Hafiz al-Asad marched into the Palace of the People in Damascus on the evening of January 6, 1985 to convene the eighth regional congress of the Baath Party. The standing ovation which greeted his entrance was immediately broadcast to the most remote corners of Syria by a platoon of television cameras. These cameras carefully framed the president against a backdrop of gigantic wall banners which proclaimed him “leader of the struggle, champion of steadfastness and confrontation.” Such scenes tempted some observers to dismiss the congress as chiefly an occasion for promoting the president’s image, or at best as “a mere safety valve through which the party faithful could let off steam about such matters as bureaucratic incompetence and the poor quality of rice imported from North Korea.” [1]

The 771 congress delegates knew better. They could read between the lines of formal communiqués. The most prominent of these delegates were members of Asad’s inner circle, or jama‘a, Syria’s real political elite. The rest were professional cadres, recruited from the party’s main constituencies: the army and security services, the professions and universities, the rural middle class, with a leavening of real workers and peasants.

The delegates deliberated for 14 days, doing their most important work in small committees, behind closed doors and with little press coverage. Their most visible act was to elect those who would serve in the party’s highest organs, the Central Committee and the Regional Command. These elections were controlled, and left the membership of both generally intact. The delegates did not expect the congress to function democratically. It is the arena in which two critical (if unequal) forces — the Asad regime and local party cadres — interact to shape national policy. It is a key moment in the process by which Syria is ruled. The agenda of the congress was defined at a December 1984 meeting of the Central Committee. Once the congress was underway, this elite supervised the course and content of debate, precluding any real criticism of the regime. Most importantly, Asad’s inner circle ensured renewal of its own power by controlling nominations of candidates for the Central Committee and the Regional Command.

Twenty-two years in power have changed the Baath from a revolutionary movement into a virtual appendage of the state. But this transformation did not destroy the party’s influence. The Regional Command is the executive core of the Syrian Baath: 21 senior cadres led by the president, responsible not only for the various divisions of the party but for supervising the Syrian government itself. The Central Committee is a looser body which meets irregularly; it was created at the seventh regional congress to provide a forum for quick consultations between the Regional Command and representatives of local party bodies. Along with the army and the bureaucracy, it remains one of the foundations of the Asad regime. The party manages the influential popular organizations, including unions, youth groups and peasant leagues. It patrols the schools and public media, supplying the language of official political discourse. Its command of cadres, money and public offices makes it a potent source of patronage.

The president and his intimates generally decide how the powers of the Baath are wielded, but they still must be responsive to the rank and file who generate those powers. Since Asad’s 1970 coup, party congresses have given the rank and file a chance to voice opinions and minor complaints, to appear to offer “advice and consent” on national issues, and to seek recompense for their continuing loyalty. It permits the regime to gauge its support within the party, to air new ideas and initiatives, and to renew fealty. Most importantly, the regime encourages congress delegates to debate select issues in economics and domestic politics as a way of testing the popularity and feasibility of its options. Once the delegates have shown a majority preference, the regime steps in to close debate, enforce consensus and implement the designated policy.

The importance of these functions was particularly obvious at the seventh regional congress, held in January 1980. At that time, party cadres had to close ranks and devise a strategy for confronting an escalating insurrection by the Muslim Brothers. They were invited to reexamine and revise the Fourth Five-Year Plan for Social and Economic Development, and they redirected its expenditures in a bid for wider peasant support. They tried to contain, or at least camouflage, the rampant abuse of patronage which had fueled popular hostility against the regime and party. Although Asad’s intimates kept control throughout, debate was loud, radical and deadly serious.

Memories of the seventh congress haunted delegates to the eighth. On the surface, both congresses were devoted to the same issues: economic policy and political corruption. These issues reasserted themselves because changed circumstances made those earlier decisions obsolete. The task of the eighth party congress was to revise old policies to take advantage of new opportunities.

