In an interview to our media center, John Wight, a writer and political commentator, has shared his opinion on the Syrian crisis and the draft of a new Syrian Constitution.
Q: What are the benefits and implications of the new constitution proposed by Russia? Will it get the support of the Syrians?
A: The benefits are that it offers the prospect of political and democratic reform that takes the best of what Syria already is – i.e. non-sectarian, multicultural, multi faith, and secular – and improves on it with regard to allowing a truly pluraristic body politic to flourish. As to whether it will gain the support of Syrians, this is of course the key challenge that all parties involved in the conflict have to overcome. The suffering caused by the conflict, the deep trauma incurred, dictates that national reconciliation will be immensely difficult, though certainly not impossible. I think the country, Syrian society, needs a national conversation that allows a variety and different shades of opinion to be expressed – shades of opinion, that is, excepting those of religious extremism and sectarianism. In the course of such a national conversation, space can be opened up in which trust and a common Syrian national identity may once again be forged.
What is not in doubt is the requirement for compromise on all sides. Without it there is no hope for reconciliation and, with it, peace.
Q: One of the most important points of the draft is the expansion of parliament’s authorities and limitation of presidential power. Who benefits from it? Will it lead to empowering political parties?
A: Ultimately, the Syrian people will benefit from democratic reform to limit presidential power. However we have to be careful in this regard. Syria does not exist in a vacuum, and the fear of regime change by the back door is an entirely legitimate one for Syrian and supporters of President Assad to hold. There has to be support for this particular measure from the President himself, who will have a crucial role to play in managing any such democratic transformation. It is impossible to imagine Syria returning to the way it was prior to the conflict, which is implicit in the reforms enshrined in the this draft constitution.
Q: The text of the draft includes a possibility of creating a Kurdish cultural autonomy within Syria. How the Kurds could possibly react?
A: Hopefully, the Kurds of Syria will seize the chance of enjoying the benefits of cultural autonomy within a Syrian state that recognizes them as full citizens. The challenge here will of course winning the Kurds away from the idea of using the chaos of the conflict in order to carve out their own state on Syrian territory, and worse trying to enlist the US as their sponsor in this regard. The Kurds of Syria, who undoubtedly have had legitimate grievances with Damascus in the past, now have the opportunity with the proposal to change the country’s identity as a distinctly Arab republic to a republic embracing all of its citizens on terms of equality and dignity, both Arab and non-Arab.
Q: How can the draft be improved?
I personally do not see how the constitution can be improved. It offers meaningful reform while entrenching the religious and secular freedoms and civil rights that Syrian society has long taken pride in upholding. The only improvements that could be made concerns the process. There will understandably be objections to the way the constitution has been drafted, with the accusation of it being imposed on Syria by Russia. Ideally, the process would have involved some kind of constitutional convention being called by the government and opposition within the country, out of which a new constitution would have emerged. But the situation in Syria today is far from ideal due to the ongoing conflict and the need for external input as a consequence. With the condition that the constitution will be subjected to a national referendum, in which the Syrian people will vote, space for the national conversation I previously described is available. This, it is to be hoped, will serve to ameliorate any concerns over the process.
Q: What are the main differences between the 2012 and 2017 constitutions?
A: I believe the fixed terms for president and the substitution of Syrian Republic for Syrian Arab Republic are the most significant and important differences.
John Wight is a writer and political commentator. He has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring.