On June 25, less than three months after his coup, Husni al-Za’im was elected president of the Syrian Republic as a result of a referendum. On this occasion, Sa’adeh wanted to meet Al-Za’im-who now carried the title of Marshal- and congratulate him. Marshal Za’im avoided meeting him, as Sabri al-Qabbani, who was trying to arrange the meeting, reported.1 Za’im told al-Qabbani that he could not meet Sa’adeh because he did not want to create a new crisis that would damage his relations with the Lebanese government now that improvements had been made by the release of Akram Tabarah and official Lebanese recognition of his government.2 Za’im added, as al-Qabbani reported, “The Lebanese authorities seriously want Sa’adeh and I have already denied that he is in Syria. Therefore, I cannot see him. Apologise on my behalf and give him my regards and best wishes”. 3
The Lebanese government’s campaign against Sa’adeh’s party intensified. It seemed that this government had declared open war on the SSNP. More than 2,500 party members were arrested or detained in camps. The President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior issued a decree in which they dissolved the SSNP, accusing it of breaching the peace of the country.4 On the diplomatic front, Riyad al-Sulh complained in an interview with United Kingdom Minister, H. Boswall, that Marshal Za’im had financed and armed the SSNP.5 The Lebanese government, moreover, requested the assistance of King Faruq of Egypt to dissuade Husni al-Za’im from supporting Sa’adeh.6 In response to the Lebanese government’s request, King Faruq sent his private messenger, amir Lay Muhammad Yusuf, to meet with al-Za’im. Following this meeting, the Syrian PM Muhsin al-Barazi, who was well-known for his hatred of Sa’adeh and his party and was a brother-in-law of the Lebanese Prime Minister, went to Egypt and then to Beirut and held conversations with the rulers in both countries. When he returned to Damascus he embarked on achieving two objectives: The first was to convince al-Za’im to deliver Sa’adeh to the Lebanese authorities. The second was to crack down on the SSNP and carefully observe its activities. 7
While in Damascus, Sa’adeh was kept informed about the intensified campaign of the Lebanese government against his party. On July 1, 1949, he formed two major groups of SSNP combatants. Lieutenant ‘Assaf Karam was appointed leader of one group, which infiltrated into Lebanon towards the town of Mashghara. The other group, headed by Zaid al-Atrash, advanced towards Rashayya al-Waddi in the southern Biqa’. The plan was to control the whole region of al-Biqa’ al-Gharbi (the western Biqa’) and then declare the “Syrian Nationalist State”. 8
The news of SSNP combatants infiltrating clandestinely into Lebanon reached the Lebanese government. SSNP fighters found Lebanese army units expecting them. On July, 3, 1949, a major battle occurred in the plain of Sohmor which lasted about four hours. The Lebanese army killed the group leader, ‘Assaf Karam, and arrested a number of SSNP fighters. 9
On the 4th of July 1949, Sa’adeh proclaimed his ‘First Social Nationalist Revolution’ against the Lebanese government. He announced the revolution in a communiqué which declared this government “tyrannical and disloyal to the will of the people..”10 He also charged the parliament as being unlawful and unrepresentative of the true aspirations of the people. “11 The objective of Sa’adeh’s revolution was to install a new order in Lebanon based on the principles of the SSNP. 12
Armed groups of the SSNP made attacks on a number of Gendarmerie posts near the frontier and in some areas of the southern Biqa’ (in Rashayya and Mashghara) as well as in the mountains near Beirut. The government decided to take action against the village of Bshamoun in view of the large number of SSNP fighters thought to be harbouring there. A British official of the Beirut Chancery described the government action in a political summary:
The village was surrounded by gendarmerie who arrived in lorries, and in the ensuing engagement, the Officer Commanding the Force, Captain Tewfiq [S]hamoun, was killed. Several members of the SSNP were injured and considerable numbers arrested.13
At Rashayya and Mashghara, SSNP invaders were repelled. As was the case with previous attacks, the gendarmerie had had prior warning of their approach.14 It has been pointed out that “the government reacted vigorously in both these villages where the homes of known sympathisers of the [SSNP], including that of the Moukhtar of Mashghara, were dynamited”. 15
Sa’adeh was then betrayed by Husni al-Za’im who had promised to lend him support. On July 6, al-Za’im invited Sa’adeh to his palace to meet with him. When Sa’adeh arrived, al-Za’im had him arrested and delivered to the Lebanese authorities.16 The Syrian authorities even arrested a number of SSNP adherents in Syria including Sa’adeh’s wife and three children who were in Latakia.17
The reaction in Syria to this sudden move of al-Za’im was one of intense disgust and condemnation. As one author states, “this was not confined only to Sa’adeh’s followers, but among the general populace, who felt that traditional Arab hospitality had been grossly violated.”18 Al-Za’im’s move might have also shocked many politicians and observers but it was not a surprise to some officials of the SSNP who had begun to suspect al-Za’im’s changing behaviour. As a matter of fact, Knayzah, Sa’adeh’s secretary, had warned Sa’adeh just a few hours before the meeting with al-Za’im, and advised him against going. Sa’adeh put aside the question of personal safety and took a chance.
