Shukri al-Kuwatli

Shukri al-Quwatli
شكري القوتلي
President of Syria
In office
August 17, 1943 – March 30, 1949
Preceded by 'Ata' Bay al-Ayyubi
Succeeded by Husni al-Za'im (military rule)
In office
September 6, 1955 – February 22, 1958
Preceded by Hashim al-Atassi
Succeeded by Gamal Abdel Nasser (United Arab Republic)
Personal details
Born 1891
Damascus, Ottoman Empire
Died June 30, 1967 (aged 76)
Beirut, Lebanon
Political party National Bloc (until 1947)
National Party (from 1947)
Religion Sunni Islam

Shukri al-Quwatli (1891 – June 30, 1967) (Arabic: شكري القوتلي‎) was the president of Syria from 1943 to 1949 and from 1955 to 1958.


Al-Quwatli was born in Damascus in 1892. He moved to Istanbul where he attended the Muluki Academy. After returning to Damascus, he entered the Ottoman civil service.[1]

Quwatli entered Syrian politics in the 1930s as a member of the National Bloc, a coalition of Arab parties that led the opposition to French rule. As a young man, he had been involved in al-Fatat, an underground opposition group in Ottoman Syria, and been arrested for his activities in 1916. In jail, because of harsh torture, he feared that he would tell the names of his comrades in al-Fatat. To avoid that, he slit open his wrist in a suicide attempt but was saved at the last minute by his friend and colleague Dr Ahmad Qadri. He was released when World War I ended to become a civil servant in post-Ottoman era of King Faisal I. When the French Mandate was proclaimed in July 1920, the French sentenced Quwatli to death.

He fled to Egypt and then Geneva and co-established the Syrian-Palestinian Congress in exile, with a group of other exiled nationalists from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. He returned in 1924, and participated in the Syrian Revolt of 1925-27, although he quickly fell out with the Revolt's main protagonist, the Druze leader Sultan Pasha Al-Atrash because of the latter's pro-Hashemite policies. Quwatli was exiled once again in 1927, only to return under a general amnesty in 1932. An associate and protégé of Hashim al-Atassi, the republic's first president, Quwatli gradually rose in the ranks of the National Bloc.

After Atassi resigned the presidency in 1939 over objections to continued French intervention in Syria, several years of (World War II-related) instability and direct French and British military ruled followed. The National Bloc remained the dominant expression of Syrian nationalism, and, when elections were again held in 1943, the bloc helped elect Quwatli president.

His major preoccupation was to conclude a treaty with France, which had exercised control over Syria for more than two decades. This was accomplished with British help, and by 1946 all foreign troops had evacuated. In 1947, Quwatli enacted an amendment that removed a one-term limit from the constitution and was reelected in 1948.

Using the pretenses of the Israeli victory over Arab forces in 1948 and popular dissatisfaction, Quwatli was overthrown in a military coup in March 1949 backed by the CIA.[2] Husni al-Za'im became leader during the coup, who had been released from prison eight years earlier, having served time for corruption. Quwatli, after a short imprisonment, went into exile in Egypt, waiting for an opportunity to regain his position, while a series of coups paralyzed Syrian political life. Free elections under the auspices of the venerable Hashim al-Atassi finally took place in 1955, and Quwatli, at the head of the National Party (the successor to the National Bloc), was elected president.

By then, his post was largely ceremonial, however, and he had little influence on Syria's domestic politics thereafter. Towards the close of the decade, pan-Arab nationalism had swept Syria, and Quwatli presided over the union with Egypt, which formed the United Arab Republic, headed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. By 1959, he had quarreled with Nasser and was forced into exile once again. This marked the end of his political career.

When he died in 1967 in Beirut, after the Syrian authorities initially almost refused to allow his body burial at home, he was interred in Damascus in a lavish state funeral.

Deane Hinton, who was working in the US legation at the time of Quwatli's overthrow, insisted his dissenting view be put on record and presciently remarked that the coup was "the stupidest, most irresponsible action a diplomatic mission like ours could get itself involved in, and that we've started a series of these things that will never end." As a result Hinton was ejected from the plotter's group and ostracised.[3]


Quwatli's legacy was a mixed one, that of genuine nationalism and personal ambition. Critics point out that his tolerance for the corruption of some of his associates helped keep him in power. In marked contrast to his mentor, Hashim al-Atassi, he was perpetually seeking power, while Atassi accepted it reluctantly, and was quick to relinquish it whenever the presidency came under the duress of foreign intervention or domestic military rule. Quwatli had no such qualms. Nevertheless, he was a successful politician, and is credited with presiding over the withdrawal of foreign troops, which put the finishing touches on full Syrian independence.


Preceded by
'Ata' Bay al-Ayyubi
President of Syria
Succeeded by
Husni az-Zaim (military rule)
Preceded by
Hashim al-Atassi
President of Syria
Succeeded by
Gamal Abdel Nasser (UAR)


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