Syria's middle class aspires to radical change

The Syrian educated and salaried middle class emerged during the colonial period and grew stronger during the time of Ba'athist radicalisation. It consisted of academic professionals, administrators, civil workers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists, and salaried employees in the tertiary sector (banks, commerce, tourism, and other services). Khoury (1984: 527) traces the rise of the educated and salaried middle class back to the French Mandate, for which he describes its basic sentiments to transcend beyond the sphere of family and confessional group and to extend to profession, city, and nation. It benefited from the broad educational system during the postcolonial transition and later during the Ba'athist period, because even people of humble origin were able to obtain an education.

During post-independence, the Syrian educated middle class viewed the ancien regime, the power of the traditional bourgeois and landowning classes, as an artefact of the colonial powers. It supported state-led development and resource retention in the economy. Its frustration was reflected by its political positions of anti-Westernism and anti-colonialism. In the words of Hinnebusch (1993b: 245): 'the failure of dependent capitalism to incorporate the salaried middle class turned it against the liberal model.' This class thereby pushed for sporadic insurrectionary revolts against the postcolonial semifeudal oligarchy. It also organised trade unions and battled for better wages and political rights. Because it discredited the old bourgeoisie and aspired radical reforms, the middle class supported the Ba'ath party during the 1950s, hoping that the party would initiate radical, dynamic, and well-directed change (Farsoun and Carroll, 1978: 142). Other demands of the middle class included broader political participation, intellectual openness, and freedom of speech, all of which had been severely circumscribed by the ancien regime.

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