The Syrian Baath: Prosecution or Dissolution? – January 10, 2013 – FIKRA FORUM – by Zara Saleh –  Dr. Zara Saleh is a Kurdish-Syrian-British writer.

There is no doubt that the success of the Syrian people’s revolution and the overthrow of Assad’s Baath Party regime will mark the historic end of the last stronghold of Arab nationalist thought.

Such “Arab nationalism” was enacted in Syria through Baath Party policies and plans in order to entrench authoritarianism, suppress the Syrian people, and plunder the riches of the country. The new Syria will have no place for the Baath Party, yet the prosecution of its symbols and aggressors must be enacted carefully to avoid further strife among the Syrian people.

The Arab Socialist Baath Party in both Iraq and Syria was rooted in a chauvinist nationalistic approach that was ideologically tied to Nazi thought. According to Nour Eddin Zaza in his book My Kurdish Life, the party’s founder, Michel Aflaq, was a proponent of Hitlerist Nazi thought at the beginning of his political life. In Iraq, the Baath Party implemented a policy of exclusion and eradication against everyone – even among the leadership – and usurped power for five decades, mocking the people and the country for serving the party’s empty rhetoric of eternal power. The Baath established a security empire made up of intelligence organizations that extended throughout government institutions. In Syria, the picture was reversed: Assad senior established the party in order to exert influence through the organization. He then constructed tens of security apparatuses that were under his direct supervision and gradually became the effective power – far beyond supervision of the Baath Party members.

After years of sectarian discrimination, assimilation, and violently undermining all forms of dissent, Assad’s Baathist regime reached its height of madness after the revolution began in March 2011. Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, the regime met protesters with  live rounds of ammunition, which later developed into shelling from warplanes and artillery. This violence was part of a policy of collective punishment for all who did not praise the policy of starvation, the cut off of food supplies, electricity, water, and bread in an attempt to intimidate under the slogan: “either me, or the country will burn.”

Under the supervision of the Baath Party’s national leadership, Syrian lands became a stronghold for extreme jihadi groups that sent fighters to Iraq. Today, these brigades, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and others, fight against that same regime in pursuit of their mission: jihad and fighting the infidels. Yet the Syrian people across the country still believe in the inevitable victory of the revolution and democratic transition even as the extremist Islamist groups are attempting to impose their agenda and ideology. Though Islamist groups have taken advantage of Syria’s vulnerability to exercise their jihadi mission, the social, cultural, and religious fabric of Syria will help to prevent those groups from gleaning the fruits of the revolution. While Sunnis make up 50% of the population, the fundamentalist groups do not represent the majority. However, if the end of the revolution is prolonged, it will lead to an influx of more groups and a dangerous settling of accounts.

Protesters have called for the prosecution of regime symbols and for the construction of a new pluralistic democratic state far from Baath Party rule. However, in the absence of a unifying political rhetoric among the different factions of the Syrian opposition, political negotiations regarding the fate of the ruling party are taking place. Most Syrians demand a break with the Baath Party and reject its participation in political life in the future Syria. However, some instead demand that the party take full responsibility for what has happened in Syria since the time it seized power. For these people, there is no alternative but to dissolve or eradicate this dictatorial Nazi Party that destroyed the country, as was done in Iraq where the Baath Party was purged from their political roots.

When the time comes to implement transitional justice, the symbols of the Baath Party will be tried, along with all whose hands have been tarnished by the blood of Syrians, and those who have stolen money from the people. However, the trial will not include the other members of the Baath Party who were employees; these people should be treated as Syrian citizens because membership in the Baath Party is tied to interests and privileges, and citizen were sometimes forced into party membership in order to continue their lives and ensure their daily bread.

This is a call to break with the culture of revenge promoted by extremist groups in order to uphold a culture of just courts and independent judges. This calls for fairness toward all Syrians – including those who remained on the fence during the revolution. The new constitution should be inclusive and nurture the rights of all Syrian people equally without discrimination between the majority and the minority; the Kurds, the Arabs, the Assyrians and other ethnic, religious, and cultural groups should have the same rights. This is the best way to dissolve the resentment that was built between different sects and ethnic groups during Baath rule. It is important that Syria be a secular, pluralistic, participatory, federal state suited to its diverse citizenship. This is the only way to end the future possibility of another religious, single party, or ethnic dictatorship.

There is no option but to end the era of the Baath Party in Syria by repeating the scenario of the Iraqi Baath. Eradicating the Baath complements the goals of the revolution for the Syrian people who seek to rebuild Syria as a free, pluralistic, participatory nation that is truly secular on the basis of a voluntary union between all of its constituents and a constitution that preserves Syria’s diversity.