At the time of the seventh congress, the Syrian regime had been isolated, despised, and besieged. Syria’s 1976 intervention in Lebanon, unpopular at home and throughout the Arab world, seemed to have accomplished nothing. The sight of Syrian troops killed and harassed in the Lebanese “Vietnam,” combined with complaints about corruption and sluggish economic growth, fueled political dissent. In 1979, the Muslim Brothers escalated their opposition, switching from an assassination campaign directed at senior Baathists to full-scale urban guerrilla warfare. Asad’s reply was brutal and direct: mass arrests, commando battalions turned loose in the heart of Syrian cities, systematic liquidation of the regime’s opponents. The cycle of violence between the regime and the Brothers erupted into a real civil war, culminating in the massacres at Hama in February 1982.

But by 1985, Syrians had to weigh the regime’s cruel record against its unmistakable victory in the civil war, its subversion of Israeli influence in Lebanon, and its steadily growing regional and international role. The regime’s improved position was ratified by two events which occurred during and after the congress. On January 14, the Israeli cabinet announced its intention to evacuate Lebanon unilaterally. Syrians saw this as a victory for Asad, who had insisted (often over the objections of other Arab states) that Israel must derive no lasting political or strategic benefit from its 1982 invasion. Then, on January 25, ‘Adnan ‘Uqla and his followers, the sole surviving military elements of the Muslim Brothers, accepted a government amnesty. Although several prominent critics of the regime, both Islamic and leftist, remain abroad, ‘Uqla’s surrender signaled the apparent end of active, organized political opposition within Syria.

Foreign Policy and the Military

The congress opened with a long address by President Asad devoted mainly to foreign affairs. He spelled out Syria’s policies toward Palestinian autonomy, Arab unity and socialist solidarity with a precision that left little room for debate. [2] In the following days, when the Central Committee presented a detailed report on this subject, there was no dissent and little serious discussion. Instead, the regime’s stance was simply rubber-stamped according to the traditional ritual: One delegate after the other took the podium to glory in Syria’s “eternal mission” and to praise the achievements of “the champion leader.”

In the galleries of the congress, meetings between Asad and observer delegations did indicate some current tendencies in foreign policy. The president entertained George Habash of the Popular Front and Khalid Fahoum of the Palestine National Council. He hosted a number of Lebanese notables, including Mahdi Shams al-Din of the Supreme Shi‘i Council, Walid Jumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party, and Nabih Birri of the largest Shi‘i militia, Amal. Birri starred in one of the few dramas at the congress. Whenever Libyan Vice Premier ‘Abd al- Salam Jalloud entered the room, Birri walked out. (Birri and Lebanon’s Shi‘a hold Libya responsible for the 1978 disappearance of Imam Musa Sadr.) An angry Jalloud later complained to Asad that the Syrians should demand greater respect of their clients. Asad’s reply was curt and unsympathetic: Libya should come clean and admit whatever it knew of the imam’s fate. This remark cooled relations with Tripoli — but it won valuable friends in Beirut. [3]

Foreign affairs indirectly shaped the entire agenda and tone of the congress. More than anything else, Syria’s growing regional influence (and the price paid for it) set the mood of the delegates. The ritual approval of foreign policy was far less contrived, and was filled with more genuine enthusiasm, than in the past. Five years ago, the regime’s occupation of Lebanon and rough treatment of the PLO were widely resented. Today, the regime’s strategy in foreign affairs has proven so successful that even members of the opposition rarely advocate major changes.

Asad has repeatedly triumphed by careful manipulation of the Lebanese crisis. During the 1982 invasion, Syrian commandos showed they could bloody the Israelis — at ‘Ayn Zahalta, at Sultan Ya‘qub and in the siege of Beirut. [4] In the contest that followed, Asad showed he could deny the Israelis’ political victory and, by demolishing the Lebanese-Israeli peace treaty, humiliate the United States. Steady pressure forced Israel to retreat unilaterally, and left Lebanon a virtual Syrian fief. Now rival Lebanese militias turn to Damascus for charters, arms, and guidance.

