Under different circumstances, 8 March would have been celebrated with a lot of fun fare in Damascus and every where else in Syria. This is the day when officers loyal to the Ba'th Party committed yet another military coup d'etat and installed in power the party of ''Unity, Freedom, Socialism'', the Ba'th Party.[Ba'th=resurgence in Arabic]. The party of militant Pan-Arabism, theoretical adherence to democracy and economic equality, thus fulfilled through an act of coercion, what it could not achieve through a democratic process. Syria, as ironic as it may sound, did have three rounds of fairly free elections, in 1949, 1954 and 1961, and in all , the Party did not poll better than 15% of the vote. Yet, the name Ba'th which was used by the officers who came to power in 1963, was misleading. This was , in effect, the Neo-Ba'th Party, a group of officers representing minority populations , aided by some radical Leftist intellectuals, most of them Sunni Muslims.
Here is where the historic irony started, and with it the tragedy of modern Syria. The Party which claimed to be the best, authentic, eternal representative of ALL Arabs, regardless of religious sect, was in 1963 no more than an alliance of disgruntled officers from minority sects, mostly Alawis, but also Druze , Shi'ites[Ismaillis] and some Christians. The nominal head of the new regime in 1963 was still a Sunni officer, Amin Al Hafiz, but in 23 February 1966, he was removed in an Alawite coup , and 4 years later, Hafiz Assad , an officer who came to prominence already in 1963, consolidated himself as the one and only dictator of the country. Despite the presence of some Sunni officers, the Sunni population of Syria was not fooled by this, and the reaction was swift. In 1964 and 1965, Sunnis in the Sunni hinterland , mainly in Hammah and Homs , revolted against the regime which from its onset was regarded as an Alawite-dominated , henceforth an illegitimate regime. It was not until the bloody events of February-March 1982, when tens of thousands of Sunnis, those belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Jihadist groups, were slaughtered by the regime, that Syria achieved a measure of relative stability, with the inevitable fly in the ointment; it was a non-legitimate regime.
Here is where 8 March is such a crucial day; Syria was not a stable political entity from independence to 1963. Plagued by frequent military interventions, lacking a cohesive political force which could master enough support in the populace to be effective and legitimate. These conditions led to the short-lived , abortive union with Egypt[1958-1961], so far so bad. Clearly conditions inviting the appearance of a strong man, a strong regime, and in that case, only the military could foot the bill. But the Syrian military in 1963 was already dominated by non-Sunnis , as a result of a political development which is out of the scope of this piece, and as of 1963, the military became almost completely dominated by minorities, whose leaders felt, that the only way in which they could protect their communities against the Sunni majority, was to dominate it, rather than being dominated by it. And so, under the guise of Arab nationalism, a narrow-based sectarian regime was established. This regime could never have become legitimate, as being so, required free , democratic elections, which would have doomed the minorities to remain in their historic position, that of the outsiders and looked down at, and this is exactly what the Alawite-led Junta wanted to prevent.
What would have been if, is always a tempting and irrelevant question.
What would have been if the Alawites- did not take over in 1963, and Syria would have continued to exercise chronic instability. But what happened before 1963 and after is well known and documented. Before, during the entire era of post-independence instability [1946-1963], very few Syrian died in political violence. The country still had a functioning, though grossly unequal economy, and sectarian violence was non-existent. We also know what has transpired since that fateful day of 8 March 1963 , especially in the last 5 years. Destruction of unprecedented proportions, death, misery , economic ruin and a Syria pushed back perhaps a century in time. Kudos to the 8 March 1963 revolution... Somehow I have the distinct impression, that most Syrians hate this day and wish it was completely off the calendar.