PUTTING Syria together again will be a formidable job. But it will not be as difficult as the job handed to the Egyptian leadership four years ago, when the Syrians, in an excess of anxiety and enthusiasm, asked for union. Behind all the idealistic propaganda at that time, it was evident that President Nasser had misgivings about a premature unification of the two countries. But it was evident, too, that Egypt could not refuse to play the role being demanded of it.

The Communist threat to Syria in 1958 was genuine. Syria’s President Shukri al-Kuwatly was a tired and aging nationalist. The non-Communist leftists, represented by the Baath Socialist Party, were pushing for reforms at home and unity of all the Arabs. Unable to gain control of Syria at the polls, they saw their chance to come to power through union with Egypt. Since Nasser, too, was preaching socialism and Arab unity, he and they must share a common cause. Surely, under his wing, they and the cause would flourish. President Nasser saw an advantage for Egypt on a more practical plane. By uniting Egypt and Syria, he could head off any future Syrian union with Iraq. Moreover, the Baath movement had followers in Iraq and Jordan. By taking the Syrians under his protection, he might gain new recruits for his brand of Arab unity.

In the honeymoon period of the United Arab Republic, President Kuwatly moved to Cairo to become the honored First Citizen of the Republic. Some of the Baath leaders were given jobs in the U.A.R. government. But they were never given the clear track to run Syria or to proselyte in surrounding countries which they had expected. It soon became plain that Cairo was the center of the U.A.R., that in it the Egyptian revolution came first, and that the Syrians would have to adapt to its exigencies.

After initial efforts at administering some of the U.A.R. program, particularly land reform, in Syria, the Baathists soon became so unpopular at home that they had to be cased out of power altogether. More and more Egyptians moved to Damascus to take over the important jobs in the bureaucracy. In the army, Egyptian officers assumed authority without regard to the rank of Syrian officers or to their views. Syrians sent to Egypt in exchange soon discovered they were holding nominal posts. Some elements of the army found themselves shipped to remote regions in Egypt in a sort of unofficial but actual banishment.

Chorus of complaints

By the fall of 1959 a chorus of Syrian complaints began to reach Cairo. The Syrians realized that the union was going to mean an unexpected type of Egyptianization. All the important decisions were made in Cairo. Consultation was rare and ineffective. By an unhappy chance, a second year of drought had caused great hardship, requiring Cairo to advance emergency funds to help Syria.

Meanwhile, the political situation in the Middle East had been radically altered by the 1958 Iraqi revolt. With the end of the Hashemite rule, a new day was expected to dawn in Iraq. To the Syrians, the change opened up prospects of reviving the old “Fertile Crescent" concept of Arab unity in a new and tantalizing way. To the Egyptians, it meant that a strong hand was needed in Damascus to thwart any deviations from loyalty to the U.A.R.

In answer to the Syrian complaints, and in view of the possible threat from Iraq, Nasser dispatched his most trusted deputy, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, to be governor of Syria. Amer’s task was to re-engage the Syrians’ flagging interest in the U.A.R. and to devise some way of satisfying them, if possible. Meanwhile, the country — or province, as it had become — was held under tight police control by the one Syrian who had been given real power. He was Colonel Abdel Hamid Serraj, a smart young veteran of the Shishekly regime of the 1950s, who had set up an efficient army intelligence network.

Serraj had been one of the prime movers for the union, in company with President Kuwatly and the Baathists in the army. To the Egyptians, he looked like a strong man who could be trusted to hold down the Communists and any other dissenters. He was made Minister of the Interior for Syria, president of the Syrian National Union Party, and head of a special intelligence service.

A police slate

At a safe distance from Cairo, but with its apparent blessing, Serraj proceeded to set up a police state in the name of security. All foreign newspapers and most local ones disappeared. The expression of opinion became risky. The informer system flourished. Even coffeehouses were closed for two hours a day. The Syrians, who are among the least disciplined individualists in the Arab world, seethed with resentment. But protest was dangerous. Minorities, like the Armenians, came to be suspect and were locked up without ceremony. Warrants were no longer required for arrests. Syrians felt imprisoned in their own country.

By the summer of 1960 there were so many complaints about Serraj’s arrogalion of power and his harsh methods that Nasser became seriously worried. Serraj was plainly the most hated man in the whole regime. He was challenging Marshal Amer’s authority, and he showed signs of being ready to undercut the U.A.R. on his own account. Nasser appointed two more trusted Egyptian officials to help Marshal Amer straighten out the situation. Syrian leaders were consulted. They urged unanimously that Serraj be removed, and asked for more local autonomy on local matters and some restoration of freedom of speech. Some of the more anxious Syrians warned that a general sit-down strike was threatened against the U.A.R.

President Nasser, under increasing pressures to get on with the Egyptian revolution at home, decided against liberalizing the Syrian regime. Instead, he made one more try at stirring up enthusiasm for the union. Last February and March he spent three weeks in Syria, making speeches and seeing regional leaders. But the crowds were smaller this time. The old magic seemed to have gone out of the relationship between the northern province and the President. The magic had been based on hopes that real Arab unity had begun. Syrians now had to ask themselves whether the ideal was worth altering the entire pattern of their lives.

