Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Local Elections of 2007 by Ibrahim Hamidi

(This story by Ibrahim Hamidi originally appeared in "Syria Today" in this month's issue.)

2007 has the potential to be a great year of progress for Syria with the promise of free-list local elections ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. It also has the potential for Crisis. Here, al-Hayat Damascus bureau chief Ibrahim Hamidi looks ahead to a make or break year.

The year 2007 will, no doubt, be a turning point in Syrian political history; a year that is expected to mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, with parliamentary elections, local administration elections and presidential elections all taking place simultaneously.

If the discussions currently circulating among Syria’s political elite following the recommendations of June’s Ba’ath Party Conference do indeed come true, the year 2007 will witness Syria’s soft landing from a politically-authoritarian, economically-centralized regime to a pluralist regime embracing market forces.

However, internal frustrations, hesitant decisions and a poor awareness of the country’s socio-economic problems could equally turn that year into a catastrophe, threatening Syria’s stability. So how could 2007 turn out on a positive curve?
The 10th Ba’ath Party Conference came out with many political recommendations including the “revision” of the emergency law - in place since the early 1960s - the elimination of extraordinary courts - also established during the 1960s - and passing new legislations for political parties and local administration elections. Moreover, there was a recommendation to reconsider the Syrian Constitution “to match the above recommendations”.

Looking to the full half of the glass, this means that the year 2007 will mark the end of a reign, started with the Ba’athists assumtion of power in 1963. The circles of pro-regime reformists say the coming years will witness preparations for a “bloodless coup” including the issuance of a law allowing new political parties to take part in the local elections of 2007.

One of those optimists, the Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hilal Atrash, told me that a political decision has already been taken to prepare for a new local administration law that will allow the more than 15,000 members of the municipal councils to be freely elected. This would mark an end to the previous system of nominations and closed lists that are controlled by the Ba’ath Party and its partners in the National Progressive Front, the parliamentary alliance of parties authorised by the Ba’ath.

Atrash said the decision coincided with other major steps towards “decentralization” and the delegation of more powers to local authorities in order to establish “good governance” based on “procedure facilitation” and “red tape reduction”.
Handling open list elections will mean that 2007 will, for the first time since the Ba’ath assumed power, allow Syrians to elect more than 15,000 local council representatives. Local governors will still appointed by virtue of presidential decrees.

Syria has 14 governorates, 107 towns and 2480 villages. The population of these units elect 15029 representatives for the respective councils.

Optimists also look at the local administration elections as a warm up exercise for the parliamentary elections, to elect 250 MPs, and for the presidential election.
Seven years will have passed since the inauguration of President Bashar a-Assad who told foreign reporters that Syria will have democratic elections.

The current changes will include reconsidering Article 8 of the Constitution of 1972, which states that the Ba’ath Party is “ruler of state and society”. However, contrary to these rosy expectations, there are some distressing ideas that 2007 could be the trigger for an internal crisis. How?

Some observers think that the Ba’ath Conference recommendations were developed on the principle of “constructive ambiguity”; while they look like a good foundation for reform they may actually be as good for hardliners. The recommendation talked about separating “the Party from the power”, but at the same time they stated that prime minister as well as parliament speaker should be Ba’athists; this is a contradiction. They talked about a new parties law while stressing “security and stability”, which can be a good pretext for more inflexibility and regression; another contradiction.

Pessimists think the coming years will witness wide-scale regression in terms of refocusing on security issues and not developing any major political or economic reforms. They say there will be only some cosmetic reform, such as establishing unpopular parties and annexing them to the NPF as was the case with the Syrian Social National Party, or even refraining from ratifying the Association Agreement with the EU to avoid any serious commitment towards reform.

What is more worrying in fact is the fact the year 2007 will more likely witness a number of negative developments: the further deterioration in oil production, currently at 470,000 barrel a day, and even the possible end of oil exports; unemployment will reach 20% of the workforce, with more than 380,000 newcomers entering the labour market every year.

Four other factors loom large and foreboding on the horizon. The first is the rising Islamic tide in secular Syria and the increase in radical groups, some of whom have already resorted to violence. Close beside that is the fact that 80% of the unemployed are between 18 and 25 years’ old and the fact that the selective opening of the economy is making the rich richer and the poor poorer, with Syria now home to 5.3 million citizens within the poverty zone and 2.2 million of them “can not get the basic needs”, according to UNDP report released lately.

