The Syrian Social Nationalist Party: The ambiguous party in the shadow of the Ba’athist


December 17, 2017 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descrifrando la Guerra.

MADRID, Spain – Syria, due to its strategic situation, is a complex puzzle to understand. Its location on the Euphrates has witnessed the birth of various pre-Christian civilizations and empires such as the Assyrian, the Akkadian, the Babylonian and the Hittite. Located between the European, Asian and African continents, it was a place of passage for different armies and battlefield in great wars that have changed history. Throughout its territory settled the Egyptians, Aryan peoples like the Persians, Tartars like the Mongols, Turcomanos like the Ottoman Empire, Greco-Latin as the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and the Greeks from the Empire of Alexander the Great. 

Several religions, the first Christians and later those from the European kingdoms, the Semitic peoples, both Jews and Muslims, have clashed over their lands. All these characteristics have shaped in the Middle East and especially in Syria a map of various ethnic groups and religions that have been trapped and severed by the Sykes-Picot agreement. This varied number of ethnic groups and creeds is reflected in the popular movements and political parties that originate in the region, painting in them dyes of complexity and ambiguity unusual in the rest of the planet. Under that premise we will analyze the SSNP and its armed militia ‘The Eagles of the Whirlwind’ probably one of the parties that generate more confusion in the reader.

Introduction to the SSNP in Syria

The SSNP (Syrian National Socialist Party) is a political party founded in 1932 in Lebanon by the Christian journalist Antun Saadeh. It embraced fascist positions in its first years of operation, based on a non-racist social nationalism, which sought a strong and secular state, thus differentiating itself from German National Socialism. They sought support in Germany and Italy as a counterpoint to the British and French presence in the Middle East. With the defeat of these in World War II, the execution of their leader Antun Saadeh, the failure of the Shishakli dictatorship and the persecution of their militancy in both Lebanon and Syria, the party was modifying its statutes and ideology towards a left nationalist.

The SSNP embraced power, committed excesses, attempted coup and was banned several times. Since 2005 he was legalized again and led by Asaad Hardan and Issam al-Mahayri, forming part of the government coalition along with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front, which led him to suffer several splits; the most important is that of the SSNP (al-Intifada), led by Ali Haidar and that remained illegal until 2011, the year in which he was allowed to prepare for the 2012 elections in which he won 3 seats. Then he went to the opposition within the coalition Front for Change and Liberation from where he contested the elections. As of 2014 he left this coalition and is opposed by the Coalition for the Pacific Change Forces and the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change, which is a block of 13 left-wing Syrian political parties aligned with the pro-government in the current war , that promote a peaceful democratic openness. In this legislature the splinters have only 3 of the 250 parliamentary seats and their leader Ali Haidar is the current Minister of Reconciliation. According to own estimations, 100,000 militants are mainly from the Christian strongholds of the country.

Despite being the most critical legal party with Assad and the Baath Party, they join the government in this war, considering Islamism a greater threat as they feel they have more points in common with Baath’s Syria than with the rebels. The decisive factor is the belief that the Gulf countries are invading their homeland, sowing the Wahhabism that threatens the Syrian identity and burying the Great Syrian project. To fight the rebels they create a militia called ‘The Eagles of the Whirlwind’, which in 2015 had around 6,000 fighters and today they claim to have 16,000 militiamen after the successes they are reaping.

With the outbreak of protests in Syria in the famous ‘Arab Spring’, pro-government demonstrations took place that were even more numerous than those called against the Syrian government. The members of the SSNP participated in them. They organized or seconded them, they came with their flags, and in some cases their members were identified as the Shabiha (Ghosts) in charge of provoking and trying to break the ‘opposition-rebel’ manifestations. Few party militants supported the opposition protests. Among these was a small nucleus led by its leader Ali Haidar, but it lasted a short time; until May 2, 2012 that the Islamists murdered his son.

When at the end of 2011 the war spread like a cancer through the Syrian territory, the sectarian militias began to attack the Syrian nationalists, and in that context the first political murder of the war took place, that of Dr. Samir Qanatri, Coordinator General of the SSNP in the Province of Idlib. The nationalists were expelled from the rural areas of Idlib and forced to take refuge in the city. The forced displacement extended by the North of Hama, the Province of Aleppo and that of Deir ez-Zor. For example, when the city of Ras al-Ayn was captured, the first place that al Qaeda members destroyed and looted was the seat of the SSNP, even before that of the Baath Party. Despite this, the party did not mobilize its militants around a militia, and except for small groups that were integrated into the Syrian Army and the Popular Committees, they decided to stay out of the conflict.

