The Syrian constitution is out of date with how Syria has changed in the last four decades since it was issued.
The current constitution has many articles in common with the series of constitutions drafted since the French left Syria in 1946. In a report published on the Damascus Center of Theoretical Studies and Human Rights, Syrian researcher Jan Habbash wrote that it was the previous 1958 and 1964 Syrian constitutions, for example, that introduced the one party political system in Syria. The constitution of 1950, on the other hand, first restricted presidency to Muslim Syrians after the French mandate.
Written in 1973, the current Syrian constitution is out of date with how Syria has changed in the last four decades, according to Nazih Maalouf, a lawyer and former judge. Syria’s 10th Five-Year Plan called for an open, social-market economy while the constitution clearly states that the country’s economic policy should be socialist. References to “socialism” and the “socialist Ba’ath party” occur 25 times in the first few pages of the constitution.
“The Baath party’s ideology defines all the articles of the constitution. Therefore, there is no use in amending the constitution by the Baath party. Other expertise in the country must be involved too.”
Maalouf said in reality the concept of citizenship rests on the political system of the state. The general concept of citizenship, he said, is stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but in reality this concept relies on the political systems of socialism or capitalism.
Ahmed Haj Suleiman, from the parliamentary Constitutional and Legislative Committee said in an interview with state television that the constitution should be read and discussed as a whole, because all articles are related to each other.
Legal experts like veteran lawyer Anwar al-Bouni and Maalouf say that country’s political and legal authorities should be involved in writing a new constitution.
“Controversy is not limited to article number 8 [the article which grants the ruling Ba’ath party a monopoly on political power in the country] which was written under exceptional circumstances. The Baath party’s ideology defines all the articles of the constitution,” Maalouf said. “Therefore, there is no use in amending the constitution by the Baath party. Other expertise in the country must be involved too.”
They also call for the separation of power between the legislature, executive and judicial authorities, to protect the rights of Syrians citizens.
“I haven’t read the constitution, thus I do not know what should be changed. However, everyone is talking about it now, and specifically Article 8,” Majd al-Hamwi, a 22-year-old fine arts student in Damascus said. “What I know is that when people call for political pluralism and setting a certain presidential term, it is not because of a certain person or a certain party but because they want to participate,” he said.
This is a longer version of the text I published together with Syrian journalist Alma Hassoun as a box to accompany our story “Bill of Rights” in Syria Today magazine.