Michel Aflaq (Arabic: ميشيل عفلق Mīšīl `Aflāq) (1910 – June 23, 1989) was the ideological founder of Ba’athism, a form of secular Arab nationalism.
The Ba'th Party (also spelled Baath or Ba'ath; Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي) was founded in 1945 as a left-wing, secular Arab nationalist political party. It has also been called the Arab Socialist Party. It functioned as a pan-Arab party with branches in different Arab countries, but was strongest in Syria and Iraq, coming into power in both countries in 1963. In 1966 the Syrian and Iraqi parties split into two rival organizations. Both Ba'ath parties retained the same name and maintain parallel structures in the Arab world.
When the Ba'th Party came to power in Syria on March 8, 1963, it gained and held a monopoly on political power there. That same year, the Ba'thists gained control of Iraq and ran the country on two separate occasions, briefly in 1963, and then for a longer period lasting from July, 1968 until 2003. After the de facto deposition of President Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist regime in the course of the 2003 Iraq war, the invading United States Army banned the Iraqi Ba'th Party in June, 2003.
The Arabic word Ba'th means "resurrection" as in the party's founder Michel Aflaq's published works On The Way Of Resurrection. Ba'thist beliefs combine Arab Socialism, nationalism, and Pan-Arabism. The mainly secular ideology often contrasts with that of other Arab governments in the Middle East, some which have leanings towards Islamism and theocracy.
Despite being recognized as the founder of the Ba'ath party, Michel Aflaq had little connection to the government that took power in Syria under that name in 1963. He fell out of favor with the Syrian government was forced to flee to Iraq where another Ba’ath Party had taken power. While the Iraqi party also failed to follow most of Aflaq's teachings, he became a symbol for the regime of Saddam Hussein who claimed that Iraq was in fact the true Ba’athist country. Aflaq was given a token position as head of the party however his objections to the regime were often silenced and usually ignored.
Born in Damascus to a middle class Greek Orthodox Christian family, Aflaq was first educated in the westernized schools of French mandate Syria, where he was considered a "brilliant student." He then went to university at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he first developed his Arab nationalist ideals, eventually attempting to combine socialism with the vision of a Pan-Arab nation. In his political pursuits, Aflaq became committed to Arab unity and the freeing of the Middle East from Western colonialism.
Upon returning to the Middle East, Aflaq became a school teacher and was active in political circles. In September 1940, after France's defeat in World War II, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar set up the nucleus of what was later to become the Ba’ath Party. The first conference of the Ba’ath Party (in full, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party), was to be in 1947.
In 1949, Aflaq served as Syria's education minister for a short period. In 1952, he left Syria, escaping from the new regime, returning two years later in 1954. Aflaq went on to play an important role in the unity achieved between Syria and Egypt in 1958.
Reportedly it was at this time that Aflaq first came into contact with the young Iraqi Ba’thist Saddam Hussein who had fled to Syria after participating in a failed assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim. Aflaq is said to have formed a close relationship with Hussein and to have assisted him in his promotion to full party member. Although Aflaq later claimed that he did not meet Hussein until after 1963.
In his writings Aflaq had been stridently in favor of free speech and other human rights as well as aid for the lower classes. He declared that the Arab nationalist state that he wanted to create should be a democracy. These ideals were never put in place by the regimes that used his ideology. Most scholars see Hafez al-Assad's regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq to have only employed Aflaq's ideology as a pretense for dictatorship. John Devlin in his article "The Baath Party: Rise and Metamorphosis" outlines how the parties became dominated by minority groups who came to dominate their society. Noted scholar and author, Elizabeth Picard, offers a different approach, arguing both Assad and Hussein used Ba’athism as a guise to set up what were in fact military dictatorships.
Upon his death in 1989 he was given a state funeral. The government of Iraq claimed that on his death he converted to Islam. A tomb was built for him in Baghdad and, according to propaganda as part of the Hussein’s continuing policy of using Aflaq’s name to promote his own political purposes, paid for by Saddam Hussein personally. The tomb, widely regarded as a work of great artistic merit, designed by Iraqi artist Chadagee, was located on the western grounds of the Ba'ath Party Pan-Arab Headquarters, at the intersection of al-Kindi Street and the Qādisiyyah Expressway overpass. That area is located at the far western end of the United States military Base Union III in Baghdad's Green Zone. Although there were rumors and accusations that his tomb was destroyed during the war 2003 Iraq War, the burial chamber and building above it were left untouched. Its blue-tiled dome can be seen above the concrete T-walls surrounding the Camp's perimeter.
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