It is from the end of 2013 that they agreed that their ideals were in danger and that they should be fully mobilized. For this came commanders of the Lebanese Party militia who maintained their military structures better organized due to lesser government pressure and their participation in several armed conflicts. The militia Nusur al-Zawba’a (The Eagles of the Whirlwind) began its mobilization mainly around the Christian strongholds where the fear of the arrival of foreign jihadists was greatest. The secularism of the party was the unifying element that led many to join and not so much another type of ideological premises. Among the different Christian churches, the call to the party ranks more in the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioquia.

The pro-government groups began to unite in the country through the Popular Committees, creating small militias that protected neighborhoods or localities from the entrance of armed groups. In 2012 the Syrian Army equipped them with weapons and trained them, in addition to merging them into a single unified command. That was the evolution to become the paramilitary branch of the Syrian Arab Army, the NDF (National Defense Forces). Over the years, dozens of groups were absorbed by this new body. However, some of these groups remained on the sidelines despite benefiting from the government and the army. While the SSNP integrated its combatants into the NDF and the Syrian Army, the SSNP (al-Intifada) remained independent, rejecting the subordination to the Syrian Army while maintaining the flow of arms from the government, in exchange for supporting to the government even after moving to the opposition.

After the victory in the Battle of Homs, the staff of the Syrian Army decided to leave the command in the city and its surroundings to the SSNP, motivated by their lack of experience in combat and the need to employ other units more hardened as Hezbollah or the 4th Division in new fronts. This decision greatly popularized the nationalists who started a house-to-house and social media advertising campaign in which they made many believe that the victory in Homs was theirs. The popularity gave them a considerable increase in their militancy and recruits for combat who did not necessarily share the ideology, but agreed that the party freed them from the ‘Islamist hordes’. This impulse catapulted them to other fronts such as Latakia, Suwaydah, Homs and Damascus.

Regarding the ethnic-religious composition of the militia there are no official data, however, an approximation of how it is distributed by the announced martyrs, the areas in which they perform and the supports received can be established. As noted above, the party was founded by a Lebanese Christian, and its first self-defenses that derived into the militia were formed in the Christian localities of Syria and Lebanon. They often fight with or participate in acts of the Syrian (Christian) militias of Sootoro and the Forces of Wrath. There are numerous photographs of funerals of their fighters in Orthodox and Catholic churches, and they have celebrated the visit of the patriarch of the Morognatius Aphrem Karim II Orthodox Syriac Church. Although they go to acts of other confessions, we can conclude that the main religion in the militia is the Orthodox Christian. That does not mean that as a party that defends secularism is not attractive to other confessions, since they have often presented Shiite martyrs, Alawites, Druze and even non-sectarian Sunnis. Above all, they have curdled well among the Ismailite population (Rama of Shiism).

The formation receives advice and training from Hezbollah since its 2008 alignment with them in the armed clashes that took place in Beirut. After the outbreak of the Syrian War, Syrian Army officers train and provide weapons, albeit long before, in Hafez al-Assad’s mandate in 1982 they also received advice and weapons in Lebanon in their fight against Israel. In addition, the Whirlwind Eagles have entered the Russian militia training program.

The history of the party charged with violence

As we have noted before, the party was created by Antun Saadeh in 1932. Under a fascist ideology and hatred of communism, the intention was to create a secular state that would remove Sunni confession from power. On the other hand, the SSNP promulgated a decided rejection of Arabism and Palestinian and Lebanese nationalism. These positions made him grow in unpopularity, since they were contrary to all types of present ideology except anticolonialism. This is why in their first years they had to remain in total clandestinity, which led their leader to be imprisoned in Lebanon for 6 months.

When they managed to fit into a certain sector of Middle Eastern intellectuals, they decided to take the leap in politics. At that time Syria lived under the French mandate reason why they were united with other nationalistic formations like the National Block with which they did not last too long. The reason for the break was that the bloquistas refused to carry out armed actions against the French as required by the SSNP. These armed actions provoked a wave of repression against the party that led to the arrest of many of its militants and the exile of others, including that of its founder.

In 1946 the party voted against the claims of King Abdullah of Jordan to unite Iraq, Syria and Jordan to form Greater Syria. They rejected the idea because of the fact that it would consolidate the Jordanian Islamist monarchy, which went against its secular republican ideals. For them the territory is not significant if it is not accompanied by Syrian nationalism.

