Syria: the halted political ‘reforms’ of Bashar al-Assad

In yesterdays speech Bashar al-Assad made reference to the reforms announced earlier, last week, by Bouthiana Shaaban “…the things announced Thursday were not decisions, because those were the decisions of the Ba’ath Party Regional Conference in 2005”.

So what were the decisions of the regional Ba’ath party conference of 2005 concerning political reforms? It concerned three areas: the emergency law, political parties and media.

Concerning the emergency law the conference endorsed a proposal to amend, not abolish, the law. Specifically the emergency law would only be applicable to threats against the state, a somewhat broad/vague category that would mean that the law would retain virtually the same effect as ‘threat against the state’ would be interpreted by the security apparatus.

On political parties the conference endorsed a proposal to allow other political parties other then those part of the National Progressive Front (disclaimer: there is nothing ‘progressive’ about these political parties), which is dominated by the Syrian Ba’ath party, which retain 50% + 1 vote ins executive committee. New political parties to be made legal would not have a sectarian, ethnic, regional or religious basis. This of course exclude the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish or Assyrian parties (although the Ba’ath party is itself based on the arab ethnicity).

In yesterdays speech al-Assad came with a number of excuses for the lack of implementations on even these meagre reforms. It was external pressure from 9/11 to the war between Gaza and Israel in 2008. It was the drought. It was ‘other priorities’ such as the importance of feeding a child and provide healthcare. It was the stability of Syria. It was a tour de force of excuses which made it abundantely clear that what the real issue were. A lack of political will. A focus on retaining power through status quo for the al-Assad family, clan and allies.

Not in any way did al-Assad owe up to the fact that his own security forces was responsible for the deaths in Deraa and Latakia. Instead he devoted a large chunk of his speech to conspiracies aimed at Syria; how these conspirators had managed to manipulate and create sectarian conflict.

Bashar al-Assad showed us all his true face yesterday, and that was not the face of a reformer.

About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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