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Syria: The Long Road to Democracy?

Can a united group of Syrian opposition parties usher in democracy in their country?

November 15, 2005

Can a united group of Syrian opposition parties usher in democracy in their country?

Syria has come under great external pressure following the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister. But pressure to reform is growing inside Syria as well. A group of Syrian opposition parties has released "The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change." In this Globalist Document, we excerpt their recommendations for democracy and freedom in Syria.

Syria today is being subjected to pressure it had not experienced before as a result of the policies pursued by the regime, policies that have brought the country to a situation that calls for concern for its national safety and the fate of its people.

The authorities’ monopoly on everything for more than 30 years has established an authoritarian, totalitarian and cliquish regime that has led to a lack of interest in politics in society, with people losing interest in public affairs.

This situation has brought upon the country such destruction as represented by the rending of the national social fabric of the Syrian people. Moreover, it has also brought with it the potential for economic collapse that poses a threat to the country and that might exacerbate crises of every kind.

In addition, this regime has brought stifling isolation upon the country as a result of its destructive, adventurous and short-sighted policies on Arab and regional levels, especially in Lebanon. Those policies were founded on a discretionary basis and were not guided by the higher national interests.

All that — and many other matters — calls for mobilizing all the energies of Syria, the homeland and the people, in a rescue task of change that lifts the country out of the mold of the security state and takes it to the mold of the political state.

Doing so will enable the country to enhance its independence and unity so that its people will be able to hold the reins of their country and participate freely in running its affairs.

The transformations needed affect various aspects of life, and include the state, the authorities and society, and lead to changing Syrian policies at home and abroad.

In view of the signatories’ feeling that the present moment calls for a courageous and responsible national stand that takes the country out of its condition of weakness and waiting that is poisoning the present political life and spares it the dangers that loom on the horizon, they have reached an accord on the following basis:

Establishment of a democratic national regime is the basic approach to the plan for change and political reform. It must be peaceful, gradual, founded on accord and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.

Shunning totalitarian thought and severing all plans for exclusion and custodianship under any pretext, be it historical or realistic. Shunning violence in exercising political action and seeking to prevent and avoid violence in any form and by any side.

Islam — which is the religion and ideology of the majority, with its lofty intentions, higher values and tolerant canon law — is the more prominent cultural component in the life of the nation and the people.

Our Arab civilization has been formed within the framework of its ideas, values and ethics and in interaction with the other national historic cultures in our society, through moderation, tolerance and mutual interaction, free of fanaticism, violence and exclusion, while having great concern for the respect of the beliefs, culture and special characteristics of others, whatever their religious, confessional and intellectual affiliations, and openness to new and contemporary cultures.

Adoption of democracy as a modern system that has universal values and basis, based on the principles of liberty, sovereignty of the people, a state of institutions and the transfer of power through free and periodic elections that enable the people to hold those in power accountable and change them.

Guarantee the freedom of individuals, groups and national minorities to express themselves, and safeguard their role and cultural and linguistic rights, with the state respecting and caring for those rights, within the framework of the Constitution and under the law.

Commitment to the safety, security and unity of the Syrian national union and addressing its problems through dialogue, and safeguard the unity of the homeland and the people in all circumstances, commitment to the liberation of the occupied territories and regaining the Golan Heights for the homeland and enabling Syria to carry out an effective and positive Arab and regional role.

Abolish all forms of exclusion in public life, by suspending the emergency law and abolishing martial law and the extraordinary courts, as well as all other relevant laws, including Law 49 for the year 1980.

Release all political prisoners and allow the safe and honorable return of all those wanted and those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily exiled with legal guarantees. Put a stop to all forms of political persecution, by settling grievances and turning a new leaf in the history of the country.

Strengthen the national army and maintain its professional spirit, and keep it outside the framework of political conflict and the democratic game, and confine its task to protecting the country’s independence, safeguarding the constitutional system and defending the homeland and the people.

Liberate popular organizations, federations, trade unions and chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture from the custodianship of the state and from party and security hegemony. Provide them with the conditions of free action as civil society organizations.

Launch public freedoms, organize political life through a modern party law and organize the media and elections in accordance with modern laws that ensure liberty, justice and equal opportunities for everyone.

Emphasize Syria’s affiliation to the Arab Order, establish the widest relations of cooperation with the Arab Order and strengthen strategic, political and economic ties that lead the Arab nation to the path of unity. Correct the relationship with Lebanon, so that it will be based on liberty, equality, sovereignty and the common interests of the two peoples and countries.

Observe all international treaties and conventions and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and seek within the framework of the United Nations and in cooperation with the international community to build a more just world order, based on the principles of peace and mutual interest, warding off aggression and the right of nations to resist occupation, and to oppose all forms of terrorism and violence directed against civilians.

The signatories to this declaration believe the process of change has begun, in view of its being a necessity that brooks no postponement because the country needs it. It is not directed against anyone, but requires everyone’s efforts.

These are broad steps for the plan for democratic change, as we see it, which Syria needs, and to which its people aspire. It is open to the participation of all the national forces — political parties, civilian and civil bodies and political, cultural and professional figures. The plan accepts their commitments and contribution, and is open to review through the increase in the collectivity of political work and its effective societal forces.

We pledge to work to end the stage of despotism. We declare our readiness to offer the necessary sacrifices for that purpose, and to do all what is necessary to enable the process of democratic change to take off, and to build a modern Syria, a free homeland for all of its citizens, safeguard the freedom of its people and protect national independence.

Adapted from “The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change” by the following parties and organizations: The Democratic National Grouping in Syria, The Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria, The Committees for the Revival of Civil Society, The Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria and The Future Party (Shaykh Nawwaf al-Bashir). Also by the following individuals: Riyad Sayf, Jawdat Sa’id, Dr. Abd-al-Razzaq Id, Samir al-Nashar, Dr. Fida Akram al-Hurani, Dr. Adil Zakkar, Abd-al-Karim al-Dahhak, Haytham al-Malih and Nayif Qaysiyahthe. Published October 16, 2005. For the full-length report, click here.