Izz al-Din Nasser: famous Baathist leader who could have succeeded Hafez al-Assad
Enab Baladi – Murad Abdul Jalil
On 23 August and at the age of 85, the curtain came down on one of the most prominent leading figures in Syria’s ruling al-Baath Party and the former president of Syria’s General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU), Izz al-Din Nasser. Sources close to Nasser told “Russia Today (RT),” Russia’s state-funded international television news network that Nasser died in Jableh city in Lattakia province from a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
Despite Nasser’s political and social weight and his role in consolidating Hafez al-Assad’s rule in the 1980s, the Syrian regime and its government did not comment on his death and kept silent, which was unexpected considering Nasser’s former image and importance.
The regime did not issue a condolence statement for Nasser’s death, and media outlets close and loyalist to the regime ignored his death, despite racing to publish all Nasser’s statements in the previous years.
The “Labor Voice in the Syrian Arab Republic” “Facebook” page, affiliated to the GFTU, was the only media platform that paid tribute to Nasser for being the president of the GFTU for many years.
The Regional Secretary of the Arab Socialist “al-Baath” Party in Lebanon, Minister Asim Kanso, sent the Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, a condolence message for the death of Nasser.
In the message, Kanso wrote that Nasser was a stubborn and loyal supporter of all the party and official tasks that he carried out with merit and responsibility. He added that Nasser’s absence is a great loss for Syria and the Arab nation,” according to his expression.
A man of two prominent positions at once
Information about Izz al-Din Nasser is very few, as there is no news about him except that he was president of the GFTU for 26 years from 1977 to 2003, besides his weight in the ruling al-Baath Party. Nevertheless, Enab Baladi has managed to contact figures who knew Nasser with his personality and importance in Syria.
Nasser was born in the Zweiba village in Jableh countryside in 1935. He gained power for two reasons, the first being a member of the family of Nasser al-Hakim, who is considered one of the elders of the Alawite sect, which gave him an “Alawite reference” and great weight, and contributed to expanding his influence during Hafez al-Assad’s rule.
While the second reason is his success in controlling the GFTU since he became president of the union.
Nasser’s fame rose in 1973 when he became secretary of the GFTU; however, at the beginning of the 1980’s events between Hafez al-Assad and the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement, Nasser was appointed in 1977 as the union’s president to stand against the trade unions that began moving before their famous statement of 1980.
In the statement, the trade unions announced their strike, before detention campaigns and al-Assad’s issuance of a decree in April 1980, that authorized the Syrian Prime Ministry to issue a decision to dissolve the trade unions, which the government dissolved after three days.
Enab Baladi spoke to a source who took former leading positions in the Syrian government. The source talked to Enab Baladi on the condition of anonymity and is informed of the decision-making circles of the Syrian regime.
According to the source, Nasser established the “Baathist Workers Battalions” to suppress people,” for trade unions side with workers against their employers; however, their role turned to a similar role of the intelligence services.
During Nasser’s presidency, the trade unions were restricting the workers in the factories and preventing them from standing against the “employer” represented by the state and authority.
To give Nasser greater authority, he was elected at the 1980 Regional Congress as a member of the Regional Command and the Central Command of the “Progressive National Front (PNF)” to control the Baathist workers and other party workers. Hence, Nasser became the first figure to hold two positions together, as he combined the chairman position of the “Baathist Workers Battalions” and a member of the Regional Command.
Nasser’s power grew, and he succeeded in forming the workers’ battalions and recruiting thousands of workers and giving them weapons to protect the government facilities.
Nasser also formed joint patrols and checkpoints with other intelligence branches, becoming the ultimate power to decide on workers’ issues, and appoint managers for any company in the public sector.
According to the source, Nasser was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of workers and take them to the streets for pro-Syrian regime’s marches, promoting his position for Hafez al-Assad, who brought him close and gave him more power.
A presidential nominee ousted by Bashar al-Assad
In 1983, Hafez al-Assad’s health deteriorated, and he was admitted to intensive care. Back then, his brother Rifaat al-Assad attempted a coup to control the rule, and several names were suggested for the presidency following Hafez al-Assad, including Izz al-Din Nasser. Nevertheless, Nasser refused to rule and was acquitted by al-Assad from the conspiracy after the latter’s recovery.
Nasser’s name rose again for the presidency position after the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, this time with more power, as the sheikhs and officials of the Alawite sect, including the former head of the Syrian military intelligence, Ali Duba. These figures called for appointing Nasser as a president instead of Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Syrian constitution at the time, the requirements of running for the presidency were available in Nasser, as he was a member of the Regional Command of the al-Baath Party, which is one of the main conditions for nomination according to the constitution.
In addition, Nasser had the acceptance of the Alawite community’s elders, besides the support of the working class in Syria’s People’s Council.
The source told Enab Baladi that a division grew within the old presidential guards and the Alawite sect regarding Nasser, which created a conflict for him with Bashar al-Assad, who closed the door of the presidential nomination for Nasser by toppling him from the Regional Command of the al-Baath Party in its ninth conference, held on 17 June 2000, a week after the death of Hafez al-Assad.
Nasser, described by the source as “first-class authoritative and corrupt, a tyrant who shared Damascus and Aleppo traders their investments,” remained an honorary president of the GFTU, especially after Walid Hamdoun was appointed as head of the Regional Workers’ Bureau.
In 2003, Nasser left the GFTU presidency and settled in his village, where he died without any comment from the Syrian regime he has served for years.
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