It was reported by the Arab News Agency that the Lebanese government had also requested the Syrian government to co-operate in preventing members of the SSNP from crossing into Syria. The two envoys, Shihab and Lahhoud, discussed the matter with Syrian officials.19 In response to the Lebanese government’s request, Syria closed her frontier with Lebanon on 7 July, 1949. The move, as Reuter said, was to stop the infiltration of members of the SSNP who had been engaged in guerrilla warfare with Lebanese troops. 20
Why did al-Za’im suddenly surrender Sa’adeh to the Lebanese authorities? There are possible answers to this question. First, al-Za’im might have found himself under pressure from neighbouring countries as well as from a few of the interested great Powers sensitive to any change in the political status of the whole area. As mentioned above, Egypt had perhaps intervened and put pressure on al-Za’im to hand Sa’adeh over.21 It is quite possible that France also joined Egypt in putting pressure on al-Za’im. As Haddad argues, both Egypt and France “were friends of Lebanon and opposed to the Greater Syria scheme..”22 The SSNP advocated a ‘Syrian Unity’ scheme similar to that of ‘Greater Syria’. Had al-Za’im supported Sa’adeh to the end, such a scheme would then be a real possibility. Neither France nor Egypt would have really liked to see this happening.
Secondly, one should not be surprised that al-Za’im submitted to the pressure of Egypt and France. He had a close relationship with both countries. He had adopted a pro-Egyptian policy and an anti-Hashemite attitude after he was promised Saudi-Egyptian formal recognition and financial aid for his regime.23 Thus, he had proclaimed that “Greater Syria” was out of date.24 As far as his relationship with France was concerned, there were rumours that he “was a French tool.”25 There was even “a carefully suppressed but constant rumour of closer and closer linking of his fortunes to those of France”. 26 Al-Za’im, it should be noted, had received French military training and seemed to favour French methods in the army. A few days before Sa’adeh’s execution, he had openly stated, “France is our friend and we shall do anything to keep her friendship- a new era of understanding and collaboration [will] be opened between Paris and Damascus.”27 However, in describing al-Za’im’s close relationship with both Egypt and France, Alford Carleton states:
Far greater uneasiness was created by the suspicion of [a] particularly close relationship between Za’im and the Egyptian and French legations. To these nations, interested in the maintenance of a certain balance of power in the Arab world, hearty support of Husni Za’im was a [foregone] conclusion. As his own position grew more insecure, it was natural that he should lean more and more upon the support of friendly powers. 28
Thirdly, al-Za’im had perhaps realised that by supporting Sa’adeh he might drive the Lebanese government into the arms of the Hashemites. Riyad al-Sulh “was prepared to move towards closer cooperation with the Hashemites”, as mentioned in a summary for the month of April prepared by the Beirut Chancery.29 The summary continues, “in this he [al-Sulh] succeeded in carrying the President with him and on April 18th the President and the Prime Minister informed His Majesty’s Government that they were prepared to cooperate with Iraq even to the extent of acquiescing in the Fertile Crescent scheme provided Iraq was prepared to guarantee the integrity of the Lebanon”. 30
Fourthly, had al-Za’im continued to support Sa’adeh, the Syrian Social Nationalist Revolution would have put an end to the confessional political system of Lebanon and threatened the interests of many internal as well as external parties.
