National Democratic Block
The national block is a Syrian political party which played a prominent role in the Syrian political arena especially during the French Mandate on Syria (1920 – 1946) and during the first Republic (1932 -1963). It is described as the strongest political party in Syria during the era of democracy. It took into its ranks many Syrian political leaders during the first Republic.
The block experienced many internal schisms, and some of the main leaders such as Haitham Al Atassi pulled out. After liberation it was renamed Syrian National Party and was able to control a majority of the parliamentary seats between 1936 and 1939 and again between 1943 and 1947, which enabled it to take power alone later on.
The block played a prominent role in forming governments, despite the fact that it was not able to control the majority of seats to rule alone and remained in the second position behind the People’s Party; major support for the block came from Damascus, Daraa, Al Quneitra, and Al Sweida, while Aleppo, Homs, and Hama were supporters of the People’s Party.
The establishment began in February 1925 the French High Commissioner Galatasary Navy allowed for the formation of political parties and organizations. The formation was executed by a group of Syrian politicians who demanded the unity of the country and its independence. Of those politicians is Abdul Rahman Shahbandar, the founder of the People’s Party during the time of King Faisal the First, who was dissolved in the wake of the fall of the Syrian Arab Kingdom. The main reason for the emergence of the party was in opposition to the rule of the president mainly by Subhi Barkat.
In 1928, the Syrian politicians met, mostly described as “In the Future” and others from the supporters of Shahbandar, and officially declared the birth of the "National Bloc" just before the Constituent Assembly elections. Most of the leaders of the bloc were those who previously resisted the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and demanded the independence of Syria from it. Most of the bloc leaders were feudal families who owned large tracts of agricultural land as well as the Syrian villages that fell within those lands. This is one of the negatives ascribed to the government in Syria during the era of the First Republic, described as a rule of "the aristocracy."
Hashim al-Atassi was named president of the block at its founding in 1928 and until his election as president in 1936. The National Bloc council consisted of the following: (Hashim al-Atassi, Sheikh Ahmed bin Zaal Pasha Rifai, Saadallah al-Jabri, Abdul Rahman Al Kayali, Lotfi Al Haffar, Jamil Mardam Bey, Shukri Quwatli, Sheikh Ahmed Fadel Kayali, Nasib al-Bakri, Ibrahim Hanano, Sheikh Mohammed Khayr Bayl Hariri, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, Fares Al Khoury, Saleh al-Ali, Najib Al Brazil, Fakhri Al Baroudi, Mohamed Al Ashmar).
A clear split appeared and two trends emerged in the National Bloc between the radical movement loyal to Britain, the Hashemites led by Abdul Rahman Shahbandar, and the current liberal who sought a more independent Syria led by Shukri Quwatli. After the assassination of Abdul Rahman Shahbandar, which the National Bloc has been accused of, although later acquitted, the supporters of each stream established the People's Party, led by Rushdie Kikhia and Nazim Qudsi, and the National Party, led by Shukri Quwatli.
Also, it is after independence in 1946, he bloc suffered a cluster splits by a multitude of its leadership figures. Perhaps most notably Hashim al-Atassi, a longtime president and chairman of the bloc, Jamil Mardam Bey Prime Minister of Parties, who took the stand as an independent since the elections in the year 1947, as well as the Party Minister Abdul Rahman Al Kayali. The results of these defections weakened the bloc at the expense of their political opponents on the one hand, and at the expense of the proliferation of the number of independents in the Syrian House of Representatives on the other hand. Since a multitude of dissident bloc figures were popular in their regions they were able to survive as an independents in Syrian political life.
Objectives and Principles:
The most important of the goals deemed by the Syrian National Party is the complete freedom of the Syrian citizens, and the fight against the policies of intellectual and material neglect, deceit, and oppression. The party considers that the Syrian’s freedom is 'freedom of uncompromised sacred, and unconditional in all areas, and even if that freedom is not consistent with the party's ideas, this party will work to preserve and strengthen them; because it is the basis of all creativity.” Justice is the second goal, while the third goal is the equality of all ethnic components of the Syrian people including all religions and social classes.
The party’s five main principles are: nationalism for the nation, outstanding Syrian individuals, all non-Syrians are strangers, Syrian works to serve Syrians and see to their well-being, despite their political or ideological perspectives, Syrians are free to all their desires and aspirations with a condition that it may not cause damage to any Syria.
The phase before independence 1928 – 1946:
The National Bloc participated in the founding Constitutional Assembly elections of 1928 without achieving a majority in the parliament. The Assembly members refused to pass the amendments proposed by the French High Commissioner. This act gave the Assembly members a high level of credibility and a wide cluster of support from the people for defending the citizen’s rights as well as their unity and independence.
