A Syrian Bill of Rights? Be careful...

A number of Syrian bloggers, particularly at the site of "secular heckler" Ammar Abdulhamid, have suggested that Syrian opposition groups should create and circulate a Syrian "Bill of Rights". Such a document, these individuals propose, would codify the terms upon which minority religious and ethnic groups would be protected under the law. A Bill of Rights would be a big step, and a positive step, but frankly I am not sure it is one that opposition leaders are ready to take.

As a general rule of politics, opposition candidates and parties can say whatever they wish, however outrageous, as long as they are not serious contenders. I can tell you that from personal experience. Because frankly, nobody cares about you (i.e. you will not get meaningful media coverage) if you're not perceived to be able to win, except your die-hard supporters who will cheerlead no matter what. Maybe you'll get 15 minutes of fame, but that's about it.

Once you do become a serious contender though, and have to reach out to the masses, everything you say will be under a microscope. Well, on the Syrian scene, the only "serious contenders", if we can even use such a term at this point, are the leaders of the recently-inaugurated National Salvation Front (NSF): former Syrian VP Abdel Halim Khaddam and the exiled leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni. (For American readers unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is the parent organization of Hamas.)

Before anyone proposes that these 2 leaders even mention a Bill of Rights, which would address some incredibly thorny and difficult issues, I submit that they both need to demonstrate sufficient media prowess and the ability to deliver a consistent message. At the NSF's kick-off conference from last weekend, both Khaddam and Bayanouni had to correct reporters with respect to questions like "are Alawis really Muslims?" and "will Khaddam be tried for his role in the regime?", because their statements seemed to conflict with their previous words, if not with each other.

With all due respect, they are not ready to go under the microscope.

On an additional note, the blogosphere is both a blessing and a curse for opposition leaders. While it helps them to disseminate their message and recruit followers, it also subjects them to a perhaps uncomfortable onslaught of well-meaning opinions and critiques (like this post), as well as outright attack.

If any political entity cannot emerge from the blogs with a consistent, solid, credible message intact, they haven't a prayer when they get to prime-time.

That's something for all opposition groups to seriously consider.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree.

But is there a subset of basic rights at least that Syrians might agree on at this stage?

What could that include?

George Ajjan said...


A number of reformers have put forth ideas, such as those in the "Damascus Declaration". Some common concepts widely agreed upon, probably even by some Baath Party members, include: citizenship for Kurds, removal of the death penalty for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, lifting of Emergency Laws in place since 1963, release of political prisoners, etc.

These sound great, but the "then what" questions are where it gets tricky. Do Kurds want to be Syrian citizens for the sake of Syria, or does their Kurdish identity take priority? If the Muslim Brotherhood becomes legal, how far will they push for a more Islamic orientation in Syria, and to what degree will that impact lifestyles, especially for non-muslims?

This is analagous to American political discourse. Remember back in the 90s President Clinton made a big push in one of his State of the Union addresses: FIX SOCIAL SECURITY. Everybody agreed, even Republicans. Well, here we are more than a decade later and we are still arguing over the details.

Citizenship for Kurds. Fix Social Security. Lift Emergency Laws. Reform Medicare. It's easy for everyone to agree on the basic premise, but even amongst like minds there will be squabbles on the specifics.

This is why things get tough for the opposition. Unfortunately, the regime doesn't need progressive solutions, they can just rely on inertia.

Behnam said...

George, the purpose of a Syrian Charter of Fundamental Rights is to set the stage that such thorny issues can be discussed and solutions found and compromises achieved, after the regime has been booted out.

The SCFR is a "meta" document. It gives the rules of the game. Now how the teams want to play and who is going to win, and a lot of other detail is the well known "democratic struggle" that comes afterwards.

What is important is to have a framework. Otherwise, you will get a free for all, and the guy with the largest number of bazookas will be the winner.

The Damascus Declaration is not a Bill of Rights. There is no mention of human rights. There is no enumeration of rights.

Compare the document to a real Bill of Rights:


The EU charter is of course very modern and advanced for Syria. But it is a good place to start. The Damascus Declaration is the WRONG document and is full of argumentations and poorly written ideological statements. Hardly a declaration.

I will try to write up something on a frist draft SCFR.

Fares said...

Fellow readers, I just posted my 2 cents on relations of Syrian regime with Lebanon, and how is it related to the arrests!

When is the right time? Time to expose Syrian Regime lies!!!

Please make sure to comment on it, I promise I won't report you to anyone haha

For a better Syria