Accordingly, al-Za’im submitted to the pressure of Egypt, France and other interested countries in return of formal recognition, support and benefits for his regime. The economic agreement he signed with Lebanon shortly after Sa’adeh’s execution, which put an end to a long period of dispute between him and the Lebanese government, was seen as one of the benefits gained.31 By this agreement, “Lebanon agreed to draw her supplies of grain from Syria. The agreement also provided for an increase in customs duties on certain articles, principally on textiles and yarns for which Syria had been pressing for some time”. 32 Moreover, it was agreed between the two governments that discussions should continue in order to remove the present disparity between the two currencies amounting to as much as seven per cent in favour of the Lebanese pound.33
Another materialistic benefit was the 25,000 pounds that the Lebanese government provided as a reward for Sa’adeh’s capture. Al-Za’im might have been tempted by this prize.
On July 8, 1949, the Lebanese government executed Sa’adeh after he had been summarily prosecuted by a military tribunal. 34 Some of his colleagues were also executed. 35 It was obvious that the sentence Sa’adeh and his colleagues received was decided before his trial. Sa’adeh’s defence lawyer, Emil Lahhoud, asked the court to postpone the trial one week so he could study the case. His request was rejected by the court. He then asked that the trial be postponed three days instead of one week. His second request was also rejected. 36 In response to the court’s determination to proceed with the trial, Lahhoud, it must be assumed, recognized that the sentence was already decided. He immediately “quit the court proceedings in protest against debarring him from sufficient time to peruse the court record saying: “I smell the smell of gunpowder”.37
The Lebanese government thought that by executing Sa’adeh his party would be eliminated from the political scene. This, however, was not the case. Although the SSNP was outlawed by the Lebanese government following the execution of Sa’adeh, it continued to exist and to play an important role in the periods to come. The next chapters discuss the role of the SSNP following Sa’adeh’s execution, especially during the 1950s and early 1960s.
4. Qadiyat al-Hizb al-Qawmi, (The Case of the National Party) published in Beirut by the Lebanese Ministry of Information (in Arabic), 1949, pp. 106-109. In his interpellation to the government, Jumblatt spoke about the illegality of this decree. See ‘Istijwab Jumblatt al-Tarikhi li al-Hukuma Hawl Istishad Sa’adeh ‘Am 1949 (Jumblatt’s Historical Interpellation to the [Lebanese] Government Over Sa’adeh’s Martyrdom in 1949), op. cit., pp. 27-29.
5. Bailey to the Commonwealth Governments, 25 July 1949, in FO. 371/75320/88, PRO.
6. Ziyyad Sa’adeh, op. cit., p. 34.
7. At this stage, Husni al-Za’im dissolved all political parties and began to persecute the press and political leaders. Some members and leaders of the SSNP in the executive region of Latakia, it has been claimed, were persecuted and jailed by orders from Muhsin al-Barazi. Moreover, the house of Najib Shouwyyri in which Antun Sa’adeh resided was under surveillance by a number of secret police. Information about the SSNP’s activities were reported to Muhsin al-Barazi who in his turn sent secret reports to the Lebanese government. See “Memoirs of Dr. Sabri Qabbani”, op. cit., p. 81; see also ibid.
8. al-Bina’, “Madha Hadatha Qabla al-Thamin min Tammouz” (What happened before July 8), op. cit., pp. 46-47.
9. Ibid., p. 47.
10. See “the Communiqué of the Supreme Command of the First Social Nationalist Revolution, about the Revolution, its Procdures and Objectives”, in Antun Sa’adeh, Mukhtarat fi al-Mas’alah al-Lubnaniyyah (1936-1943) (Selections on the Lebanese Question), op. cit., pp. 202-207 ; For an English translation of this Communiqué, see Adel Beshara. Syrian Nationalism: An Inquiry Into The Political Philosophy Of Antun Sa’adeh , Beirut: Bissan, 1995, pp. 248-255.
11. Antun Sa’adeh, Mukhtarat fi al-Mas’alah al-Lubnaniyyah (1936-1943) (Selections on the Lebanese Question), op. cit., pp. 202-207.
13. Howes to F.O. No. E. 10339 of 30 July 1949, in FO. 371/75318/88, PRO.
16. It was reported that two Lebanese officials were awaiting for Sa’adeh at al-Za’im’s palace to take him back to Lebanon. They were: the Director of Security forces, Amir Farid Shihab, and the Chief of Staff of the Lebanese armed forces, Mansour Lahhoud, Chief aide de camp of the Lebanese President. It was claimed that Husni al-Za’im asked the two Lebanese envoys to kill Sa’adeh on the way to Beirut as he ‘attempted to escape’. But the two envoys refused to kill Sa’adeh and be responsible for his assassination. They decided to deliver him to the Lebanese Government. See Seale, op. cit., p. 70; Bishara al-Khuri, Haqa’iq Lubnaniyya [Lebanese Truths] III, Beirut: Awraq Lubnaniyyah, 1961, pp. 240-241.
17. See an extract from Damascus to F. O. No. E. 69, of 9 July 1949, in FO. 371/75320/88, PRO.
18. Gordon H. Torrey, Syrian Politics and the Military, 1945-1958. Ohio: Ohio State Univrsity Press, 1964, p. 133.
19. Broadmead (Damascus) to F.O. Press Extract/Sharq al-Adna Radio (Damascus), No. E. 8446, of 8 July 1949, in FO. 371/75320/88, PRO.
21. Qabbani reported that al-Za’im admitted to him on the day Sa’adeh was executed that he had delivered Sa’adeh to the Lebanese government under pressure from King Faruq. The Egyptian King wrote a letter to al-Za’im in which he told him that his secret services had informed him that Sa’adeh’s party was sponsored by Britain to cause problems on this coast of the Middle East as a pretext for intervention by the two Hashimite governments and Britain. See “Memoirs of Dr. Sabri Qabbani”, op. cit., p. 119.
22. George Haddad, op. cit., p. 399
23. Gordon H. Torrey, op. cit., pp. 134-136.
24. Ibid., p. 135.
25. Ibid., p. 138.
26. Alford Carleton, “The Syrian Coups D’état of 1949”, Middle East Journal, Vol. 4, Jan. 1950, No. 1, p. 8.
27. Quoted in Gordon H. Torrey, loc. cit.
28. Alford Carleton, op. cit., p. 7.
29. Chancery to F.O. No. E.6549, 30 April 1949, in FO 371/75318/88, PRO.
31. This agreement was submitted to the Lebanese President, Bishara al-Khuri, on July 7, 1949, i.e., the day Sa’adeh was delivered to the Lebanese authorities. It was signed on 8 July at Chtaura. In 1950, the Syrian treasurer, Hassan Jibara, who signed the agreement, confirmed, while meeting with the Economic Committee of the Syrian Chamber of Commerce, that the price the Syrian governnment paid for the Lebanese government to sign the economic agreement was to sacrifice Antun Sa’adeh. See al-Bina’, “Madha Hadatha Qabla al-Thamin min Tammouz” (What happened before July 8), op. cit., p. 47.
32. Howes to F.O. No. E.10339, of 30 July 1949, in FO. 371/75318/88, PRO.
34. Sa’adeh’s trial was held in secret to prevent the dissemination of news which might be of help to other members of the party who were still at large. Units of the army threw a strong cordon around the court to check any attempt at violence. For details about this trial and Sa’adeh’s execution, see the following references: a) An interview with Ibrahim Barri, the clerk of the court that executed Sa’adeh, by Sami Barri. Published in Sabah el-Kheir/al-Bina’, issue no. 256, 12/7/1980, pp. 18-20; b) “Haddathani al-Kahan al-Lazi A’rrafahu” by Sa’id Taqi al-Din in al-’Athar al-Kamilah (Complete Works), Vol. 5, 2nd edition, Beirut: al-Nahar publications, 1980, pp. 51-56 ; c) Jubran Jurayj, “Marwiyat al-Lahazat al-Akhirah Qabla Istihhadu” (Narrations of the last moments before his martyrdom), in Sabah el-Kheir, issue no. 387, 9/7/1983, pp. 10-11.
35. Twelve of Sa’adeh’s colleagues were sentenced to death. Six of them were executed at dawn on July 21, 1949. They were chosen by the governent on the basis of confessional balance, i.e., each from a different religious sect. The remaining six had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour. Other SSNP members who were prosecuted received sentences ranging from three to fifteen years imprisonment.
36. See an interview with Ibrahim Barri, the clerk of the court that executed Sa’adeh, by Sami Barri. Published in Sabah el-Kheir/al-Bina’, issue no. 256. 12/7/1980, pp. 18-20.
37. SSNP. Antun Sa’adeh, Leadership and Testimony, op. cit., p. 26.
The Declaration of “the First Syrian Social Nationalist Revolution” by Antun Sa’adeh
Dr. Edmond Melhem