In 1947 with the Independence of Lebanon, Saadeh returned and continued the political struggle, at a time when they had strong confrontations with the Kataeb Party (Maronites) that despite having a fascist ideology was closer to the Spanish national Catholicism and was based in a Lebanese nationalism instead of pan-Syrianism. The Maronites aligned themselves with Israel in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, which increased tensions with the SSNP, which although it did not participate in said conflict, expressed its support for the Arabs. With the Israeli victory, their Maronite allies rose to power thus increasing the conflict between the two parties. While on the other side of the political spectrum deepened the differences with the Lebanese communists who accepted the partition of Palestine after Soviet pressures, the street harassment of the nationalists against the communists ended with the burning of its headquarters in Beirut. Shortly afterwards, a revolt organized by the SSNP against the Maronites broke out and forced Saadeh to move to Syria, where his president Husni al-Zaim, who had promised him support, handed him over to the Lebanese authorities. After a brief trial in 1949, Antun Saadeh and part of the SSNP leadership were executed, which consummated a pact between the Syrian Prime Minister, the Egyptian King and the Lebanese prime minister, who were already tired of the problems that the controversial journalist was giving reconverted to politician.

The low popularity of Husni al-Zaim and the SSNP’s thirst for revenge caused the party to support a second coup organized by 3 military men: Sami al-Hinnawi, Adib Shishakli (SSNP militant) and Fawzi Selu (Strong man of -Zaim). Sami al-Hinnawi was the one who remained in de facto power, but yielded the presidency to the nationalist veteran Hashim al-Atassi. His first measure was to execute Husni al-Zaim and his Prime Minister (Later a cousin of this would kill Hinnawi). His second measure was to move towards the merger of Iraq, Syria and Jordan under the Hashemite monarchy, which outraged the nationalist sector and led to the third coup of 1949, this time led by Adib Shishakli and Fawzi Selu.

Fawzi Selu was placed as president, while the Kurdish-Arab Shishakli ruled in the shadow. Both erected the SSNP as a Single Party and suppressed the other political parties (among them the embryo of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Baath Party). They also banned unions, and founded a police regime that spied on all political movement while improving relations with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, at that time at odds with Iraq.

The attrition that generated an organized clandestine opposition and the conspiracy of a group of soldiers, caused that Shishakli dismissed Selu and stood as the maximum and public figure of the dictatorship. To give a sense of democratic openness, Shishakli founded his own party, the Arab Liberation Movement, a nationalist party with the same statutes as the SSNP but open to Arabism in a period in which Nasser’s Arabism was quoted on the rise and was The only way to catch popular support. With the new party began a military offensive against the Druze in order to limit their growing regionalism, bombing and assaulting Jabal Druze. This was the last straw that caused a coup against Shishakli executed by the Baath Party, the Communist Party, the pro-Iraqi nationalist parties and the Druze militias, supported politically and militarily by the Iraqi government. The dictator had to go into exile.

Since then what remained of the SSNP in both Syria and Lebanon went into full decline and launched a new political war, in this case against the Nasserist Arabists, whose maximum exponent was the young Baath Party, more specifically its most popular man; the militant Adnan al-Malki, who was assassinated by an Alawite militant of the SSNP. This fact led to enmity with the Baath for decades. In the trial against the accused, the party’s plans with the United States were unveiled to create an anti-communist cell that would allow aborting the country’s drift towards communism, a fact that ended in the banning of the party in Syria until 2005.

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The war against Arabism spread to Lebanon, where its president Camille Chamoun opposed the union with Egypt. To avoid this, he requested help from the United States, which decided to intervene militarily in the Crisis of 58 and received the support of the SSNP, which took advantage of the circumstance to win its legalization. He had previously been suspended following the assassination of Prime Minister Riad al-Sohl, perpetrated by SSNP militants at the capital’s airport, who said Riad al-Sohl was behind the execution of Antun Saadeh.

In spite of this, the SSNP again wasted another opportunity to do politics and in 1961 attempted a new failed coup against the Maronite president Fuad Chehab, which resulted in a new outlawing of the party.

The SSNP entered into a new stage in the shadows until the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) broke out, where its militia aligned itself against the Maronites and Israel, participating in the Lebanese National Movement; a conglomeration of leftist groups like the PLO, the Nasserists, Baath, the PCL, EPL … and later the support of Iran and Hezbollah. In this war his most outstanding action was the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, president of both the military wing and the politics of the Lebanese Falange, and newly elected Lebanese President in 1982. His assassination would result in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, in which the Falangists with the support of Israel murdered thousands of Palestinians.

