Change in Syria
A document issued by Syria's Communist Party urged political reform of the National Progressive Front coalition, reports Dina Dakhlallah from Damascus
A prominent Syrian politician acknowledged that radical changes should be made to the charter of the National Progressive Front (NPF), a coalition of nine opposition parties that works in partnership with the Baath Party. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Youssef Al-Faysal, secretary-general of the Syrian Communist Party (SCP) said that the NPF needed to undergo some important ideological changes. He explained that this process was imperative in response to the demands of a large section of Syrian society for the expansion of the democratic process in the country.
A draft proposal issued by the SCP last week addressed some of the key issues that Syria is facing today, including the issue of political pluralism and the relationship with Israel. Al-Faysal explained that there were many reasons for changing the 32 year-old charter. "This charter is outdated. It doesn't take into account major political events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and Syria's changing political and economic agendas," he said. The call for change is also a response to popular demands for reform. The reforms aim to carve a larger niche for the NPF in the political decision-making process and permit it to assume a role in running the country, Al- Faysal said. "There is a general perception that the NPF's role is only marginal in Syrian politics; this perception should change."
The structure of the political system in Syria is based on a partnership between the Baath Party and the NPF. The cabinet has eight ministers who belong to the coalition. In the People's Assembly, there are 36 NPF deputies. The SCP, for example, has representation in local municipalities and professional syndicates.
The draft proposal was issued at a time when Syria -- like the rest of the Arab world -- is coming under pressure to adopt a programme of political reform. Al-Faysal insisted, however, that the proposed changes have more to do with an urgent internal need for change. "It is almost three decades since this charter was written and we needed to accommodate the changes that have taken place around us, especially on the internal front," he told the Weekly from his office in Damascus.
Observers say that the significance of this move lies in the fact that the NPF is power sharing with the Baath Party. NPF members saw the changes as a move to add strength to the front.
The NPF started in 1971 with five political parties and has expanded to include nine. In the past, the NPF was not allowed to be active within universities or the army. The ban, however, has now been lifted and many NPF parties are engaged in political activism. The changes also touched upon the internal structure of the NPF itself. Al-Faysal said that the Front should hold a national convention in which ministers of economy and foreign affairs submit reports on their assessment of Syria's economic and foreign policy achievements. This, explained Al-Faysal, would make officials accountable to the NPF.
NPF changes, according to one observer, would certainly have an impact within Syrian public space. The nine parties, according to the proposed draft, will have the right to publish newspapers, something prohibited in the past. The most striking change, however, relates to Syria's relationship with Israel. One paragraph in the charter which for the past three decades defined the Front's stand as against any form of relationship with Israel has been replaced with a paragraph putting forward a new policy with regards to Syria-Israel relations -- one that firmly believes in a just and comprehensive peace. "It was necessary to change this in light of the developments in the region and also of Syria's new policy orientation towards Israel," said Al-Faysal.
Another paragraph subject to change was the one that spoke about "the union of the Arab Republics of Syria, Egypt and Libya" which, explains Al-Faysal, no longer exists.
Al-Faysal explained that the reform proposal was the fruit of several meetings and discussions. The NPF parties were asked to present their assessment of the charter and their proposals for change. "I think it is all part of the general atmosphere in Syria, with the recognition of the need for real change," Al-Faysal stressed.
The draft proposal is not the final version, says Al-Faysal; the document will be discussed during the forthcoming national meeting of the NPF that will be attended by President Bashar Al-Assad himself, a final draft to be agreed upon then.