Meanwhile the middle class, often perceived as the guarantor of stability, is increasingly melting away. There is also the negative impact on patriotism, with the country recently witnessing several sectarian/ethnic clashes due to a variety of political, economic and regional reasons triggered by the changes in Iraq, where the political structure has shifted towards sectarianism after the Iraqi regime failure to build a civil state.

Nonetheless, observers cannot draw a clear picture of Syria’s future; every day there are contradicting indications. Today we can say there is optimism as regards the scope of the problems and the appropriateness of the decisions made; tomorrow we face the opposite. The only thing to do is wait and see what the future holds.


At 8/27/2005 06:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Who pays a dime for what the Syrian regime says and promises to do !

For 35 years, we have seen the miracles of the regime at work to keep the people hoping in something to come, which never happens, and is soon is forgotten to be replaced with a newer hope!

Stupid people deserve such a regime. People still compete to get positions in this regime, and so the regime continues to exist despite the inside the hearts wide spread hatred for it! Here we see that the replacement of the old figureheads among Sunnis is so easy, and a new generation of opportuinists replace Khadam, Tlas, and all the dummies to give the regime new life and to continue to thrive. Now it is people like Dardary that the regime will use to the maximum benefits, and people like him will gain in prestige and wealth while the people willl keep screaming "liberate us from the Alawi regime".

This people deserves no freedom, and no dignity. As long as they rush to fill these figurehead positions giving the regiem its legitimacy, the people will stay under the control of the Magician in this regime. Magic, I swear, it is by magic that the Assad regime survived and continues to exist. New slogans every while to keep things going. Now, it is Elections, free municipal ellections.... then they will explain why things are not possible, they don't even have to do so, for this will be forgotten, and a new slogan will take over, and few more years will be added to the life of their power..probably this will go on for ever.

The hell with you, Syrians!

At 8/27/2005 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I guess that if a statue is crying in Aleppo, than nothing is impossible in Syria.

At 8/27/2005 08:35:00 AM, Blogger raf* said...


this article is pretty outspoken - for having been published in "Syria Today"!

what do YOU think about these issues?

are you also of the opinion that[t]he only thing to do is wait and see what the future holds.???

i am always puzzled how educated people can believe that syria is going to be the ONE country where a transformation from a politically-authoritarian, economically-centralized regime to a pluralist regime embracing market forces (read: from an mafia-esque dictatorship to a "model for the region") is actually going to work.

russia, china, egypt ... anyone?

and PLEASE don't think you can throw "eastern europe" @ me -- the czech republik and slovenia are the only good examples. and that has to do with its pre-1938 history (for #1) and the internal homogenity of the 2nd. all the others have serious issues.

and syria sure ain't neither like the czech republik nor like slovenia. just compare the beer...


At 8/27/2005 09:22:00 AM, Anonymous Devout girl having period said...

An incredible miracle in Homs, Syria. Khadija and Jesus appeared on to p of the mountain with flaring glowing lights surrounding them, the likes no man seen before, with shimmering colors that no man ever seen before these appearance. It is a sign of god. And they spoke, and the voices were like the sound of multitude of Chariots and it was beautiful tune. and all the animal hiding came out and started dancing and all miraculously spoke out loud and said in unisons aren’t they great, aren’t thy the great one, behold the power of god and the deliverance. One Raccoon stood up and said oh lord of heaven, the only begotten son of god, praises upon your holy sprit, without it life will not exist. What is the message you are delivering to us oh lord of earth heaven, I mean, why the fuck did you wakes up all in the midsest of the hour, God dam it. And the lord spoke, and the mountain split in half and water rushed from the crack, the color of it like never seen before. It was pure water, void of mercury, void of condemns and all the shit that was dumped from the local sewage plant was filtered by the glorious mountain. And the lord said. Follow my order, all ye shall all perish, and ye shall not inherit the kingdom, and all of yaw sinners will not inherit the kingdom of god if you do not follow my order. And Khedija lifted her skirt and all the town people were in awe and shock, she was fat with the god riches. and she too spoke 5 times and together said to all the assembly: To ye all Shia and Christians follower of the true one and only god, the one created heaven and earth and all that dwell in it, the lion and the calf, the aphids and the locust, the ant and the ant eater, fuck, his greatness created 2 fucking ant eaters. The short nose and the long nose, and created the stomach virus and aid virus and all the billions of versus that make you sick, maimed and die. He created all of this glorious creation to show you his ego and let you know that he is the only true and only god. Obey the lord of heaven and earth and do accordingly and live in harmony with his eternal purpose. And after 3 nights and 5 days of this crap, another raccoon stood up and said: oh lord of heaven, the one that created all the bugs and the snakes and the crocodiles, could you cut the fucking crap and tell us what is the heaven message today to all the Christians and Shia. And the lord spake and said all of yaw devout Shia and Christian they lord command you, you miniscule sperm to visit this holly site that my gleaming feet is standing on and insert 100 U.S. Dollar bill in that hole in the ground, once a year, and for those that really love the holly one 5 times a year, and for those who committed their worthless live to the creator of heaven and earth all the money you got. And Jesus stood with Khadija and all the sudden she looked like the glorious shadow of Merriam and they said, in unisons. Do not fornicate and be adulterous, do not give your hard earned dollar to the Popov's and Benny hill and the like, for they have sinned and god no longer accept their Dollars unless it is purified and placed in that hole where I am standing. And miraculously the lord of heavens disappeared in to this air and the site became foggy and shimmering colors spouted every direction, the like never seen before. and it was a sign from heaven. Oh you children of the only god do accordingly and follow the commandment of the creator of the Aphids and locust so you can have an eternal life forever after.

