After decades of absence in Syria during Al-Ba’ath rule, the Civil-Society (SC) or Non-Governmental Organizations movement revived their activities in 2011. Their numbers scored during the Syrian up- rising more than how many NGOs were formed in the course of nearly half a century (1959-2010). The concept of civil society of the current generation knowledge is ambiguous given the suppression those NGOs have struggled by the ruling regime; however, the reality is that Syria’s history in civil rights and civil society movement, in general, goes deep in Syria’s history.
To start with, the civil society corpus’s definition array diversifies among the scholars, which widened and solidified their role across the world. The Civil Society notion and contemporary practice reflects the social norms’ progression and revolutionary pattern of how societies developed and shaped their peaceful resistance to the state power dynamic. In addition, it surfaces how communities took part in the political sphere of the states sometimes or were tolls to magnify the society’s educational and add-up to the development of the country intellectually and politically.
The concept of civil society, according to the historian scholar Antonio Ghramshe, asserts that there is a connection or, perhaps, a backlash between social segregation and the emergence. He explains the correlation between the states’ power and domination and liberation movement against the bourgeois classes. The approach instills the significance of the SC role reshaping and reviving engagement between non-governmental organizations, social associations related bodies, and state to jointly work alongside the government to organizes and empowers the societies, not disable them through secularizing or intervening or politically jeopardize their deeds.
Civil society’s concept continued to evolve in parallel with the global, uprising movements and the emergence of the globalization concept and ideology. The later became an evident cornerstone to confront and contribute to reshaping the states’ power. These bodies, throughout history, a socially powerful apparatus to protect societies from the escalated commercial economic conflicts inspired by justice and equality principles.
This development crystallized scholars’ definition of civil society to be “A group of non-governmental organizations, such unions, association, professions bars, parties, free-pluralistic media, clubs, and institutions which involve in political, social, intellectual scopes to provide a sense of autonomy perhaps or independence to the society from the state’ authority. The ambiguity of this definition made it compelling to include an inclusive approach to civil society’s essence. Idrak a center for research and consultation, previously Aleppo established in 2014, focuses on Middle East policy and strategic scholar researches. According to the center that civil society is “A group of volunteers bodies that has a source of autonomy from the state to satisfy its member welfare and provide assistance and social services to people or practice different civic activities.
These groups adhere and embrace a certain collection of principles and rules that ensure friendly governance, diversity. Idrak’s approach displayed that civil society’s role may involve, in some cases, in decision-making domestic or national sphere and may mainly on labor and political segments. In the international sphere, civil society is standardized, according to The International Bank. “a group of voluntary organizations that foster the public sphere between society and state aiming to achieve certain perceptible and ethical purposes to its members. Their work adheres with respect, consent, forgiveness, and tolerance of plurality, peaceful means to solve problems and conflicts.”
Syrian civil society Historic role has been into charitable work (charity association) whose work has been devoted to the help society bound together. Similarly, “religious organization” whose influence was pivotal to increase education in addition to the services and public support. Before the Al-Ba’ath coup in 1963 against the civic president Nazim Al-Qudsi which was accompanied by a decree to activate “emergency statues in the country,” which was invalidated in April 2011. The contribution of the Syrian civil society and social activities can be tracked down to the mid 19th century when a widespread literacy, educational, political clubs were taking place in the region. Known as *the Syrian Association (Al Jameya Al Suriya) *established in Beirut in 1847, was one of the first literature and science association by a group of prominent literature scholars such as Nasef Al Yaseje and Butros al Bustane who worked ever since to spread knowledge and fine-art education.
In Damascus, however, and ever since the first association was first established 1874, a scientific specialist who was known as *Rebat Al Mahaba* a wide range of civil society organizations started their activities in different scopes of science, literature fine-art. On the same token, politically and motivated revolutionary organi- zations emerged and took part in reshaping the public notion about political participation and liberation ideology from the repressive unequal feudal power.
Al-Halakat Al-Zahabeya association, for example, established, originally in Beirut in 1975, which was well known by distributing posters in Syria and Lebanon campaigning and motivating society to dismiss foreign obedience.
They aspired the national sense of liberty, motivation, and independence. The hazardous nature of this organization kept its members’ identity unknown; otherwise, they could have been hunted down by the loyalist to the occupation powers.
