Despite the exclusion of Article 8 from the 2012 constitution

Why al-Assad brings back al-Baath as leader of state and society

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, presides over a government meeting - March 9, 2024 (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Despite the exclusion of Article 8 from the 2012 constitution

Why al-Assad brings back al-Baath as leader of state and society

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, presides over a government meeting - March 9, 2024 (Edited by Enab Baladi)

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, presides over a government meeting - March 9, 2024 (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Khaled al-Jeratli | Yamen Moghrabi

The Syrian regime has returned the Arab Socialist Baath Party to the forefront of the domestic political scene, with the promotional campaign it launched for the party elections in a country dominated by a single ruling system. This comes after about 13 years of bloodshed unleashed by its military machine following demands calling for reform, political freedoms, and the ruling party’s departure.

Observers and interested parties diminished the importance of the changes associated with the Baath party in Syria today, as they appeared to be a reactivation of Article 8 of the constitution, but behind the scenes.

Enab Baladi discusses in this file the reasons and timing of the return of talks about activating the role of the Baath party in Syria by the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, and the impact of this return on the political, and perhaps economic, life of Syrians, and this trend’s connection with upcoming entitlements starting from the current year until 2028, as Syria awaits the elections of the People’s Assembly, local administration, and the presidency, at a time when the regime has not responded to international resolutions’ requirements for a political transition.

Baath party returns to the forefront

The Syrian regime’s head, Bashar al-Assad, has recently sought to rejuvenate the presence of the Baath party by posing a series of questions about the importance of the party, in the absence of any real political life in Syria, and the prevention of real competitors from other parties in any upcoming elections, whether in local administration, the People’s Assembly, or even the presidency.

In addition to the Baath elections this year, Syria is awaiting three upcoming elections: the People’s Assembly elections this year, although their date has not yet been announced, and they are held every four years, with the last being in 2020.

This is followed by the local administration elections in 2026, provided they are not postponed, which are held every four years, the last being in 2022, and the presidential elections are also supposed to be held in 2028.

Al-Assad focused during his consecutive appearances with members of the Baath Party’s Central Committee on several points, including the party’s leadership of the state and society and the importance of ending the laxity within its ranks.

The presence of the Baath is not limited to being just a political party through which Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. It has also infiltrated all state institutions, mainly relying on an article mentioned in the Syrian constitution before its amendment in 2012, describing it as “the leader of the state and society”, and therefore intervening in all aspects of political, economic, and social life in the country.

Additionally, the timing of al-Assad’s focus on the party and its role in Syria in the coming period raises questions about the current movements of the regime’s head, and the likelihood of their connection with Arab movements towards al-Assad.

The Syrian regime's head, Bashar al-Assad, during the Baath Party Central Committee meeting - December 18, 2023 (Baath Party/Facebook)

The Syrian regime’s head, Bashar al-Assad, during the Baath Party Central Committee meeting – December 18, 2023 (Baath Party/Facebook)

What are the motives?

Since the earthquake on February 6, 2023, the Syrian file has moved regionally in a striking manner, the Arabs opened up to the regime, and al-Assad returned to occupy Syria’s seat in the Arab League according to the “Jordanian Initiative”, visits, meetings, and files stirring controversy among the liaison committees concerned with the Arab states’ Syrian affair.

Amidst all these movements, battles erupted in the Gaza Strip, a war capable of changing the region’s complexion for decades, and it was notable that the regime stayed away from engaging in the Palestinian file, with all its implications as a card it held for decades, and instead turned to focus on the Baath party and its role in the upcoming period.

This focus was not limited to media materials issued by the Al-Baath newspaper, the party’s mouthpiece, but also encompassed all government social media platforms, such as accounts of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and ministries, and the account of the Presidency of the Republic as well.

Maan Talaa, a researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, sees four main motives for al-Assad’s movements towards the Baath party, the first relates to a growing feeling among the party leaders of a kind of laxity within it, a condition that requires taking it out of dormancy, with some upcoming entitlements requiring some changes.

