Speaking to the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Basem Shariatmadar referred to start of the work of the Constitutional Committee on October 30 and said: “The current constitution adopted in 2012 was based on the new conditions in Syria and the existing tensions. And at that time Articles 8 and 804 were open to debate. Article 8 was about the unipolar nature of the Syrian establishment and the sovereignty of the Baath Party, and Article 804 was about the terms of the presidency both of which were changed.
Dissidents naturally disapproved of the constitution and boycotted the referendum about the law. But given that all parties involved had to admit that the Syrian crisis had no military solution and should move towards a political solution, he said. Politics is the first issue of the constitution, so it can be said there are two important points left in the Syrian crisis right now: one about Idlib, the last base of armed opposition, and the other is the constitution.
The senior Middle East affairs analyst said the formulation of the constitution could start at the right time, but it simply won’t work out. The agreement to form a constitutional committee took more than two years. The issue was discussed over and over in numerous conferences held with participation of stakeholders, including Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the Syrian government and its opponents until it reached a point where the constitutional committee assigned a Syrian chairman and a co- chairman from among the opponents.
He added: It seems although the dissidents still have protests, but given that the views of the three countries – Turkey, Iran and Russia – are now closer and the ruling establishment in Syria is cooperating, if there is a particular field development in Syria to overshadow the political trend, the meeting will take place in Geneva. But as to how long the surveys will take, there are still some serious differences of views.
Shariatmadar explained: Moscow has submitted a draft and Syria has some points and the Turks have some reservations. Iran has repeatedly stated that whatever the Syrian government accepts, Iran will accept, but anyway, it seems that agreement on the details of the constitution will take a long time.
Noting that although the Syrian constitution was amended in 2012, nevertheless, it is still based on socialist-totalitarian line of thinking, the senior Middle East analyst said, adding: “Although the changes were positive, including limiting the presidency to two terms, the debate on freedom and that there should not be a one-party rule were positive steps taken by the Syrian government after the Syrian crisis began. But it seems that changes must be made in line with today’s modern world, and it is a requirement for resolving conflicts and crises.”
He added: “The Syrian government believes that some adjustments should be made in this regard, but opponents say the constitution must be substantially changed.”
Shariatmadar said: The reality is that there are two main features in the constitution: one is socialism and the other is Arabism and these are available in different parts of the law. Although the terms “being Arab” and “being a member of the Arab League” and “being part of the Arab homeland” and “achieving Arab unity” and … have been used in different parts. But we witnessed that after the crisis, the Arab League simply gave up Syria even though Damascus was one of the founding countries of the League. Russia is now drafting a resolution seeking removal of the term Arab from the Syrian Arab Republic.
He added: In the case of Islam, the constitution states that the president is committed to Islam and Islamic jurisprudence is one of the basic sources of legislation. These issues, positive or negative, strong or weak constitute the Syrian government’s identity pillars in the modern era; to say that the Arab designation should be removed or what is to be decided on Islam is in fact the basis of the identity of the Syrian state and nation. We hope to make careful decisions about these issues that overshadow the principles of economics, culture, society, and so on.
Shariatmadar added: For example, in the current constitution, the term socialism and socialist culture and economy has been used 15 times, and even if we look at the economic aspects, we see the question of restricting agricultural ownership and limiting private property and how to use it. That is to say, this is not just a term used in part of the constitution but it conveys the overall identity of the system and the future of Syrian society.
“We hope that this identity will be formed on the basis of the ideas and principles that govern the society, history and culture of the Syrian people and that this sector will not be influenced by foreign or trans-regional forces,” he said. If this happens, it can be said that its impacts will show itself in all parts and the genuine historical and cultural identity of the Syrian people. Replacing socialist principles with liberal principles will neither be compatible with the culture nor with history nor with the society of the Syrian people. I think this is something at least the Western powers would like to see happen.
The Palestinian issue is another key issue that is part of the Syrian identity, and Palestine has remained and will remain a central issue for the Islamic Ummah; we are seeing some Arab countries moving towards normalization of relations with the Zionist regime and are seeking reconciliatory solutions. Although they have not achieved any tangible results so far, they continue to do so under the influence and management of Americans and Westerners, and the Syrian constitution certainly needs to emphasize the Palestinian issue.
We had this problem in Tunisia as well, Shariatmadar said. In Tunisia, the ban on normalization of relations with the Zionist regime has been implicitly and mildly implied in the constitution, while it seems both in the Arab world and in the Islamic world and in the eyes of world justice the issue of Palestine and its oppressed people should be top on the agenda.
He added: “These are the concerns of the Resistance Front in the region and the justice-seeking and idealistic people and we hope that they will be addressed in the process that will soon begin and that the Syrian political system will continue to serve the Palestinian cause and fair ideals in the region in the face of arrogant and colonialist outlooks.
Concerning the warning issued by the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem against impacts of foreign interventions in compiling the constitution, he further said that the Syrian crisis has become a regional and international predicament and in recent years the opponents were conducting operations under the protection of regional and trans-regional forces. On the other hand, the Syrian government too has had allies. However the nature of this regional and trans-regional communication is different on both sides of the crisis. On the one hand we have the constitutional government that emerges from the 2014 elections, which has all the elements of power, namely the land, the people, the elections, the army, the constitutional institutions, etc. In case of crisis it can ask for help from its allies, such as Iran and Russia. But on the other side we are faced with a terrorist current that regional and trans-regional powers have always helped to continue its destructive terrorist actions.
But whatever the nature of the two sides of the conflict, the Syrian crisis is a regional and trans-regional predicament and we have witnessed the presence and influence of various powers, Shariatmadar added. It cannot be said that these powers have not intervened as the crisis is a trans-regional crisis. Even a political solution would not be possible without the presence of forces that have been influential in recent years. When we say Turkey raises some issues in the negotiations, or Iran backs the Syrian establishment, or Russia is trying to bring the views of Turkey and Iran closer to one another, etc. it is natural that these forces are somehow present and play a role.
He explained: What Mr. Muallem meant by foreign interference in drafting the constitution is that foreign forces would not leave an impact on the current political process, including the constitutional debate that would stop it. For as long as the political process is delayed, part of which is the constitution, it means that the crisis will be prolonged and even in conditions that will exacerbate the crisis, and today everyone has accepted that this crisis has no military solution.
Shariatmadar noted: We must accept, as a matter of fact, the presence and influence of various political forces, but this restriction should result in positive influence not destructive influence. Meantime, this presence and influence of regional and trans-regional forces must be limited to further the political process that could solve this conflict and crisis.