An Introduction to the Principles and History of “Baathism” in the Arab World – Highlights


An Arab nation with an eternal message.

This slogan is an expression of Baathism and an abbreviation of its principles[1]. Baathism is simply the ideology of the Baath party. Ideology can be defined as “a group of common ideas of a group of people that seem to them natural, real and an essential component of the reality of the world”. [2]. The Ba’ath Party, the full-fledged Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, or the Ennahda Arab Socialist Party, is an Arab political party that supports the formation of a single Arab socialist state. It has branches in many Middle Eastern countries and was the ruling party in Syria from 1963 and in Iraq from 1968 to 2003.

The party was founded in the 40s of the last century 1943 in Damascus by Michel Aflaq (a Syrian Christian) and Salah al-Din al-Bitar (a Sunni Muslim citizen) [3]. Zaki Al-Arsuzi (Alawi) first used the term Arab Baathism for his followers, but never joined the official party.

From the foregoing, it is possible to define Baathism or “Ennahda” as the set of common ideas and principles on which the Baath Arab Socialist Party was founded.

Principles of Baathism

Baathism is based on three fundamental principles. The first principle is the political, economic and cultural unity of the Arab nation and the confinement of the Arab world to the Arabs alone, with their right to dispose exclusively of its business and wealth. While the second principle establishes the freedom of the individual, whether with his convictions, speech or freedom of assembly, as well as the freedom of art and culture, and added that these freedoms are sacred and untouchable. The third principle stated that humanity is the basis of Baathism and the need to lend a hand to all other nations, as well as anti-colonialism and help all countries to achieve their independence, as well as the principles of Baathism they stipulated that socialism was taken as a way to unify that nation.

Therefore, the slogan and creed of Baathism were “unity, freedom, socialism”. Unity refers to Arab unity. While the word freedom refers to liberation from non-Arab states, especially Western interests, socialism is a reference to Arab socialism. Hence, Baathism is a mixture of Arabism, Arab socialism, nationalism and militarism. Consequently, the purpose of Baathism is to form a single secular Arab socialist state. [4]

Michel Aflaq and the first bricks of Baathism

The first constituent elements of Baathism were the emergence of ideas of nationalist movements which emphasized the rejection of the national divisions that were in the process of forming. Many thinkers, including the national thinker “Zaki Al-Arsuzi”, have worked to integrate the Alevi mystical and spiritual heritage with modern nationalist ideas and theories of German philosophical origin in particular, and his views have been influenced by a number of important European philosophical and political figures, including “George Hegel” and “Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Osvald Spengler, Kant and Descartes. [5]

Al-Arsuzi’s concept of Baathism was the will to achieve the rebirth of the Arab nation, its return to history and civil action, so that the return is accompanied and achieved through the achievement of the unity of the Arab nation and the emergence of a unified national home [6]. In his ideas, he differentiated between Arab nationalism and Marxism and placed a clear dividing line between them, stating that although Marxism requires materialism and universality, Arab nationalism or Arab socialism derives from idealism, religious and human aspects. and, unlike Western socialism, its only concern is the human side. Deny private property and seek equality and justice on the basis of the common destiny of the Arab nation threatened by imperialism. [7]

But due to Arsouzi’s stormy personality and his criticisms of the “Rashid Ali al-Gilani” coup as a failed coup, and after the French Vichy authorities expelled him from Syria in 1941, direct influence Arsouzi’s in Arab politics collapsed, and his students around him broke up and joined Aflaq, who was in favor of the coup. During his exile he always repeated that his disciples betrayed him and sold his principles. [8]

Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar laid the first bricks of Baathism. They were drawn to the ideologies that revolve around Europe and tried to combine Arab nationalism, Marxism and German theories of the ideal identity of blood and soil that prevailed among the Nazis at the time, and laid the foundations and principles of Baathism. Which can be summed up in the unity and freedom of the Arab nation [9].

Baathism – as Aflaq and Bitar developed it – was a central left Arab ideology that presented itself on the basis that it represented “the Arab spirit against material communism” and “Arab history against dead reaction”. [10]. Aflaq had a positive view of the policies of the Non-Aligned Movement led by Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Tito, and historically opposed membership in the American-led Western Bloc or the Soviet Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. [11].

Aflaq also supported Satih Al-Hosari’s view that language was the main defining factor for the Arab nation, because language led to unity of thought, norms and ideals. Since this renaissance can only be achieved by unifying the Arab state, it will change the Arab world politically, economically, intellectually and morally. [12]. Aflaq also believes that young people are the key to a successful revolution: young people were open to change and enlightenment because they were not indoctrinated by other opinions.

According to Aflaq, the main problem was the disappointment of Arab youth, as delusion led to individualism and individualism was not a healthy sign in a backward country, unlike in developed countries. [13]

Apply the principles of Baathism

Ba’athism has developed a plan to implement its principles on the ground, and that plan is summarized in:

1. Building a state of unity based on Islamic principles and addressing Arab fragmentation, in order to deal with colonial blocs and the Zionist entity, despite its belief that Arab unity in the light of the political, economic and social conditions of the world Arabic is not possible
[14]. The Baathists did not recognize the existing Arab countries, but considered them a manifestation of division and fragmentation, so they took the initiative to establish a series of party branches in Damascus, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Tunisia, in order to build a single Arab nation.