They looked at the changes in Egypt and saw that the same changes, whether actually needed or not, were ahead for them. Nasser had come to believe that only the most drastic socialization, on the Titoist model, could rescue Egypt from its hopeless poverty. For him, the inevitable sequel was to apply the same measures to Syria. There could not be two different systems within the United Arab Republic.

The Syrian revolt

Nasser’s decision was as inevitable as it was fatal to the U.A.R. From the moment that he decreed nationalization of Syrian banks a year ago, it was simply a question of when the explosion would come. Ironically, the trouble occurred when he had finally freed the Syrians of Colonel Serraj by “promoting" him to Cairo. With Serraj immobilized, the Syrian officers seized their chance to remove the Egyptians as well.

The Syrian officers appear determined to avoid some of the pitfalls common to military coups. They have effaced themselves and pushed to the front the civilians in the transitional government. Its leader, Dr. Mamoun Kuzbari, is a corporation lawyer with considerable experience in previous governments. Many of his present ministers are bankers. Their job is to restore the country’s economic and political life.

Of these two, the economic job will be the easier. Unlike Egypt, Syria has ample arable land and the resources of the Euphrates and Orontes rivers to develop. It is underpopulated. Normally, it exports wheat to Europe, and its cotton exports amount to some 110,000 tons a year — potentially rivaling Egypt’s output. Some of the worst imbalances of its land ownership and control have been remedied by redistribution of about 250,000 acres to peasant families. The cooperative movement has been spurred on with establishment of some 110 farm coops. More of this kind of land reform is promised by the present government. There is no question of returning to the complete laissez-faire of the past in agriculture.

What will be reversed is the restrictions on trade, in order to restore Syria’s important trading position. Equally important is the restoration of the class of entrepreneurs, which helped to make Syria’s economy one of the healthiest in the Middle East between 1954 and 1957. This class, consisting mainly of Aleppo merchants, is unique in the Middle East for being willing to invest in largescale farming. The mechanization of agriculture which transformed northern Syria in the fifties was accomplished by their investments. What arrested the pace of progress was a shortage of public funds for river development, roads, and industries. The International Bank, at Syria’s request, studied the country’s resources in 1955. Its report emphasized that agriculture should remain the base of the Syrian economy and that large loans should be sought for water development. With this sort of help, the report stated, Syria could become securely prosperous.

The Russians move in

It was at this point that Russian aid was offered in large amounts, evidently unconditionally. It seemed a more appealing offer than International Bank loans, with their higher interest rates and provisos for supervising the spending of funds. The Russians began to move in as advisers, resurveying a much surveyed land. At the same time, local Communists tried to move into political power. In the chronic political quarreling over how to stop them, panic developed. The old-line nationalists and the rising young Baath Socialists joined in the appeal to Cairo.

So far, since the September coup, the regime has moved cautiously, refusing to allow revival of political parties. The enthusiasm generated by the restoration of Syria to the Syrians will give the regime time to try to evolve a constitution which must allow room for political expression without permitting the disorganized anarchy of the past. The officers who led the coup come from merchant families, and many have considerable education. They and the present government will have to reconcile their aims if any new government is to work.

There were many nervous days in Damascus in October, when Russia offered diplomatic recognition so quickly, along with Jordan and Guatemala. The government needed more moderate friends and has now reacquired them. It needs, too, the German loan for the big Youssef Pasha dam on the Euphrates, which was promised the U.A.R. last spring. It seems likely that the German loan will be offered to Syria again. Other Western loans may be available. But Syria cannot afford this time to be smothered by friends of cither the right or left. It wants, above all, to escape becoming once more a theater for East-West contention.

The effect on Egypt

For Egypt, as a nation, the loss of Syria is not important. Syria did not provide the climate for emigration which had been hoped for. The two peoples found themselves uncongenial. As a sphere of political influence in Arab affairs, the combination of the two countries might have been a success. But the Syrians seemed strangely resistant to Egyptian methods, Egyptian education and tutelage. The lack of a common background and historical experience made it difficult for the northern and southern regions to understand one another. Finally, the I three-year drought plagued the combined economy of the two countries and forced Egypt to contribute to Syria’s treasury.

For President Nasser, the breakup of the U.A.R. is more serious. The U.A.R. was the first modern experiment in Arab unity. Its failure casts a shadow over the whole movement and over his future. Chagrin and bitter disappointment are openly expressed, even by critics of the U.A.R. The ideal of unity survives, but this failure is a shattering blow to Arab pride — in Damascus particularly.

Within Egypt, the governing hierarchy now has to be even more on guard, so that subversive ideas against the new Arabized Titoism , are suppressed. There is a very long chance that Syrians have learned a bitter lesson and can make a free economy and a free government work. If so, the effects in Egypt will be startling. Meanwhile, for the | Egyptians, the price of failure in Syria is a time of trouble.