At 8/27/2005 09:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Raf:

I like your posts, but here you are going far! You are comparing the changes that occured in Eatsern Europe with eventual changes in Syria. This can not be. In Syria, we are asking and hoping that the thieves and the criminals will gently do us the favor of reform,a nd tell us what to do. That was not the case in Eastern Europe. It wasn't the dictatorship class that did the reform, but rather it was the opposite forces once the International cover of their regimes was lifted. Syria's regime still enjoys that cover, and once it is lifted, the other forces opposite to it will have to decide which way to go: Peaceful Eatsern Europe Style, or Yougoslavia style, but it is not the regiem itself that can or will deliver the choice or the deliverance!

At 8/27/2005 12:00:00 PM, Blogger SYRIA said...

Check out:





At 8/27/2005 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I agree that in the political scene, all we should do is wait-and-see because the other options are even worse. But waiting for 2007 is like asking a starving man to wait for a pizza delivery. Hell! That’s over 1.5 years from now and what are Syrians suppose to do till then? Healthy change occurs mostly as part of continuing process rather than the result abrupt change. So we should not hold too high of a hope on the elections by sit on our asses unproductively till next profit cometh. Instead all parties should work on improving the situation to insure successful elections when they do actually occur.

In the short-term, the focus in my opinion should be primarily on easing restriction hostile to a Market-Economy and freedom of speech/press while continuously pressing officials to implement the Ba’ath conference recommendations regarding open elections.

At 8/27/2005 12:37:00 PM, Blogger raf* said...

to anon 8/27/2005 9:55 AM:

that's precisely what i meant - as long as the "reforms" are done by the dictatorship itself, the only future i can see for syria is one similar to russia, china


i am puzzled by your remark that Syria's regime still enjoys that [international] cover. who in the int'l community is "covering" syria??? iran???

at this point - the only reason why the regime has not thrown off is that the syrian people have not done so, have not had either the courage or the will or the desire to do that. and YES, such an "event" would be a bloody one indeed, and the risk of a following civil war (however short THAT ONE might then be) is high.

but right now it's like a big stage production of "the emperor without clothes" and so far no-one's said "he doesn't wear any clothes!" yet.

the syrian regime, like any other political regime in the world, is in power because people treat it as the governing regime - be that out of a belief in its legitimacy, a fear of repression, or because "anything else would be worse". as soon as the people will cease to recognize it - it'll crumble.

you can kill a lot of people with your security apparatus, but you can only hold on to a dictatorial power by PROJECTING fear.

please also see under "iran -> shah -> 1977-79 -> violent suppression of political dissent -> dissolution of shah regime -> you know the rest"


At 8/27/2005 12:47:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

raf what do you mean? That if you never were a democracy, you're never going to be one? But even sweden wasn't a democracy at one time.

