March 1949 Syrian coup d'état

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March 1949 Syrian coup d'état
Part of the Cold War
Date 29 March 1949
Location Syria Syria
Result Overthrow of Shukri al-Quwatli
Syria Syrian government

Syria Syrian Armed Forces coup plotters
 United States

Commanders and leaders
Syria Shukri al-Quwatli
President of Syria
Syria Husni al-Za'im
Army chief of staff
Syria Adib Shishakli
Syria Sami al-Hinnawi
United States Miles Copeland Jr.
United States Stephen Meade

The March 1949 Syrian coup d'état was a bloodless coup d'état that took place on 29 March, and was the first military coup in modern Syrian history which overthrew democratic rule. It was led by the Syrian Army chief of staff at the time, Husni al-Za'im, who became President of Syria on 11 April 1949. Among the officers that assisted al-Za'im's takeover were Adib al-Shishakli and Sami al-Hinnawi, both of whom would later also become military leaders of the country.[1] The then president, Shukri al-Quwatli, was accused of purchasing inferior arms for the Syrian Army and of poor leadership.[2] He was briefly imprisoned, but then released into exile in Egypt. Syria's legislature, then called the House of Representatives, was dissolved. al-Za'im also imprisoned many political leaders, such as Munir al-Ajlani, whom he accused of conspiring to overthrow the republic.

The coup was carried out with the discreet backing of the United States government and especially the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), possibly assisted by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), although al-Za'im himself is not known to have been a member. According to Joseph Massad, a professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, the coup was sponsored by the CIA,[3] a conclusion in agreement with other historians such as Prof. Douglas Little, and declassified records.[4] The coup is also described by author Irene Gendzier, who states that "CIA agents Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade . . . were directly involved in the coup."[5]

An overarching US policy objective in Syria at the time was allowing the construction of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which the democratically elected government of Syria had blocked. The "Tapline" project was immediately ratified following the coup.[4]

Armistice talks with Israel to end hostilities of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War started in April 1949,[6] after armistice agreements had already been concluded by the other Arab countries. On 20 July 1949 Syria signed the Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement to formally end hostilities along their border.[7] Under the agreement, Syria withdrew its forces from most of the territories of the former Mandate Palestine that it controlled west of the international border, which became a demilitarized zone. In 1948, there were approximately 30,000 Jews in Syria. Following the coup, the al-Za'im administration permitted the emigration of large numbers of Syrian Jews, and 5,000 left for Israel.[8]

Prime Minister Muhsin al-Barazi was given the task of conducting secret negotiations with Israel for a peace treaty between the two countries, and to discuss a possible summit between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and al-Zaim. The talks reached advanced levels and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett contacted al-Barazi on 6 August 1949 to discuss a date for formal peace talks.[2]

Al-Za'im created rebellion among his officers by his act of treachery of Antoun Saadeh, the founder and president of SSNP. Saadeh had pledged to set up a friendly government in Lebanon, but on 8 July al-Za'im abducted Saadeh, handed him over to Lebanese authorities, where he was tried for treason and executed on the same day.[2]

Al-Za'im's short-lived presidency ended on 14 August 1949 in a military coup staged by Sami al-Hinnawi, along with several other SSNP officers, who promptly executed al-Za'im and al-Barazi, and installed Hashim al-Atassi as president. Another military coup took place in December, the third of that year, this time led by Adib Shishakli, who kept al-Atassi as president until 3 December 1951. al-Hinnawi was murdered on 31 October 1950 by Hersho al-Barazi, a cousin of Muhsin al-Barazi.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sami Moubayed Keeping an eye on Syria: March 29, 1949 March 29, 2009
  2. ^ a b c Moubayed, Sami M. (2006). Steel & Silk: Men & Women Who Shaped Syria 1900–2000. Cune Press. pp. 56, 204–205. ISBN 1-885942-41-9. 
  3. ^ The struggle for Syria The Syrian people are being sacrificed at the altar of US imperialism, says author.,
  4. ^ a b 1949-1958, Syria: Early Experiments in Covert Action, Douglas Little, Professor, Department of History, Clark University
  5. ^ Gendzier, Irene L. (1997). Notes from the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945–1958. Columbia University Press. p. 98. 
  6. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel-Syria Armistice Agreement
  7. ^ Israel-Syrian General Armistice Agreement UN Doc S/1353 20 July 1949
  8. ^ Zenner 2000, p. 55.
  9. ^ Moubayed, Sami M. (2000). Damascus Between Democracy and Dictatorship. University Press of America. p. 63. ISBN 9780761817444.