With the invasion of Israel in South Lebanon, the SSNP militants intensified the war against the Israeli Army, and launched a new technique in the Middle East: the suicide attack. For this, they mainly used underage women. The hostility to the IDF’s presence in Lebanon led to a tactical alliance with Hezbollah that solidified in the 2008 Beirut riots and remains in the Syrian war today.

Party ideology

To understand the main ideological points of the party, we must go back to the decade of the 30s, where Syria and Lebanon coexisted under the French mandate. In that period a strong movement emerged against the French presence, and the SSNP built its pillars on the anti-colonial nationalist movement. The region of the Middle East, in particular the Levant, had long been under colonial rule, first by the Ottoman Empire and later by the French Republic. Antun Saadeh wrote the political foundations of the party, based mainly on the belief of the existence of a Syrian nation whose homeland should be established in ‘The Great Syria’.

This entity would occupy the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait, the Turkish province of Hatay (Alexandreta), and the southern part of Turkey between the Taurus mountain range in the northeast and the mountains of Zagros in the northwest to the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the south, including the Sinai Peninsula and the Gulf of Aqaba. In the known as Fertile Half Moon. Thus establishing the limits of Pan-Sirianism.

With the Lebanese independence of France, the population was divided between Lebanese Nationalists and Unionists. The unionists argued that Lebanon was part of Syria, and divided between Arabists and pan-Syrians, who in turn were divided among the pragmatists fighting for the creation of a secular Greater Syria as a previous step to a secular Arabia, and the more purists demanding that Great Syria be independent of any Pan-Arab project, because they considered that there was no Greater Arabia but a series of Arab nations impossible to unite. This last option was chosen by the party.

Pan-Syrianism is intimately linked to Greater Syria, so they are against Colonialism ascribing that it is the one that has destroyed the Syrian homeland. For this reason, their foundation is opposed to the Sykes-Picot agreement (United Kingdom-France), which translates into the rejection of the loss of Alejandreta and Antioquía in favor of Turkey. And obviously they reject the creation of a Jewish state in what they consider their territory.

The defense of the Syrian nation believe that it is impossible without Secularism and Laicism, or what is the same, the separation Church and State. To that end, they have promoted the expulsion of the church from state structures since its foundation, as well as the prohibition to the clergy to intervene in political and judicial matters and the elimination of barriers between sects that prevent a true union under the same banner. Not only with Islam, but with Christianity and other sects. As an example, by acquiring militancy in the party, they renounced their religious faith, something that is currently not applied. This point was key when it comes to penetrating the Syrian and Lebanese minorities, and that is why it is not uncommon to see that the bulk of the organization is made up of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and Kurds, who welcomed the idea of ​​restoring Syria in which at least 50% was not Sunni as a perfect strategy to achieve secularism and thus ensure their survival. Rationale that cost him being outlawed in Hashemite Jordan.

Another noteworthy point is the anti-Zionism. Since its inception, the party has been deeply anti-Zionist, consistent with most parties, militias and organizations in the region. Their attitude as they explain it is not a product of hatred of the Jews, but, as with Islam, it is due to a conflict with their secular and secular ideas, as well as a problem for the land generated by foreign powers when adding a new ‘nationalism’ in the area. The party concludes that it can integrate all but the Jewish nations into Greater Syria. The Eagles of the Maelstrom have fought directly against Israel in Lebanon in 1985 as allies of Hezbollah and the Palestinian factions. From the 70s and already established in a supposedly leftist ideology, cultivated good relations with the Palestine PLO, which won him great support and many militants within this minority. In 2006, they joined Hezbollah’s struggle to expel Israeli occupiers in southern Lebanon.

To keep their project afloat, they believe they need a cultural and military strength, that is, the need to create a Syrian culture and identity that brings together all Syrians and strengthens that feeling as a nation, eliminating the internal enemies (nationalism, separatism and religious fundamentalism). ). For external enemies believe in the need for a military fortress to avoid foreign interference. Finally, economically they do not have a very specific plan, but they suggest a balance between work and salary, state intervention and the limitation of unions.

Explaining their contradictions

The SSNP since its inception has made declarations breaking away from fascism and Nazism, especially the latter. However, its principles could easily be copied from fascism except for its opposition to the church. They are also similar to those of Nazism except for their rejection of a superior race, denying racial discrimination. The party, like previous movements, emerged at a time when the economic and cultural depression went hand in hand with the advance of colonialism imposed by the United Kingdom, France and the incipient United States. This led to fascism / national-socialism to be presented as the cultural and economic resurgence based on the strength of nationalism.

