameleon, from a Kurdish tribesman into a Shi‘ite pilgrim into an army field marshal. ‘Udayy would seem to have some talent for this: in January 2001, he appeared in the Iraqi media studying Shi‘ite theology and criticizing government ministries for neglecting Shi‘ite holy shrines.44
On the other hand, Qusayy has been granted much greater political responsibility, including command of his father's personal bodyguard, but thus far has failed to display much personal charisma.45
Whoever follows Saddam—whether one of his sons or someone else—the new leadership will have the difficult task of personifying the contradictory myths that have become the glue of the Iraqi polity—or risk the fragmentation of Iraqi society. The only possible exit from this dilemma is the end of dictatorship and the establishment of a kind of multi-party, multi-ethnic, religiously plural democracy (or quasi-democracy) of a kind that Iraq has not enjoyed since the monarchy.
While the world welcomed the establishment of the Asad dynasty in Syria, there is no guarantee that it will allow Saddam to settle Iraq's future destiny. Given the widespread antipathy to his regime, quite the opposite is likely. If so, the family resemblance that once characterized the two regimes is likely to dissipate further or disappear—another act in the long-running tragedy of the Ba‘th.
Ariel I. Ahram is an independent researcher based in Washington, D.C. He wishes to thank Yitzhak Nakash and Kanan Makiya for their assistance in preparing this article.1
Bassam Tibi, Arab Nationalism
, 3rd ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 118, 144, 203.2
Husri, quoted in Tibi, Arab Nationalism
, p. 152.3
Ibid., p. 189.4
Amatzia Baram, "Territorial Nationalism in the Middle East," Middle Eastern Studies,
Oct. 1990, pp. 426, 435.5
Liora Lukitz, Iraq: The Search for National Identity
(London: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. 107-109; Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi‘is of Iraq
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 3, 6.6
This is the theme of Amatzia Baram's Culture, History and Ideology in the Formation of Ba‘thist Iraq, 1968-69
(London: Macmillan, 1991), esp. chaps. 3-10.7
Amatzia Baram, "Re-inventing Nationalism in Ba‘thi Iraq," Princeton Papers, Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
, Fall 1996, p. 30.8
Marvin Zonis and Daniel Brumberg, Khomeini, the Islamic Republic, and the Arab World
(Cambridge: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1987), p. 31.9
Michel Aflak, Choice of Texts from the Ba‘th Party Founder's Thought
(Florence: Cooperativa Lavoratori, 1977), pp. 55-56; cf. Kamel S. Abu Jaber, The Arab Ba‘th Socialist Party: History, Ideology, and Organization
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1966), p. 129.10
R. Hriar Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World
, 2nd ed. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), p. 126.11
Saddam Hussein, The Khomeini Religion
(Baghdad: Dar al-Ma'mun, 1988), pp. 32-33.12
Samir al-Khalil (Kanan Makiya), Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 216-220; Sami Hanna and G.H. Gardner, "Al-Shu‘ubiyah Updated," Middle East Journal
, 20 (1966): 335-351.13
Ofra Bengio, Saddam's Word: Political Discourse in Iraq
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 173-174.14
Ibid., p. 174; see also Khalil, The Republic of Fear
, p. 270.15
Samir al-Khalil, The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 11.16
Bengio, Saddam's Word
, pp. 186-88. That these usurpers were Sunnis was conveniently ignored.17
Amir Iskander, Saddam Hussein: le militant, le penseur, et l'homme
(Paris: Hachette réalités, 1980), p. 20.18
Khalil, The Monument
, p. 14.19
Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi, Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography
(New York: Free Press, 1991), p. 168.20 Ath-Thawra
(Baghdad), Feb. 9, 1980, quoted in Amatzia Baram, "The June 1980 Elections to the National Assembly in Iraq," Orient
, Sept. 1981, p. 393.21
Baram, "The June 1980 Elections," p. 393.22
Bengio, Saddam's Word
, p. 75.23
For the entire communiqué, see Ofra Bengio, Saddam Speaks on the Gulf Crisis
(Tel Aviv: The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 1992), pp. 119-124.24
Baghdad Domestic Service, Aug. 10-11, 1990, quoted in Karsh and Rautsi, Saddam Hussein
, pp. 229-30.25
Elaine Sciolino, The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein's Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis
(New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991), p. 63.26
Amatzia Baram, "From Radicalism to Radical Pragmatism: The Shi‘ite Fundamentalist Opposition Movements of Iraq," in James P. Piscatori, ed., Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis
(Chicago: Fundamentalism Project, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991), pp. 46-47.27
Amatzia Baram, "Neo-Tribalism in Iraq," International Journal for Middle Eastern Studies
, Feb. 1997, pp. 10-11.28
Patrick Seale, Asad of Syria
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 174.29
Ibid., p. 177.30
Quoted in Hanna Batatu, Syria's Peasantry, the Descendents of Its Lesser Rural Notables and Their Politics
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 205.31
Volker Perthes, "Economic and Political Liberalization," in Eberhard Kienle, ed., Contemporary Syria: Liberalization between Cold War and Cold Peace
(New York: I.B. Tauris, 1996), pp. 44-71.32
Seale, Asad of Syria
,p. 460; Baram, "Territorial Nationalism in the Middle East," p. 433.33
Seale, Asad of Syria
Martin Kramer, "Syria's ‘Alawis and Shi‘ism," in his Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival
(New Brunswick: Transaction, 1996), pp. 195-201.35 Ath-Thawra,
Feb. 21, 1973, quoted in Batatu, Syria's Peasantry
, p. 261.36
Batatu, Syria's Peasantry
, pp. 261-62.37
Mordechai Kedar, "Asad's Islamic Image in the Syrian Official Press," in Moshe Maoz et al., eds. Modern Syria: From Ottoman Rule to Pivotal Role in the Middle East
(Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 1999), pp. 23-24.38
Seale, Asad of Syria,
pp. 283, 316-18; Umar F. Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria
(Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1983), pp. 68-70.39
Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric and Symbols in Contemporary Syria
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 88.40
Abd-Allah, The Islamic Struggle in Syria
, pp. 211-12.41
Seale, Asad of Syria,
Wideen, Ambiguities of Domination
, pp. 36-39; Mordechai Kedar, "Asad's Islamic Image," p. 28.43
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 118.44 Al-Quds al-Arabi
(London), Jan. 10, 2001 (London), Jan. 10, 2001.45
James W. Moore, "Après Saddam, Le Déluge? Speculating on Post-Saddam Iraq," Middle East Policy
, Feb. 1999, pp. 27-44; The Guardian
, July 30, 2001.