Syrians are getting serious

The Syrian Expert House (which claims to be “a group of approximately 300 Syrian human rights activists, academics, judges, lawyers, opposition leaders, members of the Syrian National Council and the National Coalition for Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, defected government officials, defected military officers, members of local revolutionary councils, and commanders of the armed opposition” founded last year by the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies)  has announced publication of a Syria Transition Roadmap recommending the following:

  • The future Syrian government will be a hybrid presidential/parliamentary system to ensure the presence of checks and balances in state institutions.

  • The starting point of the new Syrian constitution will be the Constitution of 1950, which will be amended and modified by a 290-member Constitutional Assembly, elected in a national election. The new Syrian constitution will be approved by a national referendum.

  • The Constitutional Assembly will be elected in an election featuring proportional representation across 20-30 multi-member districts with an average of 12 seats per constituency. Proportional representation will ensure party pluralism, allowing for the first election to lay the foundation for a strong democratic system.

  • The independence of the judiciary will be guaranteed by completely separating it from the executive branch. National reconciliation will be achieved through a long transitional justice process in which justice is assured for all of Syria’s victims.

  • The security services will be restructured and cleansed of corrupt officials. All armed groups will be disarmed, demobilized, and reintegrated into Syrian society.

  • Syria will gradually abandon its state-led economic model in favor of a market-based economy. Public sector employees will continue to be paid while preparing for the overhaul of the state administrative structure.

This is the most serious comprehensive effort since the Day After report issued more than a year ago to specify what the Syrian opposition wants to see happen after Bashar al Asad leaves power.  The 235-page volume is a major further step in Syrian thinking about the future.

Most important is the broad participation in the effort, which claims to include both Islamists and secularists.  Anyone who is familiar with the Syrian opposition will know how really difficult including both sides of the coin is.

Looking beyond the bullets above (taken from the press release about the report), here are some additional comments of mine:

  • The existing army and internal security forces (excepting the police) are to be dissolved, with some merged into a new civilian-led security apparatus.  There is far less attachment in this report to continuity of the institutions of the state than has been apparent in the past.  The war will presumably continue to undermine any remaining shreds of confidence in the existing state.
  • The 1950 constitution is to be restored temporarily, supplemented with a constitutional declaration, because it is the only one truly approved by popular sovereignty (and the first of an independent Syria).  Ideas of this sort have been put forward in other revolutionary contexts but to my knowledge not implemented.
  • A transitional government will lay out the roadmap for Constituent Assembly elections  within 15 months.  A proportional representation electoral system with open lists and 32 multi-member constituencies is the preferred option, with about 30% reserved for women and minorities.  The Constituent Assembly is expected to complete a new constitution within one year and have it approved in a referendum within two years, with three months allotted for public discussion.
  • This report envisages no immediate change in the 1950 constitution’s specification of the role of Islam as the state religion.  As this is a major issue, I suppose avoiding it is the better part of valor.
  • Nor is there to be any change in the definition of the Syrian people as part of the Arab nation, a provision that is sure to arouse Kurdish hackles.  The report nevertheless also nods towards ethnic inclusion, ending discrimination, restoring citizenship and making Kurdish an official language in Kurdish regions.
  • The chapter on rule of law is particularly rich in its discussion of the regime’s judiciary as well as the various judiciaries practicing in liberated areas.

While it does not feature in the recommendations of the Roadmap, I found the objective and factual approach of its badly named Chapter 2 (Transformations of the Syrian Revolution: Internal Dynamics and Regional and International Failures) telling.  Narrative is important.  This is a well done one.

Even if the military situation is at present parlous, this report suggests the Syrian opposition is far readier than a year ago to confront the political issues it faces, should the regime come to terms or collapse.  But what is a roadmap worth if you are not in the driver’s seat?  The question will be whether the Roadmap gains adherents across a broad political spectrum, which would bode well for the future, or instead exposes once again the fault lines that divide the opposition, with the more extreme armed groups laughing off or just ignoring a document prepared by eggheads that foresees only demilitarization and demobilization of the militias.  I hope for the former and fear the latter.