Some intellectual groups found in these ideologies a romantic model to follow, and as in the case of the SSNP, they followed their wake not only in dress, symbology, the greeting (‘Viva Siria’ with the raised hand) and the summer camps for children similar to those of Nazi Germany, in which they became familiar to young people in the world of war … If not also in their hatred towards communism and in the violent way of coming to power. Since its founding the party has shown little friendship for democracy and has always tried to come to power by violent methods. On numerous occasions they participated in conspiracies, coups d’état and assassinations. From the attempts of Saadeh for striking for help at the German embassy, ​​their tendency has always been towards the totalitarianism of the single party as we have seen in the Shishakli era, where individual rights and freedoms were abolished when voting and unionizing. Each one of their acts can be justified as a reaction to attacks received, however, we have been able to verify their null capacity to maintain alliances and respect other ideologies, except in recent years with Hezbollah. As if that were not enough, they base their economy on autarky, compensated with an expansionary ideology.

On the other hand, the greater growth of the party coincided with the maximum expansion of Nazism in World War II. At that time some sectors admired the German renaissance and wished the same in the Middle East. After the defeat of totalitarianism, many Italian and German militants went into exile in Syria / Lebanon joining the SSNP, which did not stop their decline there too.

One of its most repeated principles is to declare itself secular. In that aspect they tend to limit Islamism, especially the Sunni, but there has been a permissiveness with Christianity that they have never taken off. The same happens with Judaism, although in this sense its refusal towards the establishment of a Jewish State does not seem a product of racial hatred as that of Nazism if not for a struggle for the land, because they consider the territory of Israel as part of Syria. In this aspect he contrasts his position against Nazism that facilitated the creation of the State of Israel in order to expel a greater number of Jews.

In terms of symbolism, the famous whirlwind similar to the Nazi swastika stands out. They categorically deny that it is based on Nazi symbology, since it is a symbol with more than 6000 years of antiquity in Syria, appeared in vessels, carved in stone, etc. According to them, it represents pre-Islamism and pre-Christianity, or what is the same, the principles of Syrian nationalism before the religions that would cause the destruction of this feeling interfered. However, not only the symbol itself reminds Nazism, but also the distribution of colors on its flag. What need is there to use that symbology if in fact you do not have the ideology that you represent today? If the goal is the use of a pre-Christian and pre-Islamic symbol, museums are full of images and figures from before that time not associated with totalitarianism.

From the 70 ‘make clear’ their position ‘antifascist’ taking a statement rejecting all forms of fascism. In fact, a phase of alliances with Palestinian leftist parties such as the PLO coalition begins, however it does not seem like an approach to a leftist ideology, but a specific alliance against the invasion of southern Lebanon by Israel, taking advantage of the fact that leftists Palestinians had an open war against the allied Israeli Maronites.

Although nowadays they seem far from right-wing policies, their underdeveloped economic program shows a rather gloomy outlook. Focused on the nationalization of the economy, they do not seek that the means of production be in the hands of the workers, if not in the hands of an autarchic government that does not depend on foreign powers. That is, for them the interest of the nation predominates before that of the people. Based on their purpose and interests and using common words in fascist rhetoric such as identity, duty, honor, strength and discipline, they intend to mobilize the working class, while curtailing their right to organize. His leftist discourse seems nothing more than a strategy to capture votes in a Syrian policy in which the vote to the right is taboo, and in which the parties camouflage their ideology under leftist rhetoric. In that direction the party has never hesitated to lurch. From support for secularism or radical Christianity, from its alignment with the extreme right to what is proper with the extreme left, from its fight against Arabism to its affiliation with the current … the SSNP has shaped its ideology as dictated by events giving a image always anti-system that would allow him to reach the heart of the disenchanted with power. His real commitment is to establish a radical, conservative and upright nationalism, in which Christianity manages to equal Islam.

In conclusion, it seems that they have taken steps to get rid of the image of the fascist party that contrast with meetings and conventions with parties of the extreme right-wing European House Pound or the MSR and figures of the international ultra-right. His rhetoric is more like an attempt to get away from capitalism but keeping his veto to leftism. Position commonly known as third-position, of which its most famous variant is the fascist. Considering the particularities of Greater Syria in which Christians are a scattered minority among dozens of peoples, ethnic groups and branches of Christianity, we conclude that there would be no viable fascism that discriminated by race or religion. For this reason, the SSNP has had to adapt to the circumstances, transforming itself into a milder version of fascism.

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