In the elections of 1932, which historians accuse the French authorities of rigging the results in some of the polling stations, like in Aleppo to the advantage of the moderates, which secured a decent result in the election and participated with the other parties in the political solution, where no party took a complete majority of the Assembly seats, and pushed for successfully placing Mohamad Ali Al Abed in the position of President in the year 1932. The moderates participated in a true to the bone government with half of the seats and turned against the government due to a disagreement regarding a peace resolution with France that was proposed in 1933. Major protests were organized by the request of Ibrahim Hanano that led to the resignation of the government and the dismissal of the party from power.
The bloc remained in the opposition until the year 1936, with the death of Hanano and the launching of the Sixtieth strike by members of the bloc, when many of the bloc members were arrested by authorities of the Mandate. The activities of the bloc stopped, offices were closed in Damascus and Aleppo. With the continuation of the strike the French were negotiating with the bloc for the first time. The bloc formed a delegation headed by Hashiim Al Atassi as well as Saad Allah Al Jabari, Sheikh Ahmad bin Zaal Pasha Al Rifai, Fares Al Khouri, Jamil Mardem Bey, Admun Homsi, Mustafa Al Shihabi, and Naim Al Antaki who all travelled to France to reach an agreement to end the French Mandate. The result of the negotiations resulted in the unity of the Syrian nation and the bloc members took a majority of the seats in an election for the first time electing Hashem Al Atassi as president. A sincere multiparty government was elected under the presidency of Jamil Mardam bey, Fares Al Khouri as president of the House of Representatives and in this way the bloc was able to take control of political life in Syria.
The reign of the National Bloc was wounded by several setbacks since France refused to agree to the independence resolution when it gave its blessing to the Sanjak of Alexandretta when the Mandate returned to Syria in 1937 and broke it off from Syria and declared it a territory under special rule. The French authorities issued several reports about the corruption of National Bloc ministers and the preference of their bloc’s employees over others.
Finally after splitting off the Sanjak of Alexandretta and the crisis that followed, riots erupted in Damascus, and Hashim Al Atassi resigned in the year 1939. The French connected their work with the constitution with the start of World War Two. A government of Mandate managers was formed led by Bahij Al Khatib, and the bloc returned to the opposition.
During the years of the second world war the National Bloc sympathized with the Nazi power like other Arab political powers as a result of the Nazi resistance against the Zionist movement which had reached a highly organized level in Palestine; this also came as a result of losing hope in France and Britain who failed to fulfill their promises at the end of the second world war. France even refused to sign the independence resolution in 1936. In general this position was changed after British forces and liberated French forces entered Syria in 1941.
In the year 1943 after fierce battles in the Middle East to the advantage of the Allied forces elections were organized which led to the bloc’s victory and their control of a majority of the parliamentary seats. Shukri Quwatli became the President of the Republic to become the second bloc president of Syria. At the same time Saad Allah Al Jabari formed a bloc government and elected Fares Al Khouri as president of the House of Representatives.
All the subsequent governments were bloc governments formed by Saad Allah Al Jabari and Fares Al Khouri who is the only Christian to reach the position of Prime Minister in Syria. Some of the minsitries were formed from independents or bloc ministries with a taste of independence. During the bloc’s rule the economy expanded, Syria joined the United Nations, the Arab League of Nations, and declared its complete independence from France in 1947 and that was the beginning of the independence created by the men of the bloc.
Phase after Independence 1946 – 1963:
After independence splits intensified within the bloc and it was renamed to the Syrian National Democratic Party and in 1947 new election laws were adopted. In the first elections after independence the party won a forward position without winning a majority in parliament due to internal splits on one side, criticisms of its domestic policies as well as foreign and finance policies, and Shukri Quwatli’s favoring of the Egyptian and Saudi Kingdoms in light of the people of Aleppo and Homs leaning towards the Iraqi Kingdom.
The Syrian National Democratic Party did not achieve a parliamentary majority in following elections but participated in more than one ministry. The party was able to re elect Shukri Quwatli presiden of the country twice, the first being in 1948 and ended in less than a year with the coup of Husni Al Zaim. Then again in 1955 and Quwatli was able to measure his good relationship with various political groupings from independents and democrats which helped t achieve this.
The bloc’s activities were once again banned during Adib Al Shishakli’s rule as did happen with other blocs and political powers in Syria. In the 1953 elections the National Democratic Party boycotted the political power of elections. After Shishakli was removed the NDP participated in legal elections in 1954 and achieved the third standing behind the People’s Party and the Baath Party. In 1958 the NDP supported the union with Egypt and accepted with the condition that Jamal Abdul Naser stops all political parties and groups to establish the union.
The NDP returned to the scene after the separation of the union in 1961 and achieved second place in the elections in 1961 and stopped its political activities on March 8, 1963. Most of the party leaders were arrested or left the country including President Quwatli himself.