Cover image for Syria's peasantry, the descendants of its lesser rural notables, and their politics
Syria's peasantry, the descendants of its lesser rural notables, and their politics
Batatu, Hanna, 1926-
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Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

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xviii, 413 pages ; 24 cm
The peasants' socioeconomic conditions -- The pre-Baʻth patterns of peasant consciousness, organization, and political behavior -- The rural and peasant aspects of Baʻthism -- Ḥāfiz al-Asad, or Syria's first ruler of peasant extraction.
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DS98.2 .B386 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this book, the distinguished scholar Hanna Batatu presents a comprehensive analysis of the recent social, economic, and political evolution of Syria's peasantry, the segment of society from which the current holders of political power stem. Batatu focuses mainly on the twentieth century and, in particular, on the Ba`th movement, the structures of power after the military coup d'état of 1963, and the era of îvfiz al-Asad, Syria's first ruler of peasant extraction. Without seeking to prove any single theory about Syrian life, he offers a uniquely rich and detailed account of how power was transferred from one demographic group to another and how that power is maintained today.

Batatu begins by examining social differences among Syria's peasants and the evolution of their mode of life and economic circumstances. He then scrutinizes the peasants' forms of consciousness, organization, and behavior in Ottoman and Mandate times and prior to the Ba`thists' rise to power. He explores the rural aspects of Ba`thism and shows that it was not a single force but a plurality of interrelated groups--prominent among them the descendants of the lesser rural notables--with different social goals and mental horizons. The book also provides a perceptive account of President Asad, his personality and conduct, and the characteristics and power structures of his regime. Batatu draws throughout on a wide range of socioeconomic and biographical information and on personal interviews with Syrian peasants and political leaders, offering invaluable insights into the complexities of a country and a regime that have long been poorly understood by outsiders.

Author Notes

Hanna Batatu is Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies Emeritus at Georgetown University. In addition to his contributions to many books and scholarly journals, he is the author of the landmark work The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Peasantry in Syria has not been historically homogeneous or socially cohesive. There have been differences in vocation, religious loyalties (e.g., Shi'ites, Sunnites, Druzes, Alawis), and ethnic traditions, each with their own social and economic interests. Not until Akram Hurani founded the Arab Socialist Party in 1950 was there a movement that centered its attention on the peasants and tried to reach all groups and denominations to make them an effective political force. When in 1952 the Ba'th joined Hurani's Party, the peasantry in Syria became discernible within the range of the country's political vision. Further, Hurani made it possible for "many of his young partisans from rural or urban families of middle or humble status to enroll in the cost-free Hims Military Academy and gain a footing in the officers corps." In this light one can understand and appreciate the interaction of Syria's rural society and the present regime of Hafez al-Asad and the emergence of the "Asad cult" since the 1970s. Batatu's thoroughly researched, objective study provides a sociological and anthropological approach to contemporary Syrian politics and is an excellent source of information on the various and often conflicting components of Syrian society. All levels. N. Rassekh; Lewis and Clark College

