The Syrian Constitutional Committee ended its first meetings this week and agreed to reconvene on 25 November to continue its work. A code of conduct was agreed for the coming sessions, with the banning of verbal and behavioural excesses.
The Constitutional Committee, agreed to by the UN and Russia to amend or rewrite the Syrian Constitution, is in charge of drafting a new constitution for the country that should lead to new elections.
Although the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has claimed that the committee will only discuss amending the current constitution, the opposition says it has not yet been decided what the committee’s goal is, whether to amend or draft an entirely new constitution.
Abdel-Hakim Bashar, an opposition member of the committee, denied to Al-Ahram Weekly that the opposition had agreed on amending the current 2012 Constitution, saying a decision has yet to be reached.
“In his opening remarks, the Committee Co-Chairman Ahmed Al-Kozbari, who represents the regime, said discussions should focus on the 2012 Constitution because it was based on Syrian decisions and a general referendum,” Bashar said.
“But this issue is a topic for discussion. Even so, the regime delegation is more serious, and there seems to be effective Russian pressure to reach a political solution in Syria, or at least to move in that direction,” he added.
The two divergent camps, the opposition and regime, thus seem to agree. The regime wants to move slowly and is trying to distract the opposition with basic provisions found in any constitution, while the opposition on the committee, which does not have public support, seems to be more relaxed and ready to compromise.
Many Syrians believe the opposition on the committee and the regime might agree on a middle-of-the-road constitution that does not undermine the power of the incumbent regime, but at the same time guarantees minimum political freedoms after the war ends.
Emad Ghalyoun, a researcher, said forming the committee abrogated UN Security Council Resolution 2254 regarding the political transition in Syria, and although the committee had added the requirements of this resolution to its agenda, it still did not express the will of the Syrian people.
It represented an about-face by the global community on the Syrian issue by diluting and limiting the conditions of a political solution to merely issuing a new constitution and holding elections. It did not mention how to achieve transitional justice or the fate of the Al-Assad regime, he said.
This was reflected in statements by committee members during the inaugural session, which had omitted any mention of Al-Assad or figures in the security agencies or holding them accountable for the tragedy of the Syrian people. Instead, the statements had blamed all the parties, which had revealed the outlook of the committee and the impact of outside pressure on its members, he added.
The Syrian opposition in general believes the Constitutional Committee is illegitimate and says that its members were chosen by foreign actors involved in Syria and supporters and sponsors of the regime or international groups. It says the role of the committee has been pre-decided, namely to sustain the Al-Assad regime without any real political transition, especially since the committee is the result of the Astana Process between Russia, Turkey and Iran.
“The Constitutional Committee seems to be looking for loose or neutral provisions that are acceptable to the Al-Assad regime,” Ghalyoun said. “However, protecting national interests requires provisions that affirm and glorify the Syrian Revolution and its martyrs and hold the Al-Assad regime accountable for the killings, torture, destruction, displacement and inviting in of foreign occupation forces.”
Many Syrians, however, continue to hope that the major world powers will exert pressure to produce a new constitution that guarantees the political transition despite the regime’s desires.
Opposition figure Samir Nashar told the Weekly that “the core of the Syrian conflict is not disagreement on the type of new constitution; Syria has always had a constitution. At the start of [former president] Hafez Al-Assad’s rule, the 1973 Constitution gave the president absolute powers and control over the three branches of government. In 2012, after the revolution began, the constitution was amended, but it did not address the president’s powers.”
“If the committee is to make any progress, it will primarily depend on a consensus between Russia and the US and the approval of the regional countries involved in Syria, such as Israel, Iran and Turkey. Achieving the interests of these countries will decide whether the committee is successful or not. Unfortunately, the Syrians on the committee on both sides, the regime and the opposition, will not have much of a role since any results will be mere window dressing,” Nashar concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.