Friday, July 07, 2006

the Road to Democracy

Alex is a regular blogger on He likes to interrogate the minds of his fellow bloggers. Yesterday he asked, how do we achieve democracy in Syria? What a good, straightforward question! Why didn't anyone think of it before? It is interesting how much you reveal about yourself in trying to answer such a question in a couple of paragraphs.

Rising to the bait, I offered some thoughts. Alex hardly ever provides asnwers to his own questions. I had a feeling he would follow up with more questions. I cannot reproduce the questions faithfully here because the website server seems to be down today. However, the reader will get the gist of them from the answers:

At Thursday, July 06, 2006, Philip I said...


As always, you ask BIG, direct and pertinent questions.

If you want to work out the best way of getting from A to B, you have to know where B is.

B is a new constitution.

Not only does the current constitution stifle the country's development but even the good parts have been ignored, twisted, or blatently breached. So if you can put in place a better constitution in the future, you'd better make sure that it is well protected from such abuse.

I can think of some wholesale changes to the constitution but the two most important ones are, to my mind:

(1) the Baath party should not assume a "leading role" in society by force of law, as if the rest of society are ignorant sheep (Article 8), and

(2) the president should not have executive powers and be allowed to develop a personality cult.

I have explained my reasoning on these two points in an answer to one of your previous questions (see the final comment on

The road to a new constitution can be paved with roses or blood. The choice depends on whether the exisiting regime is capable of cleaning up its act, adapting quickly to the new realities, and gracefully acknowledging the right of others to contribute equally to policy making and decison making.

Look for revolutionaries to give you a better answer at gun point.

Alex then asked if it was feasible to agree, peacefully, a new constitution with so many ethnic and religeous minorities in Syria

Philip I said...


The clear answer to Syria's mosaic of religions and cultures is ABSOLUTE SECULARISM.

The good thing about the present constitution is that it says nothing about representation along ethnic or religeous lines.

The bad thing is that it guarantees majority representation for a special breed of politicians (the Baathists) and it gives wide dictatorial powers to one individual (because that individual happens to have seized power at gunpoint). Hafez Assad did not even want to specify the religion of the president as Alawite Muslim (that would have been absurd since he represented a religeous minority). A clause was inserted specifiying the president to be a Muslim in order to appease the majority Sunni Muslims (in the short-term) and ensure the loyalty of senior army officers.

He then cleverly turned the tables on them by systematically ensuring that his clan controlled all channels to state power. He did this by liquidating most of his opponents and building a pervasive security and intelligence superstructure answerable only to him. The results of this incredible concentration of power are widespread corruption, a rapid degeneration of state institutions, including the regular army, and the crumbling of the legal foundation of the state.

In Turkey, the all-powerful army has, for decades, jealously guarded the secular constitution and the integrity of state institutions. So much so that Turkey, since Ataturk, has developed into a major industrial and military power in the Middle East and Central Asia, and in 10-years time, it will bring the European Union to our northern borders.

No country or political system is perfect but we have a great deal to learn from Turkey and its brand of secularism. If we have to have strategic alliances, we would be well advised to focus on Turkey rather than Iran (please everyone do not digress into a fruitless debate about Iskandaron because mutual trust means a free movement of people, capital and goods and services across borders. Also please do not talk about Ottoman imperialism because we will be dealing with EU imperialism, if there is such a thing). Besides, we'd better remember where our water flows from.

Another blogger, George Ajjan, suggested that patriotic critics should work to develop democracy from the bottom up, starting at the local level:

George Ajjan - I agree with your positive thinking but there is no real incentive for good people to put their necks on the line. The state and its regions have been carved up as economic and political fiefdoms among the ruling elite and their families. Local democracy will be allowed to flourish only as a talking shop (basically to allow people to let off some steam). If, in your honest debate, you cross "red lines" drawn in the sand by your regional lanlord you soon find yourself behind bars.

I pray for two scenarios: either the ruling elite will come to their senses or decent, patriotic and secular elements in the regular army will come together and eventually eliminate them.

I do not have faith in either possibility and instead, I predict an implosion of the regime under its own weight, leading to chaos and a bloody military coup with unpredictable outcomes. If history teaches us anything, it is that there will be a long period of upheaval after a despotic regime has come to a violent end (just like Iraq today). Thereafter, it would take years for society to settle its differences and grievances before they set about repairing the damage to the country. So, another lost generation on top of the previous two!

1 comment:

Alex said...


I will try to answer that simple question soon (in few weeks).

Before I answer, I like to listen to everyone who has a logical opinion. All of you made very good points at Syria Comment and the "answer", if you are optimistic enough to believe there is an answer, must take into account all the points raised by each one.