Table of Contents

Ibn Khaldun and Balzac and Trotsky and Father Ayrout and J. C. Scott
List of Tablesp. xiii
Prefacep. xvii
Part I The Peasants' Socioeconomic Conditionsp. 3
Chapter 1 The Role of Demographicsp. 5
Chapter 2 Differentiationsp. 10
The "Peasant-gardeners" and the "Agricultural Peasants"p. 10
The Pacific Peasants and the Peasants of Warrior Originp. 12
The "Orthodox" and the "Heterodox" Peasantsp. 13
The Clanless and Clan-linked Peasantsp. 22
The Landed and Landless Peasants, the Traditional Urban Landowners, and the Modern Mustathmirsp. 29
Chapter 3 Living Conditionsp. 38
The Distribution of Agricultural Income prior to and since the Restructuring of Agrarian Relationsp. 38
The Lessening Cost of Agricultural Creditp. 53
The Reduced Tax Burdenp. 59
The Rapid Electrification of the Countrysidep. 63
The Spread of Safe Water Networksp. 66
The Expansion of Rural Health Carep. 66
The Development of the Means of Communication and Conveyancep. 69
The Intensification of the State's Educational Effortsp. 71
Chapter 4 Economic Efficiencyp. 75
Land Usep. 75
The Agricultural Growth Trends and Related Causal Factorsp. 81
Possible Lines of Future Progressp. 91
Part II The Pre-Ba'th Patterns of Peasant Consciousness, Organization, and Political Behaviorp. 93
Chapter 5 Introduction: Portraits of Peasantsp. 95
Chapter 6 The First Peasant Organizations or the Corporations of Peasant-gardeners from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Centuryp. 98
Chapter 7 Sufism among the Peasants: A Source of Political Quietism?p. 103
Chapter 8 The Proneness in Ottoman and Mandate Times of the Peasant Mountaineers to Rebellion and of the Peasants of the Open Plains to Indirect Methods of Defensep. 109
Chapter 9 The Communists and the Peasantsp. 118
Chapter 10 The Arab Socialists, or the First Agrarian Party in Syria's Historyp. 124
Part III The Rural and Peasant Aspects of Ba'thismp. 131
Chapter 11 The Old Ba'th and the Political Rearing of a Rural Intelligentsiap. 133
Chapter 12 The "Transitional" Ba'th or the Ba'th of the 1960s, the Rise of the Lesser Rural or Village Notability, and the Ruralization of the Army, the Party, and, to Some Degree, the State Bureaucracyp. 144
The Social Origins of the Members of the Military Committeep. 145
The Causal Factors behind the Ascent of the Lesser Rural or Village Notabilityp. 155
The Stepped-up Ruralization of the Armed Forcesp. 156
Reasons for the Paramount Influence of the 'Alawi Officersp. 157
The Rural Penetration of the State Bureaucracyp. 160
The Enhanced Rural Coloring of the Ba'th Partyp. 161
The Agrarian Policies of the 1960s and Their Social Meaningp. 162
The Downfall of the Mainstream Ba'thists of the 1960s and Its Causesp. 170
Chapter 13 The Post-1970 Asad-molded, Career-oriented Ba'thp. 176
Qa'id-ul-Masirahp. 176
The General Characteristics and Social Composition of the New Ba'thp. 177
The Reasons Why the Proportion of Peasants in the Party Declined in the 1980s and Rose Subsequentlyp. 188
Part IV Hafiz Al-Asad, or Syria's First Ruler of Peasant Extractionp. 191
Chapter 14 Asad's Background, Early Education, Party Apprenticeship, and First Political Battlep. 193
Chapter 15 Asad's Military Career and Military Qualifications, or the Inferences as to His Generalship Deducible from His Performance in the 1967 and 1973 Wars and during Israel's Invasion of Lebanonp. 198
Chapter 16 The Varied Aspects of Power in Asad's Statep. 204
A Few Preliminary General Observations on "Democratic" Rhetoric and the Realities of Lifep. 204
Asad's Public and Private Views of the Power of Men in the Mass and Their Aptitude for Politicsp. 205
The Four Levels of Asad's Power Structure and Their Basic Characteristicsp. 206
Chapter 17 Focusing for a While on the More Subtle Forms of Powerp. 208
Chapter 18 The Organization of Power at the Second Tier of Asad's Polity and Its Partaking, among Other Features, of a Basic Trait of Peasant Lifep. 217
The Elemental Instinct for Family and Clan and Its Impactp. 217
The Lesser Rural Notability and the Inner Core of the Regime's Leadershipp. 225
Is Asad's Regime Sectarian?p. 226
The Abuse of Authority in High Places and Its Prime Symbolp. 230
The "Succession Crisis"p. 232
New Tensionsp. 237
A Word on the Security and Intelligence Networks and Their Key Figuresp. 238
Chapter 19 A Glance at the Third Level of Power or at the Composition of the Upper Elite of the Ba'th Party (1970-1997)p. 244
Chapter 20 Shifting the Focus to the Fourth Level of Power, or an Analysis, by Way of Illustration, of the Role of the Peasants' General Union, the Party's Principal Ancillary Mass Organizationp. 251
Chapter 21 A Closer View of the Summit of Power, or Asad's Personality as a Factor in the Maintenance of His Rule and the Thwarting of His Opponentsp. 256
Chapter 22 Of the Manner in Which Asad Dealt with the Muslim Brethren and their Militants, and the Light It Throws on the Methods by Which He Holds Swayp. 260
Coping with the Muslim Brethren by Propitiating the 'Ulama' and How the 'Ulama' Respondedp. 260
Benefiting from the Divisions within the Brotherhoodp. 262
Encouraging the Quietism of the Brotherhood's "Damascus Faction"?p. 265
Facing the Militants' Violent Blows and Their Large-scale Armed Rebellions, or the Gravest Internal Challenge to His Regimep. 266
Using Force at First Guardedly and Differentiating between the Militants, Leaving Open a Line of Retreat for "the Misled" among Themp. 270
Feeling out the Country's Temperp. 271
Altering the Sectarian Composition of the Ba'th Command and Placing in High-Profile Posts More Sunnis from Families of High Religious Statusp. 271
Linking the Irreconcilable Militants to the C.I.A. and Taking the Problem by the Horns and Going the Limitp. 272
Frustrating the Muslim Brethren in Exilep. 275
More Firmly in the Saddle than Everp. 277
Chapter 23 Asad's Main Concepts at the Level of Regional Politics: Ends or Instruments?p. 279
Asad and Pan-Arabismp. 279
Asad and the Iraq-Iran Warp. 283
The Conflict with Israel and the Concept of Strategic Parityp. 285
Chapter 24 An In-depth Study of Asad's Relations with Fath and the P.L.O. from 1966 to 1997 and the Light It Sheds on His Aims and Techniquesp. 287
The First Spell of Fath-Ba'th Cooperationp. 287
"The Affair of Yusuf'Urabi"p. 288
From the 1967 Arab Defeat to the Jordanian Crisis of 1970-1971p. 289
The Twists and Turns prior to and during the 1975-1976 Lebanese Civil Conflict and the Slide from Latent Enmity into Open Warp. 292
An Interlude of Apparent Harmonyp. 300
The 1982 Israeli Invasion of Lebanon and the Virtual Abandonment of the Palestinian Resistance to Its Fatep. 302
The Rupture of Relations and the Battle of Tripolip. 303
'Arafat Springs Surprisesp. 307
The 'Arafat-King Husayn 1985 Initiativep. 308
The Reemergence of Fath in Lebanon's Military Equation, the Alleged "Assurances" to Israel, and the "War of the Camps" of 1985-1988p. 309
The Intifadah, the Tenuous 1988 Agreement, and the Continued Divergence of Policiesp. 312
Turning a New Page?p. 315
'Arafat Goes His Own Wayp. 315
Pulling Together Againp. 318
Some Conclusionsp. 320
Chapter 25 Epiloguep. 323
Appendix Members of the Syrian Ba'th Party (Regional) Commands, 1963-1997p. 331
Notesp. 355
Select Bibliographyp. 391
Index I Subjectsp. 405
Index II Personal Namesp. 409
Index III Names of Families and Tribesp. 414