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Dissolution of the United Arab Republic

A coup in Damascus led to the dissolution of the United Arab Republic.

Dissolution of the United Arab Republic

The United Arab Republic was a sovereign state in the Middle East from 1958 to 1961. It was initially a political union between Egypt (including the occupied Gaza Strip) and Syria from 1958 until Syria seceded from the union after the 1961 Syrian coup d'état, leaving a rump state. Egypt continued to be known officially as the United Arab Republic until 1971.

The republic was led by President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser. The UAR was a member of the United Arab States, a loose confederation with the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which was dissolved in 1961.

Instead of a federation of two Arab peoples, as many Syrians had imagined, the UAR turned into a state completely dominated by Egyptians. Syrian political life was also diminished, as Nasser demanded all political parties in Syria to be dismantled. In the process, the strongly centralized Egyptian state-imposed Nasser's socialistic political and economic system on weaker Syria, creating a backlash from the Syrian business and army circles, which resulted in the Syrian coup of September 28, 1961, and the end of the UAR.

Despite the economic difficulties, what truly produced the demise of the UAR was Nasser's inability to find a suitable political system for the new regime. Given his socialist agenda in Egypt, the Ba'ath should have been his natural ally, but Nasser was hesitant to share power. Though Amer allowed some liberalization of the economy in order to appease Syrian businessmen, his decision to rig the elections of the National Union (the single party which replaced the Ba'ath), with the help of Colonel Abdul Hamid Sarraj (a Syrian army official and Nasser sympathizer), antagonized Ba'athist leaders. The Ba'ath Party won only five percent of the seats on the higher committees, while the more traditional conservative parties won a significant majority. Sarraj was appointed the head of the National Union in Syria, and by the spring of 1960 had replaced Amer as the chair of the Syrian Executive Council. Under Sarraj Syria was ruled by a repressive security force designed to suppress all opposition to the regime.

The immense increases in public sector control were accompanied by a push for centralization. In August 1961 Nasser abolished regional governments in favour of one central authority, which operated from Damascus February through May and from Cairo for the rest of the year. As a part of this centralization, Sarraj was relocated to Cairo, where he found himself with little real power. September 15, 1961, Sarraj returned to Syria, and after meeting with Nasser and Amer resigned from all his posts on September 26.

Without any close allies to watch over Syria, Nasser was unaware of the growing unrest of the military. On September 28 a group of officers staged a coup and declared Syria's independence from the UAR. Though the coup leaders were willing to renegotiate a union under terms they felt would put Syria on an equal footing with Egypt, Nasser refused such a compromise. He initially considered sending troops to overthrow the new regime, but chose not to once he was informed that the last of his allies in Syria had been defeated. In speeches that followed the coup, Nasser declared he would never give up his goal of an ultimate Arab union. However, he would never again achieve such a tangible victory toward this goal.

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