Syrian Elites and Lebanon

15 July, 2012

Published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in June 2012, Shamsuddin al-Kilani's Transformation of Elites' Attitudes Towards Lebanon (399 pages) is a multi-track account of how the political attitudes of Syria's elites towards the existence of Lebanon developed through the period of the French Mandate up until the Syrian revolution in early 2011. The author discusses a number of formative points of transformation that affected these attitudes, such as the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, the Egyptian revolution of July 1952, the rise of the Syrian Baath Party to power in 1963, and the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in April of 1975. Al-Kilani examines how shifting political and
intellectual trends within Syria impacted the elites' attitudes towards Lebanon over the course of 90 years.

The book also looks at how the conceptualization of Syrian-Lebanese relations among the Syrian bourgeoisie changed with the beginning of Arab nationalism during the Ottoman era, through the period of the rule of King Faisal and the French Mandate, before taking into account how these attitudes changed during the interlude of the United Arab Republic (1958-1961), which saw the creation of Syria and Egypt together as one state, the dissolution of the Republic, and the beginning of the rise of the Baath. Throughout these periods, the author notes, major shifts occurred in the political groups that came to prominence. First came the Young Arabs, which made way for progressive nationalist groups, manifested by the birth of the National Action League in 1933. This was followed by a mushrooming of authoritarian-progressive groupings, which called for the unification of Syria and Lebanon (see the Syrian Social National Party, or SSNP). The book closes with a look at the changes brought in by the Syrian uprising of 2011.

When taking in the views of Lebanese scholars and opinion-makers, the author points out how these often mistake the common Syrian "man on the street" for the stereotypical Syrian security services agent: to this important section of Lebanese society, Syrians are monolithic and in agreement, despite their manifest disagreements; when it comes to the question of Lebanon, all Syrians regard Lebanon as part and parcel of their country. Al-Kilani regards this widely-held belief as entirely spurious, and on equal footing with another myth conjured up by another segment of Lebanese society - that of the brave, heroic Syrian freedom fighter. This confusion is due to the Lebanese civil war, says the author, which did much to blight the image of each of the country's populations in the other's eyes. Most Lebanese began to know Syria and its people only through the behavior of the Syrian military units stationed in Lebanon. Al-Kilani foresees a change in Syrian behavior in the coming period. Syria's foreign policy will no longer be based on fomenting internal strife within its neighbor states. Instead, he predicts, the Syrian state-in-the-making will come to embody the democratic ideals evidenced in Syria during the 1950s. Syria is set to regain, says Al-Kilani, its position as a pioneering role amongst Arab states, making it again a focus point for Arab attention on their foremost issue: that of Palestine.

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