Wednesday, September 28, 2011

50 years ago: The United Arab Republic breaks up

(Sources for this post include various editions of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, especially the 1962 edition.)

On September 28, 1961, the United Arab Republic, the union of Egypt and Syria which had come into effect on February 1, 1958, began to break up with a revolt of Syrian army officers against Egyptian domination of the Syrian region of the U.A.R. in Damascus. The rebels seized radio and other key installations, and a Damascus radio announcement said, "The armed forces have assumed power...to restore rights to the nation."

After first deprecating the revolt as the work of a small group of reactionaries protesting recently-imposed state controls on the economy, U.A.R. President Gamal Abdel Nasser admitted the rebellion was a severe threat to the U.A.R. and called on "every soldier, every officer to do his duty." After a night meeting with his cabinet, President Nasser ordered Egyptian army, air, and naval forces to Syria to crush the revolt. However, Mr. Nasser countermanded the order shortly after 120 of his paratroopers had already landed near the Syrian seaport of Lataika. The paratroopers surrendered and the remainder of Mr. Nasser's forces returned to Egypt. Mr. Nasser told a crowd in Cairo's public square that he had called off his forces "so that no Arab blood would be shed."

Syria declared its independence on September 29 and installed Dr. Mahmoun al-Kuzbari, 49, a conservative law professor, as Premier. Mr. Kuzbari charged that Egypt had dominated the U.A.R. and "liquidated loyal [i.e., Syrian] elements, especially in the army," and pledged "a true and democratic life for Syria," promising to "lead the country within four months to a constitutional stage."

On September 30 the new Kuzbari government ordered the deportation of most of the 27,000 Egyptians in Syria and arrested some alleged spies and saboteurs. On October 2 the Kuzbari government announced that it would follow a policy of non-alignment in foreign affairs, and that it intended to retain social gains achieved during its union with Egypt.

Jordan and Turkey immediately recognized the new Syrian government, with other nations extending recognition over the next few days. On October 2 the United States received a formal plea from the U.A.R. (Egypt, that is) that it refuse to recognize the independence of Syria. The U.S.S.R. recognized Syria's independence on October 7, and the U.S.A. followed on October 10 after a delay that was widely interpreted as an effort to preserve cordial relations with Mr. Nasser. On October 13, Syria resumed the seat in the United Nations that it had held before the merger with Egypt, and there were no objections from Egypt or any other nation. The United Arab Republic was history.

Egypt continued to use the name United Arab Republic throughout the 1960s, perhaps as an exercise of wishful thinking. On September 1, 1971, Egypt announced that it would now be known as the Arab Republic of Egypt. The same day, the creation of the Federation of Arab Republics was announced. It was a loose union of Egypt, Syria, and Libya, with each nation to retain its national sovereignty. The brainchild of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Federation of Arab Republics officially came into existence on January 1, 1972, but the federation never amounted to much, and quietly faded away in November 1977.

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