Talk of Reform in Syria Goes Practical
Since the death of the late president Hafez Al Assad in June 2000, Syrian society has witnessed political reactions due to both the easing of the iron fist imposed by the late president over the 30 years of his regime, and his son Bashar’s promises of reform.
Recently, these reactions have shifted from discussions inside political lobbies and on newspaper pages, to actual implementation. This was expressed in statements and petitions signed by Syrian scholars calling for reforms and expressed through announcing the formation of political parties and organizations, and the issuance of new newspapers.
The independent Syrian MP and leading businessman, Riyadh Seif, announced in an intellectual symposium held at his house last week his first step in the formation of a political organization with a clear program. The symposium was attended by the Syrian intellectual Youssef Salameh who blamed the constitution for the repression and corruption in the country.
Seif urged the symposium participants to join in an extraordinary session to discuss a statement of principles that would serve as the intellectual base for his party: the Social Peace Movement. This movement will not function officially until the proposed parties’ law is passed by parliament.
The present domestic dialogue among the Syrians has become the talk of the hour, according to economic analyst, Aref Dalila in a recent editorial in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. Dalila criticized Seif and pro-reform figures.
In the first reaction of its kind to the “Basic Document” released by about 1000 Syrian intellectuals two weeks ago, Karim Shibani, Secretary General of a Syrian party awaiting licensing, blasted those who released the statement. Meanwhile, official voices have begun to be heard assailing the intellectuals and the role they are playing.
For his part, Seif told Al Safir Lebanese newspaper in an reply to a question whether he had official permission to make the announcement that he was “not used to wait for a green light to practice his activities and that he would proceed with his plans regardless of the color of the light.” He declined to reveal what the principles document contained.
Shibani, who established the unlicensed “Democratic National Party” in 1987 announced at a press conference in Damascus last Tuesday that “the democratic competitive environment with its growing attractions since president Bashar took office has no room for those totalitarians” who “accused democracy and democrats over half a century of being tools of the Imperialism.”
Shibani mentioned Deputy Saif by name. “How should a person raised in a doctrinal school where he believed for 40 years in a one-party regime claim the leading role in a democratic movement. He expressed his regret “for the fact that intellectuals and men of letters gather round businessmen.”
He hoped that “calls, statements, forums and gatherings will all revolve around the national and pan-national issues.” He stressed that the ruling Baath party should remain in its place, “because it has a popular base comprising more than 2 million members.”
The Basic Document, drafted by the Marxist-dominated committees for reviving the civil society institutions included daring demands among which were the cancellation of the martial laws, return of the exiled, release of political prisoners, and the review of the one-party monopoly.
Shibani has been waiting for the licensing of his party for a long time. He has been promised by the regional leadership of the Baath Party to fulfill his request “soon” by annexing his party to the Progressive National Front, the ruling coalition comprising eight “legal” political parties, or legalizing it when the parties’ law is passed.
While the state follows up closely the statement released by the one thousand intellectuals, informed sources have been quoted in reports as reiterating that the margin for the speech freedom is wide, but working for reform with “a Western recipe is a red line that nobody is allowed to cross.”
The editor-in-chief of the state-owned Tishreen, Khalaf Al Jarad, wrote an editorial in the weekly supplement under the heading “The Intellectuals and their Demanded Role.”
“In order to assert their permanent and full participation, many intellectuals seek to play a role that promotes and markets rootless ideas not derived from the society’s history, culture and social norms.”
On the other hand, arguments have targeted the Syrian constitution when Youssef Salameh, in his address to the meeting at Seif’s residence, held the Syrian constitution responsible for many defects and considered that the beginning of any political reform should start with constitutional reform.
“It is obvious to everybody that provisions one and eight of the constitution laid the legal foundation to devoid the majority of people of their right of participating in the formulation of the present and future of their homeland,” Salameh said. Provision one of the constitution declares the identity of the political system of the Arab Republic of Syria as “a sovereign, democratic, popular, and socialist state.” Salameh views the aforementioned article as a manifestation of the Soviet thoughts. Article Eight, which has been criticized by Salameh, states that the “Arab Socialist Baath Party is the leading party of the society and state.” It is the article that puts “the peoples’ democracy into implementation.”
According to Salameh, professor of Philosophy at Damascus University, “the Socialist Arab Baath Party is the only side which leads the state or the society without giving the citizens who are not its members this constitutional right.” Salameh went further to consider the National Front as a “useless additional thing that could be amputated any time without having adverse effects on the lives of citizens or the country as a whole.”
FIFTEEN LAWYERS SEEK TO ESTABLISH A POLITICAL FORUM
Legal sources revealed in the Syrian capital that 15 Syrian lawyers are embarking on the establishment of a forum to activate the application of law and proposing a plan to improve the judiciary performance.
Jordan News Agency (Petra) cited one of the Syrian lawyers as saying that “the forum founders will hold a meeting … to set an internal system for the forum and they would call, afterwards, for a wider and open meeting to announce it officially.”
The source pointed out that the forum would seek, through dialogue among lawyers, judges and representatives of various community classes, to make proposals to the government about the need for applying law, improving the judicial procedures, the cancellation of emergency courts and giving more freedom within the context of law and constitution.
More than 58 Syrian lawyers have recently forwarded a letter to president Bashar Al Assad complaining of what they called “ improper and incomplete application by the executive authorities of the recent presidential amnesty.” The letter criticized the mechanism by which the amnesty was implemented on some people. There was “a very positive reaction on part of the Syrian president towards this complaint,” indicated the lawyers.
The letter appealed to the Syrian president that the modernization process in the country should include all aspects of Syrian life, particularly the legal side. It criticized the Ministry of Justice for not allowing its judges to discuss any laws in the media. This, according to them, denied the legislator the right to express his religious and legal views regarding a law and its adjustment —Albawaba.com