Growing influence in Lebanon has enabled the Syrians to ward off the threat they fear most: permanent exclusion from the peace process. They saw the Americans ready to press for a Jordanian-Israeli settlement on the heels of the Lebanon-Israeli accord; with three of its borders thereby protected, Israel would have no incentive to negotiate with Syria over the Golan. To obstruct Jordan’s flirtation with the Reagan plan, the Syrians took the risk of intervening in PLO internal disputes. They sponsored Abu Musa’s rebellion within Fatah and drafted an alliance with Habash’s Popular Front. These allies then joined with Syrian-controlled Palestinian movements (Sa‘iqa and Jibril’s PFLP-General Command), to form the anti-Arafat National Salvation Front, representing the best-armed elements of the Palestinian resistance.

Syria’s veto over the Israeli-US agenda is only part of its growing regional influence. Turkey, whose claim on Euphrates water is disputed by Syria, recently discovered that both the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Armenian Secret Liberation Army have moved their headquarters to Damascus. The Syrian capital also shelters and supports opponents of the rival Baathist regime in Iraq, particularly the Shi‘i underground, al-Da‘wa and the Communists. Syria’s campaign against Saddam Hussein is further reinforced by its alliance with Iran. Iran supports Asad’s policies in the Gulf and Lebanon and has become Syria’s major trade partner, supplying subsidized oil in exchange for textiles. [5]

The demonstrable success of his plans has allowed Asad to woo Syrians to share a vision of their regional interests for the first time in modern history. All the regime’s resources are committed to a single comprehensive strategy. In the short term, Syria will continue to disrupt any negotiations which exclude the Golan Heights. Asad and his advisers are convinced that the United States and Israel seek to lock Syria out of any settlement, confining agreements to Jordan or Lebanon, who have little leverage and whose territorial demands are easier to assuage.

In the long term, Syria will expand its military and seek “strategic parity” with Israel. The object of strategic parity is not to win wars against Israel; rather, it is to deter Israeli attacks by making them ever more expensive. As Syria becomes more defensible and attains a veto over negotiations, it can increase pressure on Israel to return the Golan, accept joint security arrangements, and resolve the Palestinian question. A decade ago, most Syrians would have scoffed at such ambitious designs; Asad has lent them the force of conviction.

The success of this strategy depends upon two resources: political cunning and coercive power. Asad has tried to supply the former, and he asked the party congress to help deliver the latter.

Syria now fields a military machine of 394,000 men, equipped with more heavy weaponry than England or France. [6] During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, many Syrian units proved a match for their adversaries. Since the war, the Syrians have acquired a new generation of battlefield communications and intelligence equipment, an impressive array of surface-to-surface missiles (including brand new SS-21s), and the best integrated air defense network outside of the Soviet Union. This expansion continues. With seven full divisions ready for action, Syria can bear the risk of antagonizing many of her neighbors simultaneously.

But influence on this scale is expensive. Since 1978, military spending has never drawn less than 50 percent of Syria’s current accounts. In 1984 alone, defense consumed $3.2 billion, or 33 percent, of the total budget. This did not include a wide array of “supplemental” or unannounced military appropriations. [7] Syria’s estimated gross national product in 1982 was only $16,960 million, with modest hard-currency revenue from cotton and phosphate exports. Thus, large military appropriations drain sweat and blood from the Syrian economy and society. Aid from the oil-rich Gulf states, once a major source of military finance, has declined steadily since Syria aligned with Iran. The Soviet Union helped to rebuild Syria’s defenses in 1983 with large and unusually easy credits, but this temporary assistance will have to be repaid — in hard currency — shortly.

By approving a continual military buildup, the congress made sobering work for itself. Major changes had to be made in the pattern of public investment. Delegates had to take a cold look at development plans, deciding where to make cuts, what projects to postpone, how to adjust. To buy more bullets, the Syrians had to bite one.

Economics and Liberalization

Even before the congress convened, it was clear that it would have to grapple with some painful economic issues. The party Central Committee had already drafted a report stressing the need to “strengthen economic infrastructure, promote productivity and modernize agriculture.” It was hardly necessary to remind delegates that, although the pressing hardships of the late 1970s (such as spot shortages of bread and construction materials) had eased, the economy was still sluggish. Real GDP growth slumped after peaking at 6.9 percent in 1982. Gross mismanagement was probably responsible for declining output of certain public sector firms, particularly in paper and textiles. Constant critical shortages of foreign exchange (government holdings had dropped to $84 million by the end of 1983) accompanied a swelling balance of payments deficit.