2. Building freedom and establishing democracy, as political freedom is the highest fundamental goal of Baathism. The Ba’ath Constitution promulgated in 1947 provided for freedom of speech, assembly and belief, as well as freedom for citizens in his country. Among these freedoms are their beliefs and the choice of their representatives in power. [15]Therefore, the Baathists confiscated and nationalized the lands and factories of the big owners and gave the peasants the right to benefit from those riches, then bought the agricultural crops from the peasants at great cost and founded and expanded schools and universities. [16]

3. The liberation of Arabs from dependence, in particular from economic dependence, by building a productive and non-consumer nation, by excluding the clans and by building a democracy far from it, as well as by adopting the pluralism of parties to build a solid democratic environment. And finally, trying to achieve development under socialism by establishing social justice, equality and equal opportunity [17]It rejected imperialism and secularism and ignored class divisions. [18]

However, the application of Baathist principles on the ground was completely opposite to all it required, due to the challenges they faced on the ground. Despite the Baathist’s appeal to union and neglecting lateral personal differences, the Baathists themselves were the first to violate this principle, as they carried out more than one coup within the same party and excluded its founders. [19]

Likewise, Baathism was unable to unify the different Arab countries, due to the internal divisions between these countries and the struggle between the interest of the Arab nation and the interest of the homeland, so the nation state prevailed of facing its principles. [20]

The Baathists have confiscated freedom of expression, dissolved parties, confiscated newspapers, banned demonstrations and suppressed any new forces that could threaten Baathism. [21]Thus, countries implementing Baathism have become repressive police states that care for the tribes and sects that support them at the expense of citizens, and political prisons were the hallmarks of the Baathist era in the Arab world.

Finally, despite adopting a policy of non-alignment, anti-imperialism and colonialism, Baathism effectively formed an alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and was a highly centralized and authoritarian government. [22]

Opinion articles and blogs do not necessarily express the opinion of the editors.


  1. Saeed bin Nasser Al-Ghamdi, The Baath Party, Its History and Beliefs, 2002, p. 12.
  2. Paul Long and Tim Waal, Media Studies: The Power of the Media, translated by: Hoda Omar Abdel Rahim and Nermin Adel Abdel Rahman, Arab Group for Training and Publishing, 2017, p.73.
  3. John anderw. The Economist book of ISMS. Profile books. 2010. p 99.
  4. Robbert M Kerr. Syrian Civil War the essential reference guide. ABC-CLIO. 2020. p5.
  5. Youssef M. Choueiri. A historic nation and a state in the Arab world: Arab nationalism. Wiley, 2001.p144.
  6. Fayez Alamuddin Al-Qais, The Arab Socialist Baath Party in Lebanon, Dar Al-Farabi, Lebanon, 2017, p.14.
  7. Translated Hiroyuki Aoyama, Wafiq Khansa and Maher al-Charif. Spiritual Father of the Ba’th – The ideological and political significance of Zaki al-Arsuzi in Arab nationalist movements. Revised by Mujab al-Imam and Malek Salman. Institute of Developing Economies .Jetro. 2000. Chapter 3. p112.
  8. Michael Curtis. People and politics in the Middle East: the Arab-Israeli conflict: its background and prognosis for peace. Transaction Publishers, 1971. p139.
  9. Raymond Henbosch, The Formation of the Totalitarian State in Baath Syria, translated by Hazem Nahar. House of Riad Najeeb Al Rayes. London. 2014, page 225.
  10. Devlin, John F. The Ba’th Party: A History from its Origins to 1966. Hoover Institution Press.1975. 2nd edition. p22.
  11. Ginat, Rami. Syria and the doctrine of Arab neutralism: from independence to dependence. Sussex Academic Press. 2010. p120.
  12. Salem, Paul. Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World. Syracuse University Press. 1994. p61.
  13. Salem, Paul. Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World. Syracuse University Press. 1994. p64.
  14. For more details, see the Arab National Action Handbook, presented by the National Command of the Socialist Baath Party on April 7, 2010. pp. 130-160.
  15. The previous reference.
  16. Raymond Henbosch, The Formation of the Totalitarian State in Syria Baath, translated by Hazem Nahar. House of Riad Najeeb Al Rayes. London. 2014, page 225.
  17. For more details, see the Arab National Action Handbook, presented by the National Command of the Socialist Baath Party on April 7, 2010.
  18. The Economist book of ISMS. John Anderw. Profile books. 2010. p99.
  19. Foaud Ajami. The Syrian rebellion. Hoover Press. 2013. p190.
  20. Raymond Henbosch, Formation of the Totalitarian State in Baath Syria, translated by Hazem Nahar, Dar Riad Najib Al-Rayyes, London, 2014, p. 225.
  21. The previous source, p. 224.
  22. The Economist book of ISMS. John Anderw. Profile books. 2010. p99.

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