Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the first Arab popular overthrow of a dictator: the fall of Gen. Shishakli

Comrade Khaled B. (not to be confused with comrade Khalid Saghiyyah, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar) wrote this in response to Kamal's response to his comment about Shishakly and his demise:  "Apropos the contribution of Comrade Kamal:
I really do not want to make the matter of the collapse of Adeeb Al-Shishakli's regime one of Syrian regional squabble. I certainly appreciate and do not wish to disturb the sensitivities, particularly the attachment of some in Hama, his birthplace, to him. I am aware that
it remains somewhat alive to this very day. I had the opportunity to understand it from several sources, and in particular with General Shishakli's son, who was visibly pained and saddened by the entire episode in Cardiff, Wales, in late 1970, I think. Nor do I have a grudge against Shishakli because he imprisoned my father, then placed my father under house arrest for 18 months, only to pick him again during the demonstrations in Damascus (which I witnessed at the age of 9). Crowds of demonstrators would travel the streets looking for schools and colleges and draw the pupils and students out to join the demonstrations. Obviously I didn't join them, I was too young and was scared with memories of a visit to my father in the Mezza Prison, broken and humbled by having to share a cell with Fuoad Mardam Bey, then accused of being an Israeli agent over a weapon deal.  I recall seeing a short Army Information Film shown in Syria's cinemas after his departure, showing workers destroying the huge prison he built - when probably the Mezza prison was filled up. It was, if I recall, called: سجن الشيخ حسن.  In one demonstration, sometime before his departure, one of the tanks he sent probably went out of control. It squeezed demonstrators to the wall. The son of our farm foreman died and others were injured. I was not allowed to listen to the gory details - most likely so that I don't repeat them outside and cause my father more trouble, as I did in a later occasion!   Shishakli certainly had the support of the Damascus Air Force base
(Mezza), the Artillary (which he commanded during the Palestine war to protect the Lebanese border under the leadership of the Lebanese Commander of the Palestine Rescue Army جيش الإنقاذ, Fawzi al-Qawukji)و and very likely the Armor Corp. It is equally probable that they may have been adequate to stop the army column heading from the North. Shishakli's last message to the Syrian people broadcast after his departure, was issued around 10:00 am on 27th May, 1954, as I now understand. I remember listening to, with my father in bed, following his release late the previous night. It did start with the words: "حقناً
للدماء" which I asked my mother to explain to me. Was he sincere in his wish to 'prevent the bloodshed' or he realized he was simply bankrupt? It is a matter for history, and probably I would, at some stage, delve into that, although not to pursue his condemnation - which many of the bereaved families, and the hundreds of prisoners in the 'model prison' he built it would share. It would be apart of the history of US intervention in Syria and the countries of the Middle East since 1949.  Whether what happened may be considered a coup-d'etat or not, is
something I hoped I left open to question, given that Shishakli had the support of the US and while he did not enjoy the support of Britain. The return of parliamentary democracy to Syria would by no means further the cause of unity with Iraq, which was rejected by most political parties, excepting probably a faction in the People's Party حزب الشعب (to be confirmed).
Shishakli's relations with Britain soured over the disinclination of Britain to provide arms. While he ruled behind President (General) Fawzi Selo, whom he pushed up, Britain total delivery of arms were 4 (four) Meteor fighters - the like of which are probably the ones still flying with the Lebanese Air Force!  He turned to the US, probably not as an agent. The Syrian Army used then 1936 French rifles, and some 1942 Frensh ones! They flew a few scrapped US Harvard planes of the Second World War vintage. Their artillery was
certainly early French pieces with shells hard to come by. If Shishakli curtailed freedom and built a new prison and filled them up by his presumed enemies, and murdered the others (as in the case of Col Nasser) the Syrians were ready to accept and endure, provided he delivered on the Palestine question, period.  The US must have dangled many promises, which it probably knew it will not fulfill, since they would endanger Israel (this early US support of
Israel is the subject of intense work on my part - from Truman to Dulles, as a principal dynamic in US Middle East foreign policy).  He was advised to turn to Egypt, and he visited congratulating the Young Officers on their 1952 Revolution. At the time the US was quite
contented with the Egyptian leadership bent upon throwing Britain out of Egypt. Choosing the US made him unfavorable to Iraq's Nuri Al-Sa'eed.  France never was his orientation, from the outset. One recalls his last words to Husni Al-Za'im, the dictator he overthrew, before he executed him in secret, and announced it sometime after the fact. He told Miles Copeland: "I told him I am giving you the honor of burial as a French agent rather than an US agent. He buried him in the French Cemetery at the south-eastern end of Abu Rumaneh Avenue. Mansour Al-Atrash may have died in the attack on the Druze Mountain or that the Syrian narrative at hand is not accurate (Cf 1, below). Indeed, Al-Atrash clan, at the time, were in communication with King Abdullah of Jordan, with the hearty blessing from Britain, after Shishakli raised their villages. Certainly there no Israeli Wall separating the Syrian
part of Jabal Al-Druze from Jordan, and the King was still entertaining hopes of taking over Syria to make up his Kingdom of Syria. Needless to say the US was in total opposition to that while actively working to replace Britain in the region. Still, the Druze who killed Shishakli returned to the Jabal and was received with celebrations in its villages and towns, and is still,
according to my information, revered amongst them. I think I have somewhere photographs of one such a reception. That is, Shishakli's death was not over a 'gambling debt!' I cannot remember what happened to عبد القادر شحادة, nor track his fate, at the moment. He certainly was close to Shishakli in the Commandary of the Army. حسين حدة , however, remained in active service and was promoted to a full Colonel, and was considered close to the progressive
leadership - B'athist and Communist. I do not know if he was a member of the Army's informal and unofficial 'national front' formed 1956, which eventually led the efforts for unity with Egypt - again as a reflection of massive Syrian popular demands. The closeness of حسين حدة to at least two of the leaders of the 'front' who were instrumental in opposing Shishakli, suggests that he was not simply an accomplice of Shishakli.  It was not my intention to run down Shishakli. I read in memoirs of his fellow officers in the Palestine Rescue Army (جيش الإنتقاذ) what suggests that his essential motives were in his early career not unpatriotic, but soon, due to the illegitimacy of his government that shut down a democratic regime which took control following the fall of  General Husni Al-Za'im, instituted a regime of oppression and terror, which I like to attribute to his failure to achieve the goal he set before the Syrian people: rearming the Syrian Army. His tactic as Chief of Staff of the Syrian Army to manipulate them and dictate his terms on the Prime Ministers, who would resign because they could not meet the 'Army's demands.' Was Shishakli inapt or lacking in political skills? I do not think so. It is the 'Game of Nations' as conducted by the US and struggled against
countered by the peoples of the Middle East! Should he be condemned? Some would be tempted to do so. With all its ills, the parliamentary democratic regime was, at the time, a fertile ground for the growth of progressive ideas. He probably helped, in a negative way, to stoke these ideas which ultimately led to the arms deals with the Soviet Union and the Socialist Country, for which many, many Syrian women stripped themselves of their gold ring and bracelets, and deposited in the Armament Fund on a national Rearmament Week (أسبوع
التسلح), only a couple years later. But, thank you, and I am grateful to Comrade Kamal for his comments. I am trying to write at length about the "Failure of US Foreign Policy in the Middle East." Their messing about in Syria is another example that backfired - and more, hopefully to come, until the conclusive one!"