Politics of Syria

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Politics in the Syrian Arab Republic takes place in the framework of what is officially a semi-presidential republic, but others[who?] disagree with that assessment.[1] The CIA claims that the power is in the hands of the President of Syria and his family, all members of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party which is a cell of the Syrian-led Ba'ath Party (established in 1966 when the original Ba'ath Party was dissolved and split into two).[2] Since coming to power, a disproportionate number of leading positions have been awarded to members of the Alawi sect in a move akin to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party governance in neighbouring Iraq between 1968 and 2003 when persons from Saddam's home town of Tikrit were appointed in prominent roles.

The two presidents who have been in power since 1970 — the late Hafiz al-Asad followed by his son Bashar al-Asad — were approved in plebiscites where there were no other candidates. The President and his senior aides, particularly those in the military and security services, ultimately make most basic decisions in political and economic life, with a limited degree of public accountability. The president issues laws, amends the constitution by decree; appoints ministers, civil servants and military personnel subject to the law; declares war and states of emergency. Decrees issued by the president must be approved by the People's Council to become law, except during a state of emergency which was in force until 21 April 2011 when it was lifted during the Syrian uprising, (the end of it being one of the key demands of the protesters).[3] The Ba'ath Party is Syria's ruling party and the previous Syrian constitution of 1973 stated that "the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party leads society and the state."[2] At least 167 seats of the 250-member parliament were guaranteed for the National Progressive Front, which is a coalition of the Ba'ath Party and several other much smaller allied parties.[4] The new Syrian constitution of 2012 introduced multi-party system based on the principle of political pluralism without guaranteed leadership of any political party.[5] The Syrian army and security services maintained a considerable presence in the neighbouring Lebanese Republic from 1975 until 24 April 2005; for more detail on this, see Syrian presence in Lebanon.[6]


Hafiz al-Asad took power in 1970, and after his death in 2000 his son Bashar al-Asad succeeded him as President. Totaling the years makes the Asad family the second-longest ruling government in the Arab world after Muammar Gaddafi's. The government's survival is due partly to a strong desire for stability and its success in giving groups such as religious minorities and peasant farmers a stake in society.[citation needed] The expansion of the government bureaucracy has also created a large class loyal to the government. The President's continuing strength is due also to the army's continued loyalty and to the effectiveness of Syria's large internal security apparatus, the top leaderships of which are largely made up of members of Asad's own Alawi sect. The several main branches of the security services operate independently of each other and outside the legal system. Each continues to be responsible for human-rights violations.

A surge of interest in political reform took place after Bashar al-Asad assumed power in 2000. Human-rights activists and other civil-society advocates, as well as some parliamentarians, became more outspoken during a period referred to as the "Damascus Spring" (July 2000-February 2001). Asad also made a series of appointments of reform-minded advisors to formal and less formal positions, and included a number of similarly oriented individuals in his Cabinet. The arrest and long-term detention of two reformist parliamentarians, Ma’mun al-Humsy and Riad Seif, in August and September 2001, respectively, and the apparent marginalizing of some of the reformist advisors in the past four years, indicate that the pace of any political reform in Syria is likely[original research?] to be much slower than the short-lived Damascus Spring promised.


All three branches of government are guided by the views of the Ba'ath Party, whose primacy in state institutions is assured by the constitution. The party holds a two-thirds majority in the Syrian parliament. In recent years, there has been a gradual decline in the party's preeminence, often in favor of the leadership of the broader National Progressive Front. The party also is now dominated by the military, which consumes a large share of Syria's economic resources. The Ba'ath platform is proclaimed succinctly in the party's slogan: "Unity, freedom, and socialism." The party is both socialist, advocating state ownership of the means of industrial production and the redistribution of agricultural land (in practice, Syria's nominally socialist economy is effectively a mixed economy, composed of large state enterprises and private small businesses), and revolutionary, dedicated to carrying a pan-Arab revolution to every part of the Arab world. Founded by Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, a Syrian Sunni, and Zaki al-Arsuzi, an alawite, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, which was dissolved in 1966 following the 1966 Syrian coup d'état which led to the establishment of one Iraqi-led ba'ath movement and one Syrian-led ba'ath movement. The party embraces secularism and has attracted supporters of all faiths in many Arab countries, especially Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Since August 1990, however, the party has tended to de-emphasize socialism and to stress pan-Arab unity.