Another motive concerns the “illusion of action”: superficial movements that are not practical and have implications both internally and externally. Internally, al-Assad and the party suggest the existence of partisan life that garners attention in Syria, linked here to the legitimacy of the Baath party to be at the helm of power; consequently, it should be concerned with improving its party foundations and ensuring some degree of democracy and reform within it, but all this is only at the level of implications, according to Talaa.

Externally, these movements suggest that political life in Syria continues, and that the Baath is progressing in its internal entitlements and is not concerned with the general political scene.

According to Talaa, the third motive relates to the “requirements of efficacy”, and the party leaders believe that Syria’s entitlements and the economic, social, and political crises require a convergence of efforts and meeting the responsibility, with this motive linked to the party’s portrayal of taking responsibility for economic and social security.

The fourth motive is linked to the necessity of concerted efforts of the regime on all levels, and when it shows indications of a security and military restructuring, or on the governmental level, it must provide some political revitalization through movement within the party and reorganization of its ranks. The regime will be keen to ensure control because severe laxity is an obstacle for the regime itself, trying to revive party life to have a political umbrella capable of leading the scene in the face of any expected changes, according to Talaa.

The movements that al-Assad and the Baath show practically come with a real absence of any political life in Syria, with the party controlling the People’s Assembly, either through a large number of seats within it or through the National Progressive Front, and besieging any serious movements of any historical parties in Syria, such as the Syrian Nationalist Party or the Communist Party, which alongside the Baath were the largest political parties prior to 1963, in addition to the National Party and the People’s Party.

The former leader in the Baath party, Nasser Saba, told Enab Baladi, “The absence of political life in Syria has deprived any political party of its true role and meaning, and it is wrong to consider the Baath party today as a party in the political and intellectual sense, as it does not meet the required conditions to fulfill its role”.

Saba downplayed the significance of al-Assad’s movements, or the possibility of the Baath executing real movements, considering it part of a security system subordinate to the head of the regime, in a country that “is destroyed and has lost its sovereignty and its people in exile”.


The absence of political life in Syria has deprived any political party of its true role and meaning, and it is wrong to consider the Baath party today as a party in the political and intellectual sense, as it does not meet the required conditions to fulfill its role.

Nasser Saba, Former leader in the Baath party


The Arab Initiative

In June 2024, the Saudi magazine, Al-Majalla, published what it said were the terms of the “Jordanian Initiative”, which Amman presents as a political solution in Syria, including demands, proposals, and details requiring many actions on the ground from one side, and the regime’s aspirations to achieve through this initiative from the other.

The third phase included talk of “expected steps from Damascus,” involving reforms to ensure good governance and prevent persecution, engaging in reconciliation with former opposition (within Syria), and agreeing on a more inclusive governance formula, with elections under United Nations supervision.

Al-Assad’s recent movements suggest a connection with the initiative, especially with three electoral events that will take place in regime-controlled areas over the next four years, namely the People’s Assembly elections, local administration elections, and the presidential elections in 2028.

Al-Assad’s repeated talk of the role of the Baath party in Syrian political life ostensibly indicates early preparations for its participation in the elections and ensuring the continuation of its political role in Syria, regardless of the current circumstances.

Researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Maan Talaa, doubts that al-Assad’s movements are associated with preparations for any elections, as much as they are about the Baath party’s ability to face the coming period, as in 2011, when the regime resorted to arming the party and creating the Baath Brigades. However, the difference today is that readiness must be political and not military, he says.

The readiness of the Syrian regime was evident through its confrontation of the opposing protests in As-Suwayda, which directly targeted the party; therefore, it seems necessary to possess internal power tools, according to Talaa.


Al-Assad’s movements are not connected to preparation for any elections, as much as it is to enable the Baath party to face the upcoming period, similar to what happened in 2011 when the regime resorted to arming the party and establishing the Baath Brigades. However, the difference today is that readiness should be political, not military.

Maan Talaa, Researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies


Talaa also does not see a link between the elections and the party, considering that the extent of corruption and laxity that hit the state and the party itself is significant, and no early elections can lead to real changes, given the principle of elimination and refusal of the other.

The conditions that the party went through in recent years at least in Syria have weakened its position in the country, and this can be seen in it losing a wide segment of its popularity and the defections that accompanied the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, which al-Assad himself acknowledged in a speech before the Central Committee on December 16, 2023.

There are no exact numbers of Baath party members within regime forces, but the party has traditionally forced students in schools and universities, the military establishment, and government office employees to join it.

The current political system in Syria derives its institutional origins from the Baathist coup in 1963 and the constitution of 1973, despite its amendments, as they established the leading role of the Baath party.

Al-Assad and Baathist thinkers - February 22, 2024 (Baath Party National Leadership)

Al-Assad and Baathist thinkers – February 22, 2024 (Baath Party National Leadership)

Article 8, Controlling the state’s joints

In 1973, the new constitution of Syria was officially issued after three temporary constitutions were in effect since 1963 when the Baath executed its military coup against President Nazim al-Qudsi.

The constitution, issued two years after Hafez al-Assad assumed the presidency in Syria, included an article that directly described the role played by the Baath party in Syria, which is Article 8.

The article stipulates that the Baath party is “the leading party in society and the state, leading a progressive national front that works to unify the energies of the masses and put them in the service of the goals of the Arab nation”.

After the start of popular demonstrations calling for the departure of Basar al-Assad in 2011, the latter enacted a new constitution that included the abolition of Article 8 after decades of its existence.

It was striking that al-Assad once again talked about the article during his meetings with the central committees, considering that its removal does not mean that the Baath is not so.

Since its founding 75 years ago by Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Bitar, and Zaki al-Arsuzi, the Baath has raised slogans of unity, freedom, and socialism. It has been known for the absolute magnification of Arabism and its emphasis on the right of the Arab nation to live as one state.

That article turned the Baath into an instrument for controlling the state’s joints, structures, and institutions by the previous Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, and his son Bashar. Despite the article’s cancellation and its withdrawal from the 2012 Constitution, its effects are still active in many state functions even now.

In 2012, the Al-Baath newspaper, speaking on behalf of the ruling party, said that the abolition of Article 8, which prescribed the Baath party’s monopoly on power and its replacement with another that calls for party pluralism, “does not constitute a loss” for the party.

The newspaper wrote at that time that the replacement process “does not constitute a loss for the Baath party, as much as it is readiness for fruitful sacrifice, similar to its sacrifice in dissolving its organization in Syria to accomplish the unity between Syria and Egypt in 1958.”

According to researcher Maan Talaa, to this day, the legal effects of Article 8 from the constitution (the Baath leads the state and society) have not ended, and there are nearly 44 active legal articles that specifically refer to this matter on the levels of internal control, and local, security, and military administration.

The Baath party also has 265 party branches and a complete administration for political guidance associated with the party, and a security branch concerned with the security of the Baath party, based on an exceptional law that emerged under the emergency law.

Al-Assad’s statements point to asserting the regime’s and its political framework’s ability to face post-ceasefire economic, political, and security challenges.

Therefore, the title of the stage for the regime is control and manage, and to rebuild its networks that have suffered significant setbacks since 2011 anew, and all this comes within the networks’ restoration, not political implications or adaptation to regional events, according to Talaa.

A study released by the Carnegie Middle East Center indicates that the conflict in Syria between official institutions and the personal power base was evident when Bashar al-Assad assumed the presidency in 2000. He was endorsed by the People’s Assembly and the Baath party, so the constitution was amended to allow him to hold the office of President of the Republic despite his young age.

According to a research paper prepared by researcher Mohsen al-Mustafa and published by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, representation of the Baath party has steadily increased over the past legislative terms since 2000, at the expense of other National Progressive Front parties and independents.

The Baath followed the Communist method in organization, in a way that made it closer to a security organization than to a political one.

Yaman Zabad, a researcher specializing in political science and international relations, told Enab Baladi that the regime considers the Baath party a means to control the state, despite the removal of Article 8 from the constitution in the 2012 amendment.

Zabad downplayed the significance of al-Assad’s talk of changes, considering them part of the regime’s re-production of itself within superficial changes that attempt to suggest that there are real reforms, leading to the sanctions not reaching the regime’s “civil” institutions like the Syria Trust For Development, which was named in the draft law of Anti-Normalization.

He added that the changes, even if made, will not affect the political or living conditions within the regime-controlled areas but aim to present an external image that may be satisfactory to some countries or a pretext for raising the level of coordination with the regime or marketing it to attract funds related to reconstruction or early recovery.

Baath history in Syria

The year 1934 witnessed the return of both Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar from France to the Syrian capital, Damascus, after their graduation from the French Sorbonne University.

The return of these two individuals was extraordinary, as they sought to spread their ideas about Arab nationalism, the necessity of uniting the Arab countries into a single state, and their call coincided with the rising prominence of Zaki al-Arsuzi, who is considered one of the most prominent theorists of Arab nationalism.

Six years later, in al-Rashid cafe on 29 May street in the center of Damascus, both Bitar and Aflaq announced the Arab Ihya Movement, which later changed to the word Baath instead of “Ihya” following Rashid Ali al-Gaylani’s revolution against Britain in Iraq, since the former was “more radical and profound,” according to the book “The Struggle for the Middle East” by the British author Patrick Seale. Bitar and Aflaq then applied for the official licensing of the party in 1945, and in the following year, Hafez al-Assad joined the party, which was the same year that the Al-Baath newspaper was founded in 1946.

In 1952, the Arab Baath Party merged with the Socialist Party led by Akram al-Hourani, and it was officially adopted as the Arab Socialist Baath Party, becoming the second-largest bloc in the Syrian Parliament in the 1954 elections.

The political life in Syria did not last long, and soon after, the union between Egypt and Syria was declared in 1958, which led to the abolition of parties, including the Baath party, until 1961, which saw a military coup led by Abdul Karim Nahlawi. Parliamentary life returned to Syria, and Nazim al-Qudsi was elected president.

During the years of union, the late Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, decided to transfer Syrian officers to Egypt, among them was Hafez al-Assad, who established the Military Committee in Cairo with Salah Jadid, which was later destined to rule Syria for seven consecutive years.

The Military Committee, consisting of Hafez al-Assad, Mohamed Omran, Abdul Karim al-Jundi, Salah Jadid, and Ahmed al-Meer, and with the blessing of the party’s Civil Committee, announced a military coup in 1963 later referred to as the 8th of March Revolution, a date that coincides with the anniversary of Syria’s declaration as a constitutional monarchy when Faisal bin Hussein was crowned king in 1920.

Political disagreements between the two committees soon surfaced, and both Salah Bitar and Michel Aflaq were expelled from the party. The Military Committee took the reins in what was called the “22 February Movement” in 1966.

After the takeover from the Civil Committee, a new conflict arose between Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid over several political issues, including the 1967 defeat, when al-Assad was defense minister, and his support for Palestinians facing the Jordanian king in what became known as “Black September.” In 1971, Hafez al-Assad carried out what he called “the Corrective Movement,” arrested his comrades, and took power alone, drafting a new constitution that contained Article 8: “The Baath party is the leader of the state and society.”

After the 1966 coup, Aflaq and Bitar exiled themselves to Beirut, then Aflaq headed to Iraq and joined the Iraqi Baath Party, prompting al-Assad to connect with Salah al-Bitar in an attempt to find a political balance. The two met in 1978 amid highly complex political circumstances, according to an article published by writer Salah Nyof in 2005 in the al-Hewar al-Mutamaddin magazine.

Al-Assad failed to sway Bitar, who returned to his exile in Paris and founded the magazine, Ihya al-Arabiyah, which he used to attack al-Assad and his outreach to opponents until he was assassinated in 1982. Michel Aflaq died in Paris and was buried in Baghdad in 1989.

