Assad's multi-party offer dismissed amid Hama "blackout"

Amateur video purportedly shows tanks on streets of Hama (AP)
Political plurarity has been one of the main demands of Assad’s opposition since unrest began sweepingSyria following popular revolts across the Arab world. Assaad’s Baath Party has ruled the country since taking power in a military coup in 1963.

This is the biggest concession Assad has made since unrest broke out in Syria, and he clearly hopes it will allow him to stay in power.

The Syrian president has already issued a general amnesty for political prisoners including those who led an armed uprising against his father in 1982. He also lifted emergency laws that banned public gatherings of more than five people and introduced a new law on media freedom. A special court has been created to deal with all cases related to the media, in contrast to the past practice of jailing the authors of articles which could be interpreted as “undermining people’s morale,” or simply opposing the government’s view.

This latest move by President Assad, however, is a major change for a regime which is pushing 50. The multi-party decree will allow the establishment of political parties that will function alongside the ruling Baath party. Assad’s decree means no further approval from the Syrian parliament is needed, so the law can take effect immediately. The bill stipulates the main principles and conditions for the creation of new political parties, their governing and financing, rights and obligations. New parties can be created under the heading of “democratic principles, constitution and law.”

On the other hand, the decree prohibits parties founded on the basis of “religion, tribal affiliation, regional interests or professional organizations as well as parties which discriminate on the basis of race, sex or colour.” “Branches of foreign parties” are also banned, since the Syrian president believes the unrest is “sponsored” by foreign interests. Now the question is whether the country’s genuine opposition will ever manage to establish a political party under such conditions. Or will any conditions or concessions work at all?

“There are two key obstacles to establishing a real multi-party system in Syria,” explains political analyst Mikhail Remizov. “The first one is society’s composition, namely, the strong religious contradictions within it. Syrian society is divided by religious and ethnic aspects to an extent that really impedes the functioning of democratic parties. This draft law rules out, by implication, the establishment of parties along ethnic, religious and professional lines. But it is quite likely that parties will express the interests of Shiites, Christians, or the religious minority of Assad and the Syrian top brass, and that these contradictions will strongly deform the progress of democratic life.”

Earlier, the Syrian vice-president Farug Al-Shara opened a “national dialogue” with the opposition on the matter of creating a multi-party system. The forum was boycotted by protestors in a move which undermined the credibility of the plan.If there was anything that pushed Assad to introduce a multi-party system, it was pressure from the UN Security Council rather than the demands of the opposition.

“The West is not prepared to commit to full-fledged interference. The West has been lobbying for the resolution in the Security Council in order to preserve its reputation globally, rather than to really impact the situation in Syria. NATO as well as some European countries are saying that military interference of the kind carried out in Libya is impossible in Syria, not least because the Libyan campaign has proved ineffective,” said Remizov.

­Watch Mikhail Remizov speaking with RT

The latest massacre in the Syrian city of Hama reportedly killed scores of people as bombs were dropped and tanks moved though the city to “maintain control” over opposition rallies. The more the death toll rises in this power struggle, the slimmer the chances of Assad making any concessions, meaning a democratic state under his leadership is unlikely to work.

The Syrian opposition’s reaction has been varied, the Tass news agency reports. The Muslim Brotherhood has refused any kind of co-existence with Assad’s regime, while moderate opposition parties have called it a positive move, adding though that more should follow, namely amendments to the eighth article of the country’s constitution which currently stipulates that the ruling party is the supreme power in the country. While some say it is now “too late”. Protestors against Assad’s regime are now determined to get rid of the president and it looks like this multi-party decree is no more than his last gasp of air.

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has called the decree “nearly a provocation.” He stressed that Syria should first halt all violence against civilians, adding that the UN Security Council has not ruled out imposing a harsher resolution on the Syrian government.

Russia stands firm – the future of Syria must remain in the hands of Syrians, the Russian Foreign Minister said on Thursday.Moscow is convinced that the situation in the country should be settled by Syrians themselves, without interference from the outside. Sergey Lavrov stressed that common Syrian dialogue was the only way to settle the crisis and noted that this stance was reflected in the statement on Syria which the UN Security Council passed on Wednesday.

There is much speculation about what is actually happening in the country and how many supporters Assad has. International media bureaux in Damascuss are being attacked by supporters of the president. Independent journalists in the country are risking their lives. Opposition members who still have internet access register their web-sites on foreign domains to protect them from being attacked. Many news outlets are reduced to reporting remotely, so the picture is far from clear.

Having arrived in Damascus at the beginning of the uprising, our film crew attempted to speak to several opposition members who never showed up for interview. People on the streets were throwing themselves at our small camera, furious at the injustice towards their beloved president and heaping praising on Assad’s family. We were amazed at how politicized young people were. They were trying to explain to us why this is the best regime for them and how they would not change a single thing. It is an incredibly beautiful place, Syria, despite the sheer number of portraits of Assad plastered across the magnificent walls of Damascus. We were of course not allowed to travel to the south of the country, where tensions were already high. Since then, all foreign journalists have been banned from visiting the country altogether.

­Natalia Novikova, RT