Six smaller political parties are permitted to exist and, along with the Ba'ath Party, make up the National Progressive Front (NPF), a grouping of parties that represents the sole framework of legal political party participation for citizens. While created ostensibly to give the appearance of a multi-party system, the NPF is dominated by the Ba'ath Party and does not change the essentially one-party character of the political system. Non-Ba'ath Party members of the NPF exist as political parties largely in name only and conform strictly to Ba'ath Party and government policies. There were reports in 2000 that the government was considering legislation to expand the NPF to include new parties and several parties previously banned; these changes have not taken place. However, one such party- the Syrian Social Nationalist Party- was legalised in 2005.

Traditionally, the parties of the NPF accepted the socialist and Arab nationalist ideology of the government. However, the SSNP was the first party that is neither socialist nor Arab nationalist in orientation to be legalised and admitted to the NPF. This has given rise to suggestions that broader ideological perspectives may be afforded some degree of toleration in the future, but ethnically-based (Kurdish and Assyrian) parties continue to be repressed and a strict ban on religious parties is still enforced.

The Ba'ath Party dominates the Legislature, which is known as the People's Council. Elected every 4 years, the Council has no independent authority. Although legislators may criticize policies and modify draft laws, they cannot initiate laws, and the executive branch retains ultimate control over the legislative process. During 2002, two independent members of Legislature who had advocated political reforms were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and tried and convicted of charges of "attempting to illegally change the constitution." The government has allowed independent non-NPF candidates to run for a limited allotment of seats in the 250-member People's Council. The current allotment of non-NPF deputies is 83, ensuring a permanent absolute majority for the Ba'ath Party-dominated NPF. Elections for the 250 seats in the People's Council last took place in 2007.

Syria's Emergency Law was in force from 1963, when the Ba'ath Party came to power, until 21 April 2011 when it was rescinded by Bashar al-Assad (decree 161). The law, justified on the grounds of the continuing war with Israel and the threats posed by terrorists, suspended most constitutional protections.[6][7]

Government administration[edit]

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Bashar al-Assad Ba'ath Party 17 July 2000
Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi Ba'ath Party 11 August 2012

The previous Syrian constitution of 1973 vested the Ba'ath Party (formally the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party) with leadership functions in the state and society and provided broad powers to the president. The president, approved by referendum for a 7-year term, was also Secretary General of the Ba'ath Party and leader of the National Progressive Front. During the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising, a new constitution was put to a referendum. Amongst other changes, it abolished the old article 8 which entrenched the power of the Ba'ath party. The new article 8 reads: "The political system of the state shall be based on the principle of political pluralism, and exercising power democratically through the ballot box".[5] In a new article 88, it introduced presidential elections and limited the term of office for the president to seven years with a maximum of one re-election.[8] The referendum resulted in the adoption of the new constitution, which came into force on 27 February 2012.[9] The president has the right to appoint ministers (Cabinet of Syria), to declare war and states of emergency, to issue laws (which, except in the case of emergency, require ratification by the People's Council), to declare amnesty, to amend the constitution, and to appoint civil servants and military personnel. The late President Hafiz al-Asad was confirmed by unopposed plebiscites five times. His son and current President Bashar al-Asad, was confirmed by an unopposed referendum in July 2000. He was confirmed again on 27 May 2007 (next to be held in May 2014) with 97.6% of the vote[1][10]

Along with the National Progressive Front, the president decides issues of war and peace and approves the state's 5-year economic plans. The National Progressive Front also acts as a forum in which economic policies are debated and the country's political orientation is determined. However, because of Ba'ath Party dominance, the National Progressive Front has traditionally exercised little independent power.

