192. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State1

2207. Replies to Depcirtel 7022 have in several cases raised important question of durability Syro-Egyptian union. Our views Syrian aspects this problem follow: [Page 417]

Union indubitably faces ethnic, cultural, historic and technical obstacles to integration two peoples. On other hand union in military and foreign affairs which represents initial UAR effort and which well underway prior current spectaculars has clear justification for Syrian Moslems and demonstrably solid foundation, i.e. existence Zionist state Israel and its military threat. Underlying UAR concept is strong emotional appeal of Arab unity. There is little distinctive “Syrian patriotism”; Syrians during forty years their “national” existence have never thought of themselves as other than artificially separated from rest of “Arab nation”. Other things being equal, they would have preferred commence “reunification” with immediate neighbors whose claim to Arabism less dubious than Egypt’s, but this proved impracticable and during past five years Nasser has succeeded imposing himself as Garibaldi on popular imagination.
As time goes on and full impact of union is felt, dissatisfaction in some quarters in Syria is certain to grow and, unless checked, become more vocal. Whether it will reach serious proportions will depend primarily on manner in which union is implemented. It seems probable Nasser and Syrian advisers are alive to danger and will endeavor (a) see to it that influential Syrian political and military leaders are granted positions and privileges which will bind them to new state, (b) move cautiously against certain passive vested interests such as Syrian business community which could in combination create trouble for others to exploit and (c) move swiftly to seal off active elements which might be prepared to oppose union by force such as army dissenters, Communists, or less likely, Moslem Brethren. Failure either to conciliate and reward major power elements, or promptly to suppress aggressive irreconcilables, could lead to serious trouble after several months.
Army cliques have represented greatest perennial threat to stability any Syrian Government. However (a) 14 officers “RCC” representing all army groups placed themselves as spearhead of demand for union under Nasser (Cairo’s 1819 to Department)3 (b) revolt against “Arab union” would constitute major problem for any ambitious military leader any time (c) priority for immediate unification defense ministries and existence Egyptian troops in Syria appears designed minimize this threat as does (d) Nasser’s original conditions re political sterilization of Syrian officers which Egyptians and Syrian civilian leaders will certainly attempt enforce promptly. It may be presumed Sarraj–Hamdun group, guided and observed Egyptians, will be made responsible for keeping Syrian military in line.
On civilian side, prestige of ASRP and associated leaders is at stake; they cannot afford fail. Other major parties are at present impotent and presumably, through device single authorized party, will be kept so. Potential civilian trouble makers include Communists, Moslem Brethren, SSNP, Christians, businessmen, students and politicians representing them. Communists however face restrictions greater than any existing Syria since Shishakli period; moreover party orders may eventually call for ostensible cooperation with and exploitation of union. Moslem Brethren and SSNP will find union difficult platform attack and Syro-Egyptian union no easier target than Syria alone where their power unimpressive. Small divided Christian minority represents negligible political factor by itself and might consider cooperation with Commies or Moslem Brethren somewhat dubious risk for Christian interests. Business groups here rarely take political risks in adversity but export capital (and themselves) instead; impact in any case delayed by probable moratorium on unification of economies. Students can be expected constitute for Nasser and union pillar of important and enduring political strength. Nasser’s dictatorship likely to create discontent among Syrian individualists and few Western-oriented leaders but western democracy has very frail roots and few loyal followers in Syria. In any case dictatorship likely to be rationalized as essential restriction of freedom because of Israeli threat and pressure from two great power blocs. Political platform involving secession from union which represents historic Arab “shibboleth” would have little popular appeal unless Egyptian rule turns out to be seriously oppressive.
Israeli threat or use thereof by UAR also should continue counteract such influences which neighboring Arab states might wish bring bear upon Syria, unless their leadership against Israel unexpectedly becomes more meaningful than Nasser’s. Association of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan with western powers upon which Israel considered dependent also limits their influence here.
Wedding of two perennially needy treasuries and undeveloped economies will create increased political, economic and social problems. Leaders have already stated they will be prudent and slow in merging two economies. They may also be expected capitalize on, and to some extent implement, social justice slogans, which of course constitute second major plank in ASRP platform. In order consolidate and develop economy UAR will presumably turn to both Soviet bloc and west for help. Experience would seem to indicate political-economic boycott against UAR by west would be unlikely bring about its dissolution or overthrow its leaders, but more likely push it wholly into Soviet camp. In Syria private business, which is element most friendly to west, would be first hurt by economic sanctions.
Military force particularly Israeli occupation part of Jordan, Syria and Sinai could conceivably disrupt union but presumably also be destruction to western position throughout Arab world. Death of Nasser might break up union; if death unnatural, results in Syria might parallel events which followed 1955 assassination Adnan Malki.
Thus Embassy (A) concurs with Husayn that “resentment (exists) towards UAR within Syria” but (B) cautions against basing policy, so long as Israel and USSR involved in ME, on “considerable likelihood effective public demand for Syrian withdrawal can be built up over period of time.”

It seems to us probable that, if Nasser behaves with reasonable circumspection toward Syrians and does not make mistakes Stalin made with Tito, union will be gradually, despite serious stresses and strains, consolidated through combination intoxicating emotional appeals and firm police control.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786.00/2–858. Secret. Repeated to Amman, Ankara, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jidda, London, Paris, Moscow, Karachi, and Tehran.
  2. Dated February 1, circular telegram 702 summarized Secretary Dulles’ views on the Syro-Egyptian Union expressed at the Baghdad Pact meeting (see Document 188). (Department of State, Central Files, 674.83/2–158)
  3. Telegram 1819, January 23, summarized a conversation with Azm on January 21 concerning the Syrian Delegation’s conversation with Nasser. (Ibid., 674.83/1–2358)