At 8/27/2005 01:08:00 PM, Blogger raf* said...


despite the fact that i am annoyingly disturbed by your self-categorazation (anyone claiming to be the "voice of the people" is somewhat suspect) - your criticism is well-pointed.

i shall have to revise my argument and phrase it thus:

i am always puzzled how educated people can believe that syria is going to be the ONE country where a transformation from a politically-authoritarian, economically-centralized regime to a pluralist regime embracing market forces (read: from an mafia-esque dictatorship to a "model for the region") CONDUCTED BY THE MEMBERS/ALLIES/ASSOCIATED HENCHMEN OF THE DICTATORSHIP THEMSELVES is actually going to work - AND PRDOUCE A PLURALIST, ECONOMICALLY VIBRANT SOCIETY.

the transformations of the european societes happened (a) in the early modern period (where the nation state was only developing - pre-democratic sweden had NOT a nationalist dictatorship), (b) over a long period of time (3-400 years), and (c) during an era where (parts of western) europe where the economic & political powerhouses of the world.

syria (or any other current similar case) is (a) a different political animal from pre-democratic western states, (b) operating in the MODERN era of the 21st century, and (c) not exactly in possession of the political and/or economic power to move at its own pace & get away with it.

shit happens. welcome to this here planet.


At 8/27/2005 01:12:00 PM, Blogger raf* said...

ps: for a country/society to become a "democracy" (whatever that, in each specific case, is supposed to mean) involves more than a change in political system and the way the economy is run.

it FIRST & FOREMOST involves a shift in each CITIZEN's perception of his/her position within society & towards the state.

i am very much in favor of making it mandatory to take a "citizenship knowledge test" before one is allowed to vote - and that EVERYwhere. even in sweden.


At 8/27/2005 02:09:00 PM, Blogger Marlin said...

"The only thing to do is wait and see what the future holds."

To me this concluding statement sums up all that is wrong with Syria. No one wants to step forward and make change happen. Everyone wants to just sit back and 'wait for changes to come' on there own.

I don't think so. Until the Syrians decide to actively create there own future, the Baathists will rule them like the sheep they are.

At 8/27/2005 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


Here you are going too far!

Your argument is exactly what regimes made up of thugs like the Syrian one are happy to hear!

In all truthfullness, I don't think that there is a real democracy anywhere on Earth, and all countries are subject to a certain class or certain rules that a certain class of people will always have to its advantages. However, the known " democracies" have a superior system to countries like Syria and dictatorships like Syria. It is at least comforting to see faces change every few years, and I am sure the real power is acting behind those faces, but at least, no one feels inferior to any one else.

The problem with systems as those in 3rd world countires, and particularly in the Arab world is that they are savages, and respect no minimum norm of human decency. They are crude and dividing people not uniting them, and they are not sensitive to peoples sufferings. Rules are subject to the desires of those that govern as they can change them without due notice. People don't even know the rules because there are none. i.e: the president asks people to give their opinions freely so he "can learn about the country's problems", but those who dare to speak out beleiving the dictator, they are bound to suffer the consequences.

Syria had a democratic system long before the Baath came to power. In 1920, there was a parilment, and people were represented and had a great constitution. Then the French invaded Syria and chased its king away and killed its minsiter of defense. The French then destroyed the constitution, divided Syria, and then reassembled it, taking away a large part of it, that is of Iskandaron, giving it as a gift to Turkey. Syria then chassed the French away and got its independence before any other 3rd world country. It had a newer constitution that also was great, and a parliament (women had the right to vote since the first constitution), and then came the games of the Superpowers, and the CIA arranged for the first coup d'etat in Syria in 1949 destroying a parliamentary demcracy. From then, Syria was back and forth between Generals in the Army, and free elections. (Note: the CIA at Gerald Ford Times acknowledged its role in that 1949 coup in Syria, thanks to the freedom of Informations act).

When you speak of the Shah of Iran and the so called revolution of Khomeini, you are forgetting what happened at the time just prior to khomeini, the same goes for Haiti, for the Philippines Marcos: The US media took the cover out, and bashed these regimes and showed their crimes all of a sudden , and that was in every case. The US wanted the departure of the Shah of Iran, and of Marcos, etc...this is another game in the cold war. By creating an Islamic rule in Iran, and palying with the rules in Afghanistan, all around the Islamic Republics inside the USSR, the US gave the Soviet regime the fear of its life, and found itself obliged to curtail the Islamists in Afghanistan, and invade Afghanistan which became its OWN VIETNAM (according to Zbegnew Brezinzski). That is in addition to the war created between Iraq and Iran benefitting Israel, of course.

We need to look in huamn rights terms. Syria's system is a savage system. The system respects no norms. This system is retarded by all measures, and I say, even though democracy as I said above is a dream for all the human kind, and that it does not really exist, we want to have a system where faces change and where one can feel a human being, free to think, and to express their views without the fear of torture, and to gain employment in a respectable way. Most of all: We need to feel we belong to the new century!.