After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the WWI withdrew from the Arab states in 1918, the Syrian Arab Kingdom was formed as an independent state in the Levant states under the king Faisal Ibn AlHoussine (1918-1920). This contemporary era reflects the impact of the educated elite and their influence on the political process in the country and their efforts to form a democratic country by their political, civic movements. Their work resulted in creating the initial Syrian State prior to the (GSR).
One of the marking policies of Houssine’s rule was putting the Palestinian cause at the forefront of his priorities. This opened the national political sphere for establishing civil society movement who advocated and urged Faisal to champion for Palestine against the Zionist movement. For instance, The Arab Club (Al- Nade Al-Arabe was one of the ed-political organizations, as well as Al-Arabeya Al-Fatah, Al-Ahed Association. The later was, in fact, formed by secret joint Syrian-Iraqi officers, who were working as an internal resistance seeking independence from the mighty Ottoman empire.
The Great Syrian conference: general Syria conference June 1919
The Great Syrian Conference (GSC) is considered a breakthrough towards democracy, political freedom, and rights expansion .The conference laid out for establishing the first Syrian national parliament in Syria’s history to which was included the “natural Syria” states or what is known now with the Levant States, including all political and social associations of groups. During this period, Hashem Al-Atasi headed a committee to write the Syrian constitution or what was known as the *principle law* formed from 12 Chapter and 147 Article. The constitution, if we perhaps call it, guaranteed a large scale of freedom and liberties to create parties, newspapers, publications, and pledged plurality.
Based in Syria’s capital, Al-Nade Al Nesa’ae and Al-Ra- beta’a Al-Adabeya in 1920 and 1921 respectively were established whose social work and contribution to the civil society movement, in parallel with the context of the World War I, was an underpinning element the revolutionary movement in the country from the occupiers whose intention was to take control of the country.
1918-1927 period, in general, there was a bold initiative by the civil society and social movement, to establish a Syrian state in the course of the French occupation and contributed to the Great Syrian Revolt (GSR). The Syrian resistance, in spite of its failure, has succeeded in shaking the occupation power predominance and underscored the notion of occupation refusal and asserted the determinate willingness of the Syrian people to form a Syrian national government and conduct a parliamentary election.
In 1918, the King Faisal government declared the establishment of the Modern Syrian State. This boosted up the educated Syrian elite to articulate and reproduce a new democratic Syrian state inspired by other western countries. The Syrian reaction was united with the vision, yet not with the means to achieve it.
While One side maintained the peaceful means took peaceful means using mass-strikes, demonstrations, this movement were repression and severe violence and arrests and a lot of activists and well-known leaders of the resistances to leave the country and live in exile; meanwhile, the other side vowed to restore Syria’s independence with the military resistance such as Ibrahim Hanano revolt in Aleppo and Saleh Al-Ali in Latakia’s mountains. Consequently, the Special French delegate Syrians to form a party that includes all of them to negotiate the French on behalf of Syria, who built the Al-Sha’ab party in 1925.
The Syrian Great Revolution (SGR)
The extreme mandatory authorities’ repression by cancelling liberties and the striation of their grid on power, prompted large scale civilian protests Damascus and other cities, which was a form of peaceful social resistance; in parallel with the military uprising, activists continued to push from inside against the repressive power by protesting and mass strikes, despite the arbitrary arrests. It helped contribute to the limited gains of the GSR to which was defeated by the French at the end. One of the most remarkable prospects is the inclusivity of participation of all Syrian including bourgeoisie, the landlord and wealthy traders and professionals, Islamic religious associations, farmers and even Bedouin tribes. One of the main drawbacks of the revolutionary movement, which struggled in its strife against the occupation, was the substantial divisions, which resulted in prolonging the battle for liberation for the following two decades. Primarily, personal or ideological conflicts notably among the elite families and those who once had leverage under the Ottoman rule and were trying to reintroduce themselves as a major actor. Such as, according to Khouri’s book, Prince Abdullah’s ambition to expand his east-Jordanian and Iraqi territory to attach Syria under his rule. Furthermore, some anti-occupation groups, both political or military actors’ financial supplies, were by external agencies, dedicating their efforts not for the higher purpose but for the donors’ foreign agenda. This, however, seeded the inner conflict and distracted the revolutionary campus from its primary purpose, notably in 1926, when France’s forces were taking over revolutionary forces. The resistance fallback contributed, later on, retread once again to the civic means again by forming in 1928, National bloc (Al-Kutla Al Wataneya) by a group of nationalist and well-known revolutionary figures in Beirut such as Abdul-Rahman Al-Kayale, Ibrahim Hanano, Mazhar Raslan.
