|United Arab Republic
الجمهورية العربية المتحدة
|Anthem: والله زمان يا سلاحي (Oh My Weapon)
Map of the UAR
|-||President||Ali Abdullah Saleh|
|-||Vice President||Mahmoud Abbas|
|-||Syrian-Egyptian Union||February 1, 1958|
|-||Declaration of Arab Unity||July 17, 1995|
|Currency||Arab Riyal (
|Drives on the||right|
The United Arab Republic, commonly referred to as the UAR, is a confederal socialist republic consisting of 24 governorates, located in North and East Africa, the South Pacific Ocean, and the Middle East. At 5,296,453 sq mi (13,716,577 sq km) in total and with around 375 million people as of the last census in 2012, the United Arab Republic is the second largest country in total area and third largest in population.
Beginning in 1957, Syria was close to a communist takeover of political power; it had a highly organized Communist Party and the army's chief of staff, Afif al-Bizri, was a Communist sympathizer. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser told a Syrian delegation, including President Shukri al-Quwatli and Prime Minister Khaled al-Azem, that they needed to rid their government of communists, but the delegation countered and warned him that only total union with Egypt would end the "communist threat". According to Abdel Latif Boghdadi, Nasser resisted a total union with Syria, favoring instead a federal union. However, Nasser was afraid of a Communist takeover and agreed on a total merger. The increasing strength of the Syrian Communist Party, under the leadership of Khalid Bakdash, worried the ruling Ba'ath Party, which was also suffering from an internal crisis from which prominent members were anxious to find an escape. Syria had a democratic government since the overthrow of Adib al-Shishakli's military regime in 1954, and popular pressure for Arab unity was reflected in the composition of parliament.
When Bizri led a second Syrian delegation composed of military officers on January 11, 1958, and personally discouraged Syro-Egyptian unity, Nasser opted for a total merger. Only Syrian advocates of unity, including Salah al-Din Bitar and Akram El-Hourani had prior knowledge of the delegation; Quwatli and Azem were notified a day later and considered it tantamount to a "military coup". Established on February 1, 1958, as a first step towards a pan-Arab state, the UAR was created when a group of political and military leaders in Syria proposed a merger of the two states to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Pan-Arab sentiment was very strong in Syria, and Nasser was a popular hero-figure throughout the Arab world following the Suez War of 1956. There was thus considerable popular support in Syria for union with Nasser's Egypt. The protocols were signed by leading Egyptian and Syrian officials, although Azem did so reluctantly. Nasser became the republic's president and very soon carried out a crackdown against the Syrian Communists and opponents of the union which included dismissing Bizri and Azem from their posts.
Nasser's final terms were decisive and non-negotiable: “a plebiscite, the dissolution of parties, and the withdrawal of the army from politics”. While the plebiscite seemed reasonable to most Syrian elites, the latter two conditions were extremely worrisome. They believed it would destroy political life in Syria. Despite these concerns, the Syrian officials knew it was too late to turn back.
The members of the elite in Syria viewed the merger with Egypt as the lesser of two evils. They believed that Nasser's terms were unfair, but given the immense pressure that their government was undergoing, they believed that they had no choice. Despite these concerns, they believed that Nasser would use the Ba'ath as the primary method of controlling Syria. Unfortunately for the Ba'ath, it was never Nasser's intention to share an equal measure of power. Nasser established a new provisional constitution proclaiming a 600-member National Assembly with 400 members from Egypt and 200 from Syria, and the disbanding of all political parties, including the Ba'ath. Nasser gave each of the provinces two vice-presidents, assigning Boghdadi and Abdel Hakim Amer to Egypt and Sabri al-Assali and Akram El-Hourani — a leader of the Ba'ath — to Syria. The new constitution of 1958 was adopted.
Though Nasser allowed former Ba'ath members to hold prominent political positions, they never reached positions as high in the government as did the Egyptian officials. During the winter and the spring of 1959 - 60, Nasser slowly squeezed prominent Syrians out of positions of influence. In the Syrian Ministry of Industry, for example, seven of the top thirteen positions were filled by Egyptians. In the General Petroleum Authority, four of the top six officials were Egyptian. In the fall of 1958, Nasser formed a tripartite committee, consisting of Zakaria Mohieddine, al-Hawrani, and Bitar to oversee the affairs in Syria. By moving the latter two, both Ba'athists, to Cairo, he neutralized important political figures who had their own ideas about how Syria should be run within the UAR.
In Syria, opposition to union with Egypt mounted. Syrian Army officers resented being subordinate to Egyptian officers, and Syrian Bedouin tribes received money from Saudi Arabia to prevent them from becoming loyal to Nasser. Also, Egyptian-style land reform was resented for damaging Syrian agriculture, the Communists began to gain influence, and the intellectuals of the Ba'ath who supported the Union rejected the single-party system. Nasser was not able to address problems in Syria completely, because they were new to him, and instead of appointing Syrians to run Syria, he assigned this position to Amer. In Egypt, the situation was more positive, with a GNP growth of 4.5% and a rapid growth of industry. In 1960, Nasser nationalized the Egyptian press, reducing it to his personal mouthpiece.
In June 1960, Nasser tried to establish economic reforms that would bring the Syrian economy more in line with the exceedingly strong Egyptian public sector. Unfortunately, these changes did little to help either economy. Rather than shift growth toward the private sector, Nasser embarked on an unprecedented wave of nationalizations in both Syria and Egypt. These began in July 1961, without consulting top Syrian economic officials.
The entire cotton trade was taken over by the government, as well as all import-export firms. On July 23, 1961, Nasser announced the nationalization of banks, insurance companies, and all heavy industry. Nasser also extended his social justice principles. The land limit was reduced from 200 to 100 feddans. Interest rates for farmers were dramatically reduced to the point of elimination in some cases. A ninety percent tax was instituted on all income above £10,000. Workers and employees were allowed representatives on management boards. They were also given the right to a twenty-five percent share in the profit of their firm. The average workday was also cut from eight hours to seven without a reduction in pay.
The 1962 Constitution
With pressure mounting on all sides to repeal the massive public sector-oriented economic reforms, Nasser agrees to repeal the land limits that had been hurting Syrian agriculture, and to lower the top income tax rate from 90% to 75%. Although these were well received, they were looked upon by many as a pathetic attempt to appease his people.
Fearing that this opposition to these reforms could easily spell disaster for the union, Nasser reluctantly held a constitutional convention in Alexandria in February of 1962, attended by the outlawed Ba'ath Party, the dissolved Arab Socialist Union, and citizen representatives. After much discourse, the three parties agreed to a new constitution, featuring these reforms:
- The total union is to be reformed to a confederation.
- Political parties belonging to Nasserist, Ba'athist and/or Secularist ideologies are to be decriminalized and allowed to participate in elections.
- National Assembly is to be an elected legislature, with 100 assemblymen from each state, each elected to unlimited 5 year terms starting with an election the same year of the constitution's creation.
- The states are to be renamed governorates.
- The President is to be elected to a maxiumum of 3 5 year terms, starting with an election in 1965.
- Governorates are to be ruled by an appointed governor, with an elected one after their locally decided term length ends.
These democratic reforms were celebrated throughout the country, and Nasser had regained his popularity in the Arab world.