The delegates had to find some way to revive economic growth, although tampering with the level of military spending was off limits. The approach they adopted was to accentuate the turn to the right in economic policy begun in 1968.

The congress did not alter the fundamental direction of Syrian development. It recommended no changes in the strategy of increasing agricultural productivity as a way of providing low-cost inputs for the expansion of light industry (textiles and processed foods, for instance). It renewed investment for completion of the Tabqa Dam scheme, improvement of farm technology and the extension of rural services (especially electricity, hygiene and credit facilities). Not only have these programs proven economically rational, leading to increases in crucial crops like cotton and sugar beets; they are politically effective. The loyalty of the rural population, pleased by the steady growth of state services and supports, was decisive in the Baath’s victory over the Muslim Brothers.

Instead, the congress focused on changes in the curious balance of private and public mechanisms through which Syria implements its development policies. Officially the state controls foreign trade and the “commanding heights” of industry, but it has long tolerated private entrepreneurs who facilitate its foreign purchases, supplement investment in light industry, and dominate the real estate and construction markets. In agriculture, this mixed economy functions reasonably well: Private farmers own the land and organize the labor, while the government supplies seed and credit in exchange for a share of the yield. But in other fields this mixture is less harmonious; it often leads to bottlenecks, redundancies and uncertainty. Partisans of the public sector complain of competition from private firms for markets and hard currency. They want Syria to remain what it is de jure: a capitalist society on the road to socialism. One delegate to the congress pointed to the paradox: Private businessmen — who have many sympathizers within the party — complain of bureaucratic interference which reduces their profits and efficiency. They want Syria to admit what it has become de facto: a “socialist” society on the road to capitalism.

Before the congress, there were indications of growing support for a reassertion of state control over the private sector. The Soviets, according to rumors, were insisting on a greater share of Syria’s trade as a quid pro quo for their military assistance. This would have required a return to tighter import/export regulations, after a decade of gradual relaxation. There were also suggestions that public sector efficiency could be increased through a revival of the Higher Economic Council. This was a small body of senior technocrats under Asad’s personal supervision who had centralized economic decision making in the early 1970s. But all motions in this direction provoked strong opposition within the congress, and delegates grappled with this divisive issue for a full week. Some asserted that centralization would deprive the regime of allies among the commercial bourgeoisie and the influential rural middle class (whom Syrians now refer to as “kulaks”). Others observed that even the party leaders smoke Marlboros, though they are officially blacklisted. The professional economists raised the most serious objections: to accommodate expanded military funding, they anticipated a continuation of the austerity budgets in force since 1980. Commodity subsidies and development investments would both have to be further curtailed. Under these conditions, the government could not afford to gamble on the traditionally sluggish public sector. Instead, the majority preferred to give private entrepreneurs the opportunity to compensate for the decline of state investment.

The congress’s final communiqué, issued on January 22, opened with the assertion that Syria’s two overriding objectives must be “continued work to realize strategic parity in all its dimensions — economic, military and cultural — and the construction of a solid national economy.” [8] It concluded with sharp criticism of the public sector’s paltry performance and a call for stronger incentives for private investment. It promised a series of economic reforms designed to strengthen the operation of market forces. Exchange rates were immediately revised to encourage exports, and the ministry of economy announced new regulations making it easier for private traders to obtain letters of credit.

Two months later, the cabinet was restructured to reflect the new economic priorities. [9] The ministers for services and economic affairs, Walid Hamdoun and ‘Abd al-Qadir Qaddoura, were promoted to the party’s Regional Command. Muhammad ‘Imadi, leading architect of the economic liberalization of the early 1970s, was reappointed Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade after a long hiatus. Also in April, the new deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Salim Yasin, announced a campaign to attract higher levels of foreign investment.

