Syria’s bright dreams of democracy

Calls for change have been ringing out across Syria for seven months. Chief among them is a demand for a genuine multi-party political system. This weekend, the president responded with a promise to draft a new constitution within four months.

­The Arab League has decided not to suspend Syria’s membership of the group, but has called for urgent talks between the government and the opposition. But that is unlikely to appease everyone, as RT’s Tesa Arcilla reports from inside Syria.

Since 1972, politics has only been open to parties that acknowledged the supremacy of the ruling Ba’ath party and joined its coalition. On August 4, President Bashar al- Assad issued a decree paving the way for a multi-party system. For Zaher Saad al Deen, this is the moment he has been waiting for – the chance to add a new voice to Syrian politics.

“We’re applying to become a political party so we can be more effective,”
says Deen, co-founder of the National Development Party. “We can influence parliament, help create laws and defend our stand.”

The new law allows parties that are open to all Syrians regardless of ethnicity and religion, as long as they are not affiliated with organizations outside of Syria. But the newly-formed internal opposition – the National Co-ordination Council or NCC – will not participate.

According to Dr Hassan Abdel Azim, General Director of the National Co-ordination Council, these reforms are not real.

“We are not participating because we don’t have an environment for dialogue,” he believes. “The violence must stop, all political prisoners must be released. Even though they passed the multi-party law and will draw up a new constitution, they do all that under their conditions.”

Amid recent deadly clashes in cities like Al Rastan and Idlib, the president appointed a committee to draft a new constitution within four months.

One sticking point is Article 8 which states that the Ba’ath Party is “the leader of the state and society.” The opposition argues this undermines the essence of political pluralism.

“Some people in the party leadership have come to the conclusion that Article 8 and more ‘dangerous’ articles in the constitution are going to be reviewed,” notes Faysal Mekdad, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister. “We shall have almost a new constitution under which a new multi-party system will be achieved without difficulties.”

Perhaps change is coming to Syria. But the street protests and violent clashes have been dragging on for months, with some vowing they will not stop until Bashar al- Assad steps down. So is it simply too little, too late?

Meetings of the National Development Party take place on a daily basis. They are in the final stages of the application process to become an official political party in Syria. Now, after a decade of listening to promises of reform, they feel that this time, it could be for real. At least, that is what they are hoping for.