The horrors of today's Syria – repression, civil war, barbarity – resulted from many developments; one of the most important occurred 50 years ago today. That's when the pedantically named "Military Committee of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party," whose leadership included Hafez al-Assad, took power in Damascus in what has come to be known, again pedantically, as the "8 March Revolution." The Ba'th (or Baath) party has ruled the country ever since, first under a miscellany of strongmen, then under Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000) and his son Bashar (since 2000).
A stamp from a year ago celebrating the 49th anniversary of the 8 March Revolution.
Then came the heavy hand of the Ba'athists. Other than some internal reshuffling (in particular, the Alawi coup of February 1966 and the Assad coup of November 1970), it's been the same dreary, statist, totalitarian regime ever after, stifling individual and ethnic expression, corrupting minds, stunting the population's entrepreneurship, and aggressing on neighbors.
Finally, the desultory Ba'th rule lead to the unleashing of furies two years ago which brought on the current conflict, one likely to lead to another totalitarian regime, this time Islamist in nature, whether Sunni or Shi'i.
On this bleak anniversary, one might take a moment to recall how easily a country can go off track and how very difficult it finds the return to sound policies and human dignity. (March 8, 2013)