Country Listing

Syria Table of Contents



Opposition movements to the Syrian government in the 1980s were based on ideological, ethnic, or religious motives. However, because of the interrelationships in Syria between ideology and sectarian questions, distinctions among the reasons for dissent were often blurred.

Ideologically Based Opposition Movements

Although the Syrian government has frequently blamed Iraqi agents for many breaches of internal security, several other groups also were real or potential threats to Syrian political stability. In 1987 Syria's armed forces constituted the greatest potential threat to the regime, if only because they had been the kingmakers in every change of government since 1949. By early 1987, however, Assad had not been seriously challenged by the military in his sixteen years in power. This situation can be attributed to effective intelligence agents within the officer corps and to Assad's genuine popularity with the military. Assad is popular because, like Assad, most of the top army officers have been Alawis. Also, tremendous attention has been devoted to building the armed forces, which are well paid. Nevertheless, amid mounting tensions with Iraq, in 1975 there were reports that 200 military and civilian members of the Syrian Baath Party had been arrested and charged with plotting against the government.

The Syrian Communist Party (SCP), with a membership of about 5,000, was the largest communist organization in Syria. Although banned in 1981 when a campaign of arrests was ordered against supporters of its veteran leader, Secretary General Khalid Bakdash, it was reported in 1986 that as a concession to Syria's Soviet ally, the SCP was restored to favor and had rejoined the ruling National Progressive Front (see The Syrian Communist Party , ch. 4).

Until its banning in the late 1970s, the Communist Party Political Bureau (CPPB) was one of the main ideological opposition groups in Syria. Created in 1974 as a result of a split within the legal SCP, the CPPB provoked the ire of the Assad regime by protesting against Syria's intervention on behalf of the Christian Phalangists in the Lebanese civil war. In 1987 CPPB First Secretary Riad at Turk (imprisoned without trial since October 1980) and about 150 party members continued to be confined in Al Mezze military prison in Damascus. Nevertheless, CPPB remained a threat to the regime and throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s At Turk's sympathizers staged numerous terrorist attacks against Syrian targets. CPPB also published several pamphlets condemning the Baath regime and printed its own newspaper, Ar Rayah al Hamrah (The Red Banner).

In the 1980s there were additional communist groups in Syria, although they were officially banned and many of their members held in detention. These groups included the Party for Communist Action (PCA), with about 100 party members still in detention in 1985. In 1980, the Base Organization was formed by Yusuf Murad, a former member of the SCP Central Committee. The Union for Communist Struggle, formed in May 1980, was another opposition group. Its seven members were arrested and three of them continued to be detained through 1985. In 1983 a communist organization called the "Popular Committees" took root among Syria's Palestinian refugees. In July 1986, a third division occurred within the SCP when Central Committee members Ibrahim Bakri and Umar as Sibai split off over the Palestinian issue and created a new "Central Committee." In mid-1986, as an unknown terrorist group was detonating bombs in public places, the government cracked down on the proliferating and expanding communist opposition movements in Syria and arrested about 1,000 suspected activists.

Data as of April 1987