It would be premature to claim the eighth congress has launched a full-scale wave of economic liberalization. At least for the next few years, private business will be given greater opportunity to lead economic growth, and to be held accountable for its shortcomings. But just how far reliance can be shifted onto the private sector depends partly upon the evolution of the second major issue before the congress: “corruption.”

Corruption and Patronage

Theft of public property, bribery, graft, smuggling and nepotism are commonplace in Syria. In fact, these practices are so deeply rooted that, while they are all illegal, many are no longer strictly corrupt. Rather, they have become an accepted, even necessary, part of the conduct of government under the Asad regime. This made the role of the party congress especially delicate: It had to execute measures which would ease the burden of corruption without damaging those “informal practices” which have become integral to the political order.

For example, perhaps as much as 70 percent of annual imports, $1.0 to 1.5 billion worth of goods, are smuggled in from Lebanon. Thousands of tons of cement, petrol, sugar and other goods which are sold to the Syrian public at subsidized prices are then secreted into Jordan and Lebanon, where their market price is higher. Public sector managers, frustrated by the lethargy of official channels, resort to private agents who procure foreign currency, expedite foreign contracts or facilitate local marketing. Conversely, businessmen regularly pay officials for exemption from import-export regulations, waived licensing requirements and priority access to public tenders. Any reasonably sized firm needs a “sponsor” in the political structure to perform these services.

Many of these practices are not only routine; they are unofficially sanctioned. The government does not ignore public firms which employ private agents; it encourages them — so long as their annual accounts are in the black. Officials at the Agricultural Bank know that village notables pilfer the funds of rural cooperatives, loaning them to their personal followers and withholding them from rivals. The officials do not interfere — so long as the notables collaborate with the production policies set by the Bank. Even a Damascus bureaucrat who outright pockets public funds may be overlooked — so long as his allegiance to the regime is guaranteed thereby. These practices are tolerated because their economic cost is repaid in political power.

These “abuses” serve a clear purpose: They establish a relationship of political subordination by a more or less explicit act of exchange. They are forms of patronage, in which goods and services are traded for loyalty and obedience. While patronage has always been a feature of Syrian politics, it became more extensive and important after Asad took office. [10] Patronage networks were promoted as an easy means to bind peasants to the party, businessmen to the regime, and officers to the president. Asad’s closest associates — the minister of defense, the secretary-general of the Baath, the speaker of the Popular Assembly — played an active role in this, brokering influence for their leader while augmenting their personal accounts.

The cost of the regime’s patronage has grown over the years. Extensive abuse of patronage helped the Muslim Brothers to build a following, lending credibility to its charge that national resources were being squandered to benefit a privileged “‘Alawi” minority. In 1977, Asad tried to mute this criticism, establishing a “Committee for the Investigation of Illegal Profits” to clean up some of the more obvious abuses. But when the Brothers’ campaign escalated into a full-scale civil war in 1979, Asad reversed strategy and made even more massive use of patronage. The government increased public sector salaries, relaxed restrictions on private business, and doubled subsidies and credits for the peasantry, along with other, similar measures. [11]

These gratuities contributed to the defeat of the Brothers, but they posed a new problem: The cost of patronage continued to rise even though, with the end of the civil war, its value diminished. New clients still flocked to the regime and old clients pressed for increased benefits, even though their allegiance was no longer critical. Moreover, government fraud and favoritism remained unpopular among those citizens — including “idealistic” elements within the Baath — which did not share in patronage.

Asad did not really tackle this problem for three years. A rapid, extensive campaign against the abuse of patronage would have threatened too many people — and too many members of the Regional Command. Patronage was so deeply rooted, it could not be eliminated outright; rather, it had to be pruned, streamlined, and brought back under control. Useful clients had to be taught to expect less; only useless clients could be jettisoned. Asad had to wait for an occasion when the assault on corruption could be opened without alarm, when the regime was not too vulnerable.

