The parliamentary campaign of Damascus MP Sami Kabbara - 1961 (p.I)

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Image Source: Souraya Kabbara Library

Sami Kabbara (1903-1967) was born and raised in Damascus. He studied political science at Montpellier University and returned to Syria in 1932 to serve as secretary-general of parliament in the administration of Syria’s first president Mohammad Ali al-Abed. His boss was the French-appointed speaker, Subhi Barakat.

In the mid-1930s, Kabbara founded the al-Nidal newspaper with Dr Munir al-Ajlani, another French-educated politician who had recently returned to Syria. It strongly advocated independence from the French Mandate that had been imposed in 1920 and ended in 1946. During its years of publication, it was often closed down by the Mandate regime, and Kabbara was a frequent visitor of French detention centers. After independence, al-Nidal focused on criticising President Shukri al-Quwatli, during the Palestin War of 1948. Kabbara accused him of centralizing power in his own hands, sidelining the politicians of Aleppo, and being “soft” on corrupted officers in the Syrian Army, which he accused of Syria’s failure at the warfront. In 1947, Kabbara was voted into parliament on an independent ticket, running on an anti-Quwatli campaign. In March 1949, Army Commander Husni al-Za’im launched a coup in Damascus, arresting Quwatli and his Prime Minister Khaled al-Azm. Za’im summoned all Quwatli opponents, Kabbara included, and offered them cabinet posts in the new regime—aimed of course, at legitimizing the coup through well-established intellectuals and politicians. Kabbara refused to work with Za’im, claiming that whatever differences he may have had with Quwatli, he was nevertheless a democratically elected president. He criticized Za'im's dictatorship, which became clear after Syria’s new ruler suspended the Constitution and closed down Parliament, setting himself up as president in July 1949. As a result, Za’im closed down al-Nidal. One month later, however, he too was toppled by military coup, and Kabbara returned to the limelight, supporting the election of the civilian nationalist Hashem al-Atasi, as president. Kabbara was re-elected into Parliament and became minister of justice and health in a cabinet headed by Atasi himself from August to December 1949. He then became minister of interior under Prime Minister Khaled al-Azm, holding office until June 1950. Azm then appointed Kabbara minister of interior for a second time from March to August 1951.

Kabbara criticized the military regime of General Adib al-Shishakli, who came to power in November 1951, and was once again arrested for his views. When released, he shifted into the opposition headed by former President Atasi and worked with the underground until Shishakli was deposed by military coup in February 1954.

In October 1954, Kabbara nominated himself for the first post-Shishakli parliament but was defeated in the elections. In the second half of the 1950s, however, Kabbara became increasingly alienated from the rising movement of socialism headed by President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. Nasser was a socialist autocrat, he argued, no different from Za’im or Shishakli. Kabbara joined a group of disgruntled politicians seeking to bring down the pro-Nasser and pro- USSR regime of President Shukri al-Quwatli, who had returned to power in 1955.  They were funded by the Hashemite family in Baghdad and strove to arrest or kill all “Soviet agents” operating in Syria; Army Commander Affi al-Bizreh, Intelligence Director Abdul Hamid al-Sarraj, and Parliament Speaker Akram al-Hawrani.

But the conspiracy was foiled and all of the plot's leaders, including Kabbara, were imprisoned and charged with high treason. Kabbara was sentenced to death in January 1957 on the charge of plotting with a foreign country to try to create a civil war in Syria. He remained in prison until 1960, then he was moved into house arrest in Alexandria following the merger between Syria and Egypt in 1958. When the union was dissolved in 1961, Kabbara and his friends were released. In December 1961, he nominated himself for the first post-Nasser parliament, but authorities turned down his nomination, claiming that his court record prevented him from running for public office. Sami Kabbara's career ended when the Baath Party came to power in Syria on March 8, 1963.