Poor People's Movements and the Cold War in the Middle East
Thompson, Elizabeth - University of Virginia

2010-10-21 16:14:18-04:00
Ann Arbor, MI - University of Michigan - Tisch Hall Room 1014
Duration: 01:48:14

On September 15, 1951, tens of thousands of peasants gathered in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to rally for land reform and an end to landowner privilege. Never before had such a large and public congress been held on behalf of peasants in the Middle East. The leader of the movement was Akram al-Hawrani, a dapper lawyer and parliamentarian who had launched the peasant movement a decade before, to challenge the lock hold of landowners on Syrian politics. Hawrani’s movement had contributed to ousting the French from Syria in 1946 and had won electoral reforms that now guaranteed direct and secret ballots. But in the 1950s the movement collided with a foe that it would not vanquish: the Cold War. Hawrani’s Arab Socialist Party aimed to ally with urban workers largely controlled by the Syrian communist party, and to ally with the urban middle class organized by the Ba`th party in a coalition that might have mirrored the successful coalitions that produced social democracy in Scandinavia. But anti-communist policies of the Eisenhower administration magnified landowner power and encouraged foreign intervention, leading to the complete collapse of the political arena in Syria. Hawrani’s peasant coalition, like poor people’s movements elsewhere in the region, disappeared from history and memory. This amnesia persists today, when a hegemonic discourse about anti-Western subversion diverts attention from the problem and politics of poverty in the Arab world.


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