Syria Returns to Democracy: the May 1973 Legislative Elections

  • Elizabeth Picard


Syria knew a long period of democracy between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the creation of the United Arab Republic (UAR) when Syria joined Egypt in 1958. But under the French mandate and after independence (1946) individuals and groups consolidated themselves in coteries around a single personality (the Zaim) rather than in political parties. This led to a personalisation and regionalisation of power. Relations with the electorate, based upon tribalism in the country and clientelism in the towns, were characterised by a notable absence of popular base and a paucity of ideological content in election programmes. The consequent weakness of political coalitions was translated into governmental instability (nine assemblies between 1920 and 1958, and forty-one cabinets, not counting minor ministerial reshuffles) and the avoidance of fundamental problems such as Syrian nationalism and the social upheaval accompanying economic development. However, the majority of Syrian elections until 1962 may be considered pluralistic, competitive and relatively free. The pronounced taste of its citizens for debate and public controversy — in short, for the parliamentary game — shows that Syria served its apprenticeship of Western-style democracy all the more willingly.1 The country sailed between two reefs: on the one hand, there was a complacent anarchy of a traditional elite wishing to conserve a socio-political order favourable to itself; on the other, there were authoritarian attempts at transferring the political power from this traditional elite to young intellectuals, army officers, and the growing middle class.


Rectification Movement Political Group Agrarian Reform Legislative Election Army Officer 
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  1. 1.
    R. Binder, ‘Syrian Deputies and Cabinet Ministers, 1919–1959’, Middle East Journal, XVI (Autumn 1962) 407–29 and xvii (Winter 1963) 35–54.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    J. Donohue, ‘La Nouvelle constitution syrienne et ses détracteurs’, Travaux et Jours, xlvii (Apr-June 1973) 93–111.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See Simon Jargy, ‘La Syrie d’hier et d’aujourd’hui’, Orient, xx (1964) 67–76.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See G. Torrey, ‘Aspects of the Political Elite in Syria’, in Political Elites in the Middle East, ed. G. Lenczowski (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1975) pp. 151–63.Google Scholar

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© Elizabeth Picard 1978

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  • Elizabeth Picard

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