Quite unintentionally, Rif‘at al-Asad, the president’s younger brother, delivered this opportunity. Rif‘at was the second most powerful man in Syria: He commanded the elite Defense Detachments, a heavily armed, 50,000-man praetorian guard which stood sentinel over key government offices in Damascus. Believing himself the most natural successor to the presidency, Rif‘at tried to assume executive power when Hafiz al-Asad suffered a heart attack on November 13, 1983. This violation of the president’s instructions, which specified a collegial exercise of power among his inner circle, ignited a nasty power struggle. [12] In February 1984, the succession contest escalated into sporadic shootouts between troops loyal to Rif‘at and units led by rival officers, particularly Gen. Shafiq Fayyad’s Third Armored Division. Public feuding among his intimates angered the president: When Hafiz resumed his duties in May, Rif‘at and Fayyad were detached from their units and sent to cool off on missions to Moscow and Geneva.

While these “angry young men” were absent, Hafiz al-Asad began to dismantle their power bases. When Fayyad reappeared in Damascus in June, he was promptly demoted. The command of his division was completely reorganized and his loyalists were transferred to other units. Rif‘at stayed in his Swiss exile until November, returning home to even more drastic changes. Not only was he relieved of his command and his clients cashiered, but the Defense Detachments themselves were reduced to 10,000 men. Many of Rif‘at’s troops were transferred to regular army units, and his special intelligence apparatus was swallowed up by other agencies.

This shakeup did much more than just check some candidates for the presidential succession; it struck at the apex of the regime’s patronage networks. The Third Division was stationed partly in Lebanon, partly in Syria. Its officers had controlled trade — and smuggling — between the two countries. When its command was reorganized, the government also moved to break this control. Troops staged major raids on border villages through which contraband was channeled, and a number of junior officers caught in flagrante were arrested. This was quickly followed by moves against military profiteering in other units, culminating in the demotion of Gen. Iskandar Salama, who stood accused of illicit trafficking in construction materials. [13]

The derogation of Rif‘at was even more significant. He had been the “kingfish” of Syrian patronage. His power derived not only from the military units he commands, but also from his vast array of civilian clients. He sponsored cliques of nouveau riche businessmen in Damascus and Aleppo. He bankrolled al-Rabita, a highly subsidized fraternity for students and intellectuals. He controlled extensive business interests in Lebanon (everything from East Beirut cement plants to hashish trade in the Bekaa Valley) which he guarded with his personal militia, the Fursan al-‘Arab. And he was not above using his troops and clients to secure even petty favors, from “weekend wives” to nightclub seats. [14]

Rif‘at epitomized corruption for the Syrian public. Despite (or because of) his far-flung influence, and his reputation for brutality, he was the most despised man in the country. He had personally directed some of the worst atrocities of the civil war, including the notorious massacre of prisoners at Tadmour. Even within the party, his arrogance and opportunism had bred many enemies. The regime took advantage of this, using him as an example of how it would tackle that problem.

While Rif‘at was in Geneva, his clients were paralyzed. Their boss was stripped of most of his powers and they lost their protection. When Rif‘at returned to Syria, the value of his clientage was greatly diminished. All that remained of his once impressive titles was his portfolio as “vice president for security affairs” — and this was worse than worthless. It meant that his only official power base was in the army, whose officers generally hated him. When Hafiz al-Asad does leave office, many senior officers will compete for the honor of liquidating Rif‘at.

Rif‘at’s example was pressed home for the rank and file at the eighth party congress where, for the first time in many years, the atmosphere of a purge hung over the delegates. Not only had the principals in the succession struggle lost the regime’s favor; their lower-echelon clients might also become targets. In an effort to secure their positions, many delegates were driven to acts of “self”-confession. The congress heard various speeches on the model of “I confess that so-and-so deceived me into collaborating with his kickback scheme,” or “I should have been much more vigilant in protecting our inventory from theft by so-and-so.” A number of public-sector officials were relieved of their posts after these denunciations; and even those who “came clean” had become more vulnerable, humble and less grasping.

