special social composition – rural and plebeian – imparted a radical nationalist, populist thrust to the state, the residues of which continue to make a difference for Syria’s foreign policy orientation.
The radicalisation of the Syrian army was partly a function of its predominately lower-middle-class and ex-peasant social composition. Recruitment under the French from the Alawi and Druze peasant minorities into the local military forces established a tradition of military service as a route out of poverty for them which continued after
-Arabism, combining a more radical and illiberal nationalism with demands for Arab unity and populist social reform, achieved ideological hegemony among both the new middle class and mobilising sections of the masses (Hourani 1970; Khadduri, 1970; Sharabi 1970).
The fragility of upper-class-based regimes and the Arab nationalist mobilisation of the middle class against them ushered in two decades of political instability (1945–67) expressed by military coups and the rise of radical parties. The military overthrew monarchies and oligarchies across the region
Israeli threat and recruited from the middle-class and peasant youth, was a hotbed of populist dissent, radicalised by the conflict with Israel and Nasser’s anti-imperialism. The West’s backing of Israel inflamed the people against it and de-legitimised pro-Western politicians and the Western economic ties of the commercial oligarchy. This fuelled the rise of radical parties – notably the Ba’th Party – and the military coups and counter-coups that destabilised the state and gradually pushed the oligarchic elite from power (Seale 1965; Torrey 1964
‘domestic’ but still embedded in trans-state discourse, that states should act on behalf of the shared (Arab) community. This gap taints the legitimacy of regimes and encourages challenges to the regional order by sub- and trans-state movements and ‘terrorist’ networks. The separation between elites and society was sharply underlined by the 1994 Sharm al-Shaikh meeting of a concert of state leaders, both Arab and Israeli, who identified the main security threat as internal – from radical Islamic terror (Barnett 1996–97: 617).
To a very considerable