First posted on my short-lived blog Tharwalizations.
In the year 2000, it took the Syrian parliament, the so-called People’s Assembly, less than 30 minutes to amend the country’s long-standing constitution in order to make way for Bashar al-Assad to succeed his recently deceased father, Hafiz al-Assad, as the country’s new president. Not a single voice of dissention was heard. But one MP did have the bravery to suggest that the debate should last longer and that the process of amending the constitution needs to be elaborate somehow in order to safeguard the country’s image, not to mention that to the upcoming president. The brave MP was severely rebuked for even thinking that. MPs in Baathist Syria were not meant to think, period.
In late December 2005, the Syrian Parliament had another occasion to show us its relevance in the country’s decision-making process, when it was called upon to respond to the statements and accusations of the country’s former VP, Abdulhaleem Khaddam, against the ruling junta in the country. Mr. Khaddam, who had defected to Paris in August, well-nigh implicated the Syrian President in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafic al-Hariri in an interview to the al-Arabiya TV in late December.
But, if anything, the parliamentary session and the wild accusations that the MPs made against Mr. Khaddam, which represented well-established facts to the average Syrian, served to further underscore the irrelevance of the Syrian parliament in the minds of the Syrian people. For the timing of the revelations made against Khaddam made it very clear to all that such freedom to speak against corruption was granted from above and only when it served the interests of the ruling clique.
After their vote to depose the recently appointed emir, that the ruling family tried to impose on the Kuwaiti people as a compromise solution, the Kuwaiti parliamentarians showed that they have learned the Syrian lesson well. They have learned that so long as the ruling elite requires parliamentary approval regarding certain key issues, this need gives enough power to the parliamentarians to make their decisions on the basis of the constitution and the national interest, regardless of the particular expectations and desires of the ruling elite.
Just imagine what could have transpired back in 2000, had the Syrian parliament refused to be a rubber stamp body, and insisted on adhering to the constitution as is for a lack of a good reason to change it. This could have forced Bashar’s camp either into negotiating with the parliament, thus further empowering it, or into mounting a coup that would not have been recognized by any country in the world, thus setting the stage for international mediation and for the adoption of a compromise that would empower the country’s parliament and ushered in a more open political process.
A similar development could have taken place at the end of 2005 had the Syrian parliament was asked to denounce Khaddam. Indeed, the Parliamentarians could have easily turned the table on the ruling junta and demanded that a real investigation into Khaddam’s allegations be made and that a real process for fighting corruption in the country be adopted.
But this could not have happened, of course, because the parliament in Syria has always been a rubber stamp body, and the parliamentarians have always belonged to the same corrupt and inept elite that rule the country. Such is the misfortune of the Syrian people. Such is the natural outcome of the many decades of manipulation of the political process, of emptying the existing state institutions of all qualified cadres, of appointing people on the basis of loyalties rather than abilities, of manipulating election results, and of making a mockery out of the judicial processes, the lack of the freedom of the press, and the continuous disintegration of the country’s middle classes. A cadre of inept leaders on all levels becomes in charge of the fate of the country. In cases like these, civil disobedience becomes the only way out.
Meanwhile, in Kuwait , the greater exposure of the population to the ever-changing regional and global realities, the freer press, and the existence of more enlightened elements in the country’s civil society and business community, and among the ranks of the ruling elite means that reform in the country could take place using existing institutions as springboard for reform. Civil action does not have to be as radical as it is required in Syria.
This, I believe is the main difference between Syria and Kuwait. What Kuwaitis have can be reformed, developed and modernized. What Syrians have needs to be thoroughly reinvented, refashioned and remodeled. The Syrians need to start over again.