Before carrying out the Corrective Movement, al-Assad’s comrades fell one by one, with Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad agreeing to eliminate Mohamed Omran for his insistence on reuniting with Egypt. Omran was arrested in 1966, released in 1967, and went to the Lebanese city of Tripoli before being assassinated on his doorstep in 1972, despite warnings he had received about assassination attempts.

Abdul Karim al-Jundi committed suicide upon learning of patrol’s arrival to arrest him after being politically cornered by Hafez al-Assad in 1969. He left a letter accusing al-Assad of treason and outlined his view of the political struggle between the Baath party’s factions.

Salah Jadid died in 1993 in the Mezzeh Military Prison, where he was imprisoned after the 1970 coup, and Ahmad al-Meer passed away in 2007, having been dismissed by al-Assad from his post as commander of the Golan front in 1968, moving to diplomatic work as Syria’s ambassador in Madrid.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and next to him the assistant regional secretary of the Baath party Hilal al-Hilal during a meeting of the party's central committee - December 18, 2023 (Baath Party/Facebook)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and next to him the assistant regional secretary of the Baath party Hilal al-Hilal during a meeting of the party’s central committee – December 18, 2023 (Baath Party/Facebook)

Regaining control and command

The changes that may occur will not include the structure of the regime, but aim to restore the party’s role as a means of tightening control over society, according to Nader al-Khalil, a research fellow at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies. It can be likened to a “modernization” of the regime’s authoritarian tools, not limited to security agencies and the army alone, but also includes other tools, including the ruling party.

Khalil believes that given the nature of the Syrian regime and its history in dealing with party life, Syrians will not witness substantial changes that profoundly affect the structure of the political regime and the way it manages party life in the country.

He added to Enab Baladi that the anticipated changes will not rise to the level of qualitative changes in the individual Syrian’s life, and might at best be limited to a change in some of the prominent figures leading the scene of the ruling party (with the exception of al-Assad) and the activation of discussions about the problems facing the livelihoods of Syrians, during party activities, as a form of “venting”, a usual approach over the past years, without leading to any change in the government’s performance and the de facto decision-making system.

The regime’s policies over the past years, including those related to crisis management and humanitarian aid, have shown an almost nonexistent concern for the basic needs of individuals, according to Khalil, as none of these measures have enhanced the welfare of the Syrian individual. The regime’s focus is on leveraging resources only to ensure its own continuity.


The regime aims through these changes to restore the ability to regain control domestically, after its influence has waned in the interest of warlords or figures associated with the Iranian or Russian ally.

Nader al-Khalil, Research expert in political affairs


He added that external goals play a role in this proposition, the most important of which is to signal to the leaders of Arab countries who sought to normalize with him, that he is significantly regaining his domestic influence, and that the control is not for Iran, in hopes of gaining their financial and investment support if possible.

While the changes that the regime promotes may seem promising on the surface, they must be viewed with caution, considering the historical context of the regime and the essential challenges still facing Syria. More importantly, the regime’s creed and nature are not amenable to change and do not accept it in any form, as they are “based on a zero-sum equation that is either me or no one.”

Will it reflect on Syrians’ lives?

The Baath party has left a wide segment of Syrians with the impression that the party institution in Syria is the twin sibling of the security institution, as security reports flow into it, and it forms the starting point for any movement that could support the Syrian regime over the years, even the military ones.

During the protests in As-Suwayda province against the Syrian regime, the spiritual leader of the Druze monotheist community in As-Suwayda and one of the figures of the movement stated that two institutions are causing the Syrian people to suffer: the Baath party and the security institutions, as they have only seen “danger” from them.

This perception was carried by Syrians from the opposition’s audience, as a preconceived notion that there is no political life in Syria as long as the Baath party controls the decision-making process.

Today, with escalating talk from al-Assad about reforms, elections, proof of presence, confidence, and terms that were absent from Syrian ears when they were needed in 2011, questions arise about the possibility of a real future change that will reflect on the lives of those who remain in Syria.

Al-Assad and Baath party thinkers - February 22, 2024 (Syrian Presidency)

Al-Assad and Baath party thinkers – February 22, 2024 (Syrian Presidency)



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