Rif‘at’s closest allies — Ahmad Diyab, Nasr al-Din Nasr and Ilyas al-Lati — lost their seats on the Regional Command. In fact, these were the only members who were not reelected. [15] Rif at’s son-in-law, Mu‘in Nasif, who had been appointed interim commander of the Defense Detachments, was stripped of his command and replaced by a Hafiz al-Asad loyalist, Hikmat Ibrahim.

Rif‘at himself retained his seat on the Regional Command. This probably has little to do with any fraternal affection linking him to the president. In part, Rif‘at remains valuable to the regime because of his connections outside Syria. Not only are his networks in Lebanon intact, but he is the highest-ranking Syrian still enjoying good personal relations with the leaders of Fatah. Furthermore, if the regime simply liquidated Rif‘at, he would lose much of his value as an example. By curtailing his clientage while preserving his official position, the regime is spelling out the bounds of proper behavior for all party cadres, it is saying, in effect, “the graft we once encouraged is no longer acceptable; but if you restrict your abuse of patronage voluntarily, your standing in the party need not suffer.” If enough party members understand “the parable of Rif‘at,” the spread of corruption might be retarded without massive government action: The lower echelons will spontaneously adjust themselves to the new standards of the elite.

It is too soon to judge whether an indirect approach of this kind can really discourage the conversion of patronage into corruption, just as it is too soon to expect limited liberalization to affect economic growth, or strategic parity to force concessions from Israel. These are all subtle, long-term strategies, whose success hinges on a low, steady buildup of pressure rather than any bold stroke. They require, at the very least, a government with sufficient determination and control to mobilize its resources behind policies with few immediate benefits. Regimes with these qualities are not common in the Middle East — but Syria has one. Even its orchestration of the eighth party congress, with such careful attention to the wider foundations of power, demonstrates this.


[1] Economist, March 30, 1985.
[2] The highlights of Asad’s address are available in al-Safir, January 6, 1985.
[3] For the past year, the Syrians have been trying to improve relations with Birri and Amal, even at the expense of souring relations with older allies, especially Husayn Musawi of Islamic Amal and Sheikh Fadlallah’s powerful Hizballah movement. This had led to tensions with the Iranian government, which prefers Hizballah to Amal.
[4] Popular news accounts focused on the destruction of Syria’s air force, and not on the tenacity of its infantry; but 70 percent of all of Israel’s invasion casualties came during the six days of battle with the Syrians. See Richard Gabriel, Operation Peace for Galilee (New York: Hill and Wang, 1984), p. 182.
[5] Middle East Economic Digest, January 4, 1985.
[6] Aharon Yariv, ed., The Middle East Military Balance, 1984 (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, 1985).
[7] Middle East Economic Digest, June 8, 1984.
[8] See al-Nahar, January 22, 1985.
[9] In February and March, the Syrian government was preoccupied with staging presidential elections (Asad won) and reconstituting the Popular Assembly.
[10] For a detailed discussion of Asad’s use of patronage, see Yahya Sadowski, “Baathist Ethics and the Spirit of State Capitalism: Patronage and Party in Contemporary Syria,” in Peter Cielkowski and Stanley Reed III, eds., Power and Ideology in the Middle East (New York: Praeger, forthcoming).
[11] For a description of these “emergency measures” — many of which have become permanent — see Eric Rouleau, “La Syrie, ou le miroir aux alouettes: le Club d’Alep” and “La Syrie, ou le miroir aux alouettes: le Palais de Peuple,” Le Monde, June 29 and 30, 1984.
[12] The best available analysis of this struggle is Alasdair Drysdale, “The Succession Question in Syria,” Middle East Journal 39 (Spring 1985).
[13] The Middle East, September 1984; and Le Monde, August 14, 1984.
[14] For an overview of Rif‘at’s networks, see Stanley Reed, “Dateline Syria: Fin de Regime?” Foreign Policy 39 (Summer 1980).
[15] There were two other changes in the constitution of the Command: Ahmad Iskandar Ahmad died before the congress and had to be replaced; and Mahmoud Ayyoubi, suffering from terminal cancer, declined to seek reelection.

How to cite this article:

Yahya Sadowski "Cadres, Guns and Money," Middle East Report 134 (July/ August 1985).

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