At 8/27/2005 02:32:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Agree with Marlin. The French did not wait for Marie Antoinette and neither the Brits waited for the King. To hand down new laws. Change only comes through a revolution. The bastards Baathist understood that and they did not wait until Syria evolved from recent independence and let it stand up on it's feet, just a decade after independence they started troubles, they took power through the March 8 Revolution with the help of Israel and America. A very sad day for Syrians and all Moslems.

At 8/27/2005 02:39:00 PM, Anonymous Metaz K.M.Aldendeshe said...

Syria is heading into a very nasty Civil War. The regime has no clue. They are immersed in their false sense of power and security. Regimes like that of Baath never change. There are no known examples in history that a brutal and ruthless king or dictatorship just simply abdicate or even reform without force. Most if not all were overthrown by violent revolutions. The Baath in Iraq is yet another example. Despite 10 years of waiting and warning and sanctions the thugs just clanged to power, abused the citizenry and hoaged all the resources, letting children dye for lack of medications. Syria's Baath is not any difference, in fact it appears that Bashar and his Baathist regime is worse and more corrupt.

At 8/27/2005 03:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Syria is heading into a very nasty Civil War."

Of course! That was the ultimate purpose from making the Assad the supreme power in Syria in the first place!

At 8/27/2005 03:46:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"the transformations of the european societes happened (a) in the early modern period (where the nation state was only developing - pre-democratic sweden had NOT a nationalist dictatorship), (b) over a long period of time (3-400 years), and (c) during an era where (parts of western) europe where the economic & political powerhouses of the world.

You are perfectly right, one of the problem of Syria is that it's identity it's unclear. After all, the country's borders were decided by the French. The way I see it, Syria must develop its own identity (syrianism) but that is not possible under the Baath rule.

At 8/27/2005 04:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Vox speaks as if he is the approver of what raf says! What do you know about Syria?

If what you are sayiong is true, then the state of lebanon should be much worse! What is Lebanon anyway?

Without the interventions of foreign powers, like France as said above, and the US, Syria would have developped into a modern state with full democracy. Study history correctly, and refrain from just clapping. The Assad regiem itself was the desire of both the US and the Soviets.

At 8/27/2005 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Raf is making a lot of sense to me

Vox, But what if its identity is to belong to the greater entity and the various neighboring countries? I know you're all for this uniqueness and individualism bullshit. But Syria's "Arabism" has not been brainwashed into the mind of its foolish citizens’ psyche by Nasser or Assad. It has existed long before they were even born; they just utilized that fact well to reach the top.

Here is the core of this identity finding struggle in my opinion, of defining these people and their nation. Should the Syrians keep fighting for what they have been told is the best solution in the form of Pan-Arabism? Or should they get over their fucking trauma pick up the pieces and get on with life already. For various reasons, foreign and internal struggles, corruption and oppression etc, this process has not only been delayed but has permanently damaged a "cause" that was once noble and highly plausible. You can truly believe in your heart that uniting these countries is a total disaster. But you should not disregard the fact that most of the people, for good or bad reasons still believe in it and that needs to be dealt with. I am not offering solutions but why I am submitting is a reminder to the harsh reality. A reality you are willing to obliviously neglect by denouncing everyone who disagrees with you as morons whose opinion should not count. So basically… you’re just like everyone else.

At 8/27/2005 05:08:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

The criminal said: "Raf is making a lot of sense to me".

I knew he would make sense to you, and told him above. His reward should be big from you. May be you can offer him membership in the "progressist Front".

Congratulations, Raf!


At 8/27/2005 07:11:00 PM, Blogger SYRIA said...

Check out:






At 8/27/2005 07:29:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

Re: At 8/27/2005 7:11 PM, NFT ;

Mr. Bashar Assad: we heard you. Stop this non sense. Don't beg!

At 8/27/2005 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only nonsense is the lack of respect for one's opinions.

At 8/27/2005 08:10:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

""" The only nonsense is the lack of respect for one's opinions."""

Don't you feel lucky that you are only getting "non respect" for your opinion?

In your Syria's Assad, Dr. Abd-AlAziz-Al-Kheir is serving 20 years in prison for his opinion. Dr. Aref Dalilah is serving 10 years in prison for his opinion. Parlimetarians Ryad Al Seif, and Mamoun Homsi are serving 5 years in prison for their opinion. Mr. Abd-Al-Al-Rahman Shagouri is serving 3 years in prison for accessing opposition sites in his internet connection.

So, count your blessings!



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