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Brief reigns: Syria's rulers who lasted less than a week

Brief reigns: Syria's rulers who lasted less than a week

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Culture History The Truth

Wednesday 1 November 202305:06 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

حكموا سوريا بين 24 ساعة وخمسة أيام


Prince Rainier of Monaco, who was married to the Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly, found themselves engaged in a competition with the King of Thailand to see who would outlast the other during their respective rule. King Rama IX of Thailand came to power at a young age in 1946, three years before Prince Rainier. Both of them enjoyed long lives, and Prince Rainier would playfully ask his aides every morning when he woke from his bed, "Has the King of Thailand died yet?"

Unfortunately for Rainier, he passed away in 2005 following a 56-year reign, while King Rama of Thailand lived for 11 more years and passed away in 2016 after an impressive 70-year rule over his country. The list of long-reigning monarchs is extensive, including Queen Elizabeth II, who recently passed away after a 70-year reign over the United Kingdom.

However, what about the shortest-reigning rulers?

For example, we find King Luís Filipe of Portugal, who ruled for less than an hour before his assassination in 1908, and a Kenyan officer who governed his country for just six hours in 1981. Joseph Goebbels was appointed as the ruler of Nazi Germany on the day of Adolf Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945, but he took his own life with poison on May 1 to avoid falling into the hands of the Allies.

There are three Syrian figures who have been inadvertently omitted from the records of foreign historians. These individuals ruled Damascus in recent history, albeit for an incredibly brief span, ranging from a mere 24 hours to no more than five days.

Among these rulers is Lebanese President René Moawad, who took office on November 5, 1989, and was assassinated eighteen days later. Additionally, there is U.S. President William Henry Harrison, who passed away after just 32 days in office in 1841.

The list goes on, mainly featuring names from Latin American countries. Yet, it overlooks three Syrian figures who have been inadvertently omitted from the records of foreign historians. These individuals ruled Damascus in recent history, albeit for an incredibly brief span, ranging from a mere 24 hours to no more than five days.


Prince Sa'id al-Jazairi (24 hours – five days)

Prince Sa'id, the grandson of the Algerian Emir Abdelkader al-Jazairi, appointed himself as the ruler of Damascus on the eve of the Ottoman army's withdrawal at the end of September 1918. This declaration came before British officer Thomas Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, removed him from power on the evening of October 1, 1918.

His appointment was a unilateral decision made amid the chaos that engulfed Damascus during the Ottoman forces' withdrawal. In his memoirs published in Algeria in 1967, Prince Sa'id claimed that he assumed power on Thursday, September 26, 1918, and remained in power for five days. Lawrence, on the other hand, stated that Prince Sa'id declared himself as ruler on September 30, meaning he ruled for only 24 hours. During his brief reign, he attempted to protect the retreating Turkish soldiers, with the remaining state treasury funds.

Most history books exclude Sa'id al-Jazairi from the list of Syrian presidents. Even the newspapers that reported his death on June 16, 1970, did not mention him as a former president but rather as the grandson of Emir Abdelkader of Algeria

He sent several letters to different regions of Syria announcing his assumption of power in Damascus, some of which included the title “Military Governor of Syria” and others the title “President of the Syrian State.” On one occasion, he referred to himself as “Deputy Sultan (Mehmed VI).” In any case, most history books exclude Sa'id al-Jazairi from the list of Syrian presidents. Even the newspapers that reported his death on June 16, 1970, did not mention him as a former president but rather referred to him by his lineage, as the grandson of Amir Abd al-Qadir of Algeria.


Sa'id Ishaq (24 hours)

Sa'id Ishaq served as the deputy to the Speaker of the House, Nazim al-Qudsi, on the day of the second coup led by Adib Shishakli on November 29, 1951. In protest against this coup, President Hashim al-Atassi resigned on December 2, 1951, and, in principle, the legislative authority's president was supposed to assume power during his absence while a new president for Syria was to be elected. However, Shishakli had dissolved the council and arrested its president. This situation led to Sa'id Ishaq, the vice president, serving as a temporary president from December 2.

But Sa'id Ishaq's "presidency" placed everyone in a legal dilemma because he was a Christian, which contradicted Article 3 of the constitution stating that the president of the republic must be a Muslim. He did not officially assume power or enter the Muhajireen presidential palace. On December 3, Shishakli appointed his friend General Fawzi Salu as the head of the state and the head of the cabinet.

Sa'id Ishaq's "presidency" placed everyone in a legal dilemma because he was a Christian, which contradicted Article 3 of the constitution stating that the president of the republic must be a Muslim

Nevertheless, Said Ishaq retained the title of "State President", a term usually reserved for heads of governments and legislative councils, as opposed to the honorific "His Excellency the President," which was exclusive to presidents of the republic. He passed away in 1989, never to be acknowledged on the list of former Syrian presidents.

Dr. Ma'moun al-Kuzbari (three days)

Shishakli governed Syria through Fawzi Salu until Shishakli assumed direct power and was elected President in June 1953. However, his reign was short-lived, toppled by an armed revolution that erupted in Homs, Aleppo, Jabal al-Druze, and the coast. Shishakli resigned and left the country, heading to Lebanon on February 25, 1954.

Atassi returned to Damascus on March 1, 1954, and was hailed as the legitimate president, meaning that Maamun al-Kuzbari remained "president" for just three days.

By constitutional standards, the presidency should have transferred to the Speaker of the Parliament, Dr. Maamun al-Kuzbari. However, like Sa'id Ishaq, he never set foot in the presidential palace, nor did he sign any official documents as "Acting President". The hours following Shishakli's fall were filled with rumors and various attempts to return him to power, including a forged statement in the name of Chief of Staff Shawkat Shuqayr, claiming that Shishakli would return and remain as Syria's constitutional president.

The Syrian political establishment didn't allow al-Kuzbari to effectively assume power. The country's leaders rushed to Homs to request Hashim al-Atassi to return to the presidency to complete the remainder of his constitutional term, which had been interrupted due to the 1951 coup.

Atassi did return to Damascus on March 1, 1954, and was recognized as the legitimate president of the republic. This means that Maamun al-Kuzbari held the title of "president" for just three days

Atassi did return to Damascus on March 1, 1954, and was recognized as the legitimate president of the republic. This means that Maamun al-Kuzbari held the title of "president" for just three days (given that February in 1954 had only 28 days and was not a leap year).

Even in al-Kuzbari's case, no one regarded him as a president. He wasn't included in the deportation orders that affected some of Shishakli's associates, including Fawzi Salu. Al-Kuzbari re-entered parliament in 1954, served as the Minister of Justice in 1955, and later became Prime Minister during the secession period. He was a legitimate candidate for the presidency, succeeding President Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, the presidency in 1961 went to Dr. Nazim al-Qudsi, not Maamun al-Kuzbari.


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