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Summary: The Future of Democracy in Syria PDF Print E-mail

 

Summary: The Future of Democracy in Syria

Speaker: Radwan Ziadeh

March 23, 2006

 

On Thursday, March 23, 2006, CSID hosted Mr. Radwan Ziadeh, the Director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and editor of the Syrian magazine "Tayarat". Mr. Ziadeh gave a talk on the future of democracy in Syria detailing various scenarios for the future of Syria.

Mr. Ziadeh reviewed the Syrian struggle for democracy, stating that the country was supposed to lead the Arab world in democratic reforms. Syria, Mr. Ziadeh said, was the first Arab country to obtain independence and had a more progressive record. 

Syrian women attained the right to run for office and to vote in the election in 1949 and 1951, respectively. But Syria, according to Mr. Ziadeh, suffered from three setbacks; 1951 saw the first military coup in the Arab world, and later on political parties dissolved to fulfill Jamal Abdel-Nasser's condition for unity with Egypt in 1958. This action facilitated the third setback, leading to the strong hold of the Baath party to power for three decades.

In 1998 when Bashar Assad acceded to power, hope for democracy and genuine reform were revived. The Muslim Brotherhood issued its famous declaration in 2001, accepting democracy and rejecting violence. In 2004 the Syrian Communist Party issued another declaration adopting democracy and changing its name to the People Democratic Party. In 2005, all Syrian political opposition groups united under the agenda of Damascus Declaration which included three main points:

  1. that the current regime is beyond mere reforms and must be changed; 
  2. the need to unite the efforts of all the opposition groups inside and outside of the country;
  3. the need to accept minority rights and to abolish discrimination against minorities. 

But the question that remains now, Mr. Ziadeh said, is whether and how democracy can flourish given the current situation in the region and the impact it is having on the country. The monopoly on power by the Baath party continues to breed corruption. Regionally, the Iraqi model, which was supposed to help move the region toward democracy, is proving to be a failure and is frightening the masses and weakening the work of democrats.

Mr. Ziadeh addressed three scenarios for Syria:

  1. A foreign intervention which would not find any support from the Syrian opposition given the failure in Iraq;
  2. Mass protests such as what occurred in Georgia and the Ukraine would not be an option due to the severe and repressive nature of the regime;
  3. So the most likely scenario to succeed, Mr. Ziadeh said, is to hope for a future fraction within the ruling elite of the Baath party that could result in bringing a "democratic" group to power and would pave the way toward a genuine transition to democracy.

Mr. Ziadeh added that today civil society is closely monitored and only a few women NGOs are licensed. None of the four local Human Rights NGOs are licensed but they are, as President Bashar said recently, tolerated. On the recent agreement between the former deputy President, Abdel Halim Khaddam and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Ziadeh highlighted the fact that most of the opposition groups were not included in the discussion and did not endorse the agreement. Furthermore, most of these powers question the credibility of Khaddam since he was part of the inner circle for 34 years and was the one that orchestrated Bashar's smooth succession to power.

 
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