Nowadays, the negotiations in Geneva are held. There are some issues on the agenda of the talks. One of them is about Syrian draft constitution, which was proposed by the Russian side in Astana, and the nearest future of the country. Inside Syria Media Center has contacted experts who shared their opinion on the draft. Today, we would like to share with our readers the opinion of a journalist at Al-Masdar News, Brad Blankenship, who kindly agreed to answer our questions.
Brad Blankenship: The new constitution is certainly important to Syrians, and especially important for the current government to show that is willing to be receptive to public demand.
As we saw in 2012 with the constitutional amendments to articles 8 and 88 respectively, the government is willing to allow for a more pluralistic political system and to allow new parties to run in elections, and they are also willing to reduce the power of the presidency by implementing term limits.
In this new constitution, the basic principles have reinforced the Syrian Republic’s (important to note that it is no longer referred to as the Syrian Arab Republic) desire to be an independent and sovereign state that is ruled by the people, stressing social solidarity and respect for rights and freedoms.The new constitution contains more references to sovereignty and territory than the constitutions of 1973 and 2012, in this case where citizens will be allowed to vote through referendum on border changes.
Islamic jurisprudence is also no longer considered the main source of the rule of law in this newest constitution. It is especially interesting to note that the new constitution recognizes the importance of international law where it says that “universally recognized principles and norms of international as well as international agreements of Syria shall be an integral part of its legal system”, and goes on to say that “if an international agreement of Syria establishes rules, which different from those stipulated by law, then the rules of the international agreement shall be applied.”
The state language has been declared Arabic in the new constitution but it also does recognize Kurdish cultural autonomy, and in Kurdish majority provinces/municipalities, the Kurdish language will be used equally with Arabic. This was never mentioned in the original constitution or in the 2012 amendments and is a main source of the hostilities, obviously, between the government and the Kurds. With this recognition of the Kurds, the establishment of a Kurdish Cultural Autonomy is maintained within the new constitution and provides a framework for how it shall be integrated into the rest of the Republic.
Economically, this new constitution is far more liberal than in the past, where in 1973 it was quite clearly a planned socialist economy. Now the government is willing to guarantee the right of private property and private enterprise, while the public will still maintain control over some property, mostly natural resources.
There are also many rights mentioned in the new criminal justice system that mirror the typical western legal systems, much to the delight of many. I think that this new constitution stresses the importance of reforms and especially solidarity as a nation, and the respect for minorities, especially the Kurds, will garner a lot of support from an intersectional base of Syrians.
However, the fundamentalist groups of Syria, and especially the opposition, will oppose this constitution because it doubles down on the secular values that make Syria the unique country that it is in the Middle East. As we have seen in the past, fundamentalist groups have routinely launched attacks on Syria from within any time the idea of becoming more secular or pluralistic enters into discussion.