Egyptian-Syrian union, part 3: Euphoria of 1958 was never repeated

Arabic, 18 March 1998

Previously, we saw the concern in some Arab states over the union and Nasser's consequent popularity.

In Saudi Arabia, the king offered nearly 2 million to the Syrian intelligence chief, to assassinate Nasser, but he took the check to Gamal Abdul Nasser, causing a great political uproar that forced the Saudi king to yield authority to his brother, Prince Faisal, who was preparing to deal with Nasser and his ideas.

In Lebanon, president Chamoun and his ministers tightened their political relations with the West, and consequently with anti-Nasserist ideas.

Lebanon contained tensions between Christians, who were pro-West, and Muslims who supported Nasser and his nationalism.

In an attempt to strengthen the Muslim side, the Egyptian government sent money and arms to them in addition to broadcasting propaganda over radio.

At the same time, Iraq saw increasing tensions. While Nuri Said believed the army was loyal to his government, a group of officers had been plotting and in July a brigade supporting these officers entered Baghdad, killing Nuri and members of the royal family.

It seemed at first that Brigadier Qasim and his officers would support Egyptian policy under Nasser's leadership, and the positions of Christians in Jordan and Lebanon became grave.

Both Jordan and Lebanon had to court outside help, so British troops landed in Jordan to protect the throne and American marines went ashore in Lebanon. Nasser considered these moves to be attempts by imperialists to reassert their power in those two states after losing Iraq.

But the newly-formed government in Lebanon restored good relations with Egypt, and King Hussein had shown his wish to outside help to protect the throne.

In Syria, the people proved to be difficult bedfellows for Egypt. The Baath party refused to assume exclusive leadership.

In October 1958 a new cabinet was formed, and fourteen out of twenty one ministries were allotted to Egyptians.

Nasser had no fixed plans for the union and his moves alienated important segments of the population, especially landowners who refused agrarian reform, politicians who lost power, businessmen and the army.

In October 1959, Nasser sent Abdul-Hakim Amir as a government to reconcile with Syrian views, but the Baath party leaders resigned from the government in December.

In an attempt to improve the situation, Nasser relied on Abdul Hamid Sarraj as his Syrian strong man, appointing him minister of the interior and president of the executive council of the national union, but Sarraj gained widespread dislike.

At the end, discontent grew, especially through the army which began its attempts to remove Syria from the U.A.R. A Syrian general later complained that every Egyptian officer acted as if he were Gamal Abdul Nasser during the union.

Nasser recognized the impossibility of imposing his will on Syria, but kept the door open for further attempts at unity by retaining the title of UAR for his state, Egypt.

Some Egyptian insiders and analysts say Nasser's reputation suffered from this failure and the euphoria of 1958 was never repeated.