The Syrian constitution of 2012 requires that the president be Muslim but does not make Islam the state religion. Islamic jurisprudence, however, is required to be the main source of legislation. The judicial system in Syria is an amalgam of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws, with three levels of courts: courts of first instance, courts of appeals, and the constitutional court, the highest tribunal. In addition, religious courts handle questions of personal and family law.

The Ba'ath Party emphasizes socialism and secular Arabism. Despite the Ba'ath Party's doctrine on building national rather than ethnic identity, the issues of ethnic, religious, and regional allegiances still remain important in Syria.

Legislative branch[edit]

The People's Council (Majlis al-Sha'ab) has 250 members elected for a four-year term in 15 multi-seat constituencies. According to the previous Syrian constitution of 1973 Syria was a single-party state and only one political party, the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party was legally allowed to hold effective power. Of the 250 seats in the council, 167 were guaranteed for the National Progressive Front (founded in 1972) and 134 of these (as of 2007) were members of the Ba'ath Party. The minor parties in the Progressive Front, were legally required to accept the leadership of the Ba'ath Party. The other parties in the Progressive Front, for example, are not allowed to canvass for supporters in the army or the student body which are "reserved exclusively for the Ba'ath."[11] The new Syrian constitution of 2012 introduced multi-party system without guaranted leadership of any political party.[5]

Political parties and elections[edit]

The last parliamentary election was on 7 May 2012 and the results were announced on 15 May.

The Baath party won an even larger victory than it did in previous elections. They won a majority of around 60% of the 250 parliamentary seats. Previously, the Baath had a majority of just over 50% of the seats in parliament. If one adds in the independent MPs aligned with the Baath Party, the MPs who support the president make up over 90% of the seats in new parliament. The National Unity List, which is dominated by the Syrian Baath Party, won more than 150 seats in the 250 member parliament. Independent individuals won more than 90 seats. Among the newly established opposition parties (established since August 2011), only one single seat was won, namely a seat in Aleppo won by the Syrian Democratic Party, Ahmad Koussa. In addition three representatives of longstanding opposition parties have been elected to Parliament: Qadri Jamil and Ali Haydar from the Front for Change and Liberation, and Amro Osi from the Initiative of Syrian Kurds.[12]

e • d Summary of the 7 May 2012 People's Council of Syria election results
Parties Votes % Seats Seats inside
National Progressive Front (al-jabha al-waTaniyyah at-taqaddumiyyah) 168
Popular Front for Change and Liberation 5
non-partisans 77
Total   250
Source: Syrian parliament

International organization participation[edit]

Syria is a member of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Arab League, Arab Monetary Fund, Council of Arab Economic Unity, Customs Cooperation Council, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Food and Agricultural Organization, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Chamber of Commerce, International Development Association, Islamic Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Finance Corporation, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Maritime Organization, INTELSAT, INTERPOL, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, United Nations, UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Universal Postal Union, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and World Tourism Organization.

Syria's diplomats last sat on the UN Security Council, (as a non permanent member) in December 2003.


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Raymond Hinnebusch: The Political Economy of Economic Liberalization in Syria, in: International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27 - Nr. 3, August 1995, S. 305-320.
  • Raymond Hinnebusch: State, Civil Society, and Political Change in Syria, in: A.R. Norton: Civil Society in the Middle East, Leiden, 1995.
  • Ismail Küpeli: Ibn Khaldun und das politische System Syriens - Eine Gegenüberstellung, München, 2007, ISBN 978-3-638-75458-3 (critical approach with reference to the political theory of Ibn Khaldun)
  • Moshe Ma’oz / Avner Yaniv (Ed.): Syria under Assad, London, 1986.
  • Nikolaos van Dam: The Struggle for Power in Syria, London, 1981. No such article was found on this page - November 13, 2012