Syria from the French Occupation to the liberation
Following the Great Syrian Revolution, a new challenge surfaced, which was running the Parliamentary elections under the occupation authorities. The parliament functioned as a fundamental channel to face the French opposed government led by Taj-Aldeen Al-Husayne. In 1928, The parliament was elected and had a majority of nationalists who created the constitution-writing committee to write the first Syrian constitution in the Syrian modern history which was led by Hashem Al-Atasi and 26 member. However, In April 1929, the French delegate ordered to dissolute the assembly reviving the repression and denouncing any means of engagement between the Syrian and the ruling authority (France occupation). A political stagnation dominated and division among increased Syrian’s actors of the National Bloc. One part was fundamentally obliged to the Syria independence principle; while the other party, represented by Jamil Mardam Begh, was more flexible and collaborated with the French implementing what he called “Honourable Cooperation Policy” as a way of negotiate, but it was widely espoused among the bourgeoisie segment in the cities. Even though, the National Bloc was successful organizing the first Syrian presidency election in 1932 to which Mohammad Ali Al-Abed won; however, the Syrian society was in dire situation suffering an endemic economic, and social crisis between (1930-1934).The widespread unemployment rates were extraordinarily high and traditional professions started to vanish due to the instability in the country and lack of resources to which have affected the popularity of the National Bloc party in between the people. During this aforementioned struggle, a new political movement started rising which was called The League of Nationalist Action or (Usbat Al-Aml AlKawme) in 1933. This movement, as will be illustrated later, is connected to the rising of the Arab Nationalism movement in Syria and Al Ba’ath party as well.
Post-Syrian general Strike 1936 and the road to independence and democratic country
The significant remark in this period was the networking and social cooperation people managed to do in their struggle against the French, for instance, large banks large trader figures corporations and tradesmen to pressurize France by incapacitating the public-life to which media had a notable influence to publicize the strikes ideas. The French finally bent to the civil movement’s demands, and both parliamentary and presidential elections were held, leading Fares Khouri to lead the Parliament and Hashem Al-Atasi to be a president in December 1936. On the 17th April 1946, Syria removed the last French soldier from the Syrian soil and announced its independence, which is deemed the inception of a democratic country and free economy. Four years later, in 1950, with secular basses, the Syrian constitution was passed. The national industry and agriculture flourished as the outbreak of World War II contributed to halting any importing operation from outside Syria, having said that Syria in that period was the first country in the Arab region to use machines agriculturally. The revolutionary breakthrough in the agricultural sector attributed to reverse the migration from the rural to cities to become from cities to rustic. This counter migration accelerated the recovery and development of the Syria economy and, consequently, marked the rising of the middle-class segment, which continued to grow over time.
Over the same period, labor parties began to rise, after passing Labour Law in June 1946, which guaran- teed labors a wide range of rights such as the right to organize, protest and strike from work. These rights display the fruits of the prolonged struggles over the past decades to stop the bourgeoisie and feudalism enslavement powers over labor. The figures of civil labor movements establishing parties double almost three times, according to Kamal Adeb in his book “Syria’s contemporary history,” which became the fore- front to advocate for labor rights in this era in accord- ance with the Syrian Law. From 1946 to 1949, it can be considered the golden era of the civil society movements in Syria’s history. Liberty, freedom to establish parties, and practice with peaceful means protests by laborers or political was the main feature that made contributed to rising numbers of parties.
On March 1949, however, it can be marked to be the beginning of the end to the civil society’s activities proliferation and democratic movement overall. This is attributed to the first military coup by Husne Al-Zaem against the legitimate president Shukri Al-Kwatli, to whichh was followed by a series of 20 military coups until 1970 when the last military initiate took place by the former defence minister Hafez Al-Assad, who ruled the country for 30 of authoritarian Baathist single party policy to which last until this moment by Assad the son.