On March 8, 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) adopted a temporary constitution drafted with the direct assistance of the U.S. Considering the explicit U.S. interest in the Syrian crisis, one may speculate about what could happen if the same scenario occurs in Syria.
It’s highly probable that such a project has been discreetly discussed in Washington. The U.S. has reached an agreement on the draft constitution with Russia, according to the statements made by John Kerry last March. We can also arrive at this conclusion if we remember the Pentagon’s plan of eliminating ISIS and Al-Qaeda all over the world recently presented to the White House.
The U.S. has long strived to make Syria a ‘developed democracy’ along with Iraq. To these ends, Washington would readily set up an improvised temporary administration after the Paul Bremer’s fashion in Iraq, followed by building up a military contingent similar to Afghanistan. Then, a temporary constitution, new government elections and a referendum on the U.S.-drafted constitution would follow.
The Western project would include a complete ban on Baath party, disband the Syrian Arab Army and prepare conditions for creating a puppet government. If made real, this project would cause a much stronger outrage than the Russian one and would never be supported by the Syrian people.
This has been well analyzed in numerous articles, so we shall not focus on this. It should be mentioned, though, that Russia seems to have foreseen the U.S. predictable strategy and was the first to set off the active political settlement process and seized the initiative.
Our Speculation on what a US constitution for Syria would look like
Here we will endeavor to project the American system of values by reviewing the case of writing a draft constitution for Syria. Such a document would obviously include provisions distributing authority among the branches of power, outlining the powers of a transitional government, declaring a number of key rights of the citizens and envisaging the process and terms of assembling a new government and parliament.
After a brief look at this forecasted U.S. project, we may ask a question: why the U.S., the home of the first written constitution, which has a unique experience in updating the law so that it fits modern conditions, has yet to propose a constitutional draft for Syria? The answer is, it would probably come in for harsh criticism right away.
The U.S. has been long striving to make Syria a ‘developed democracy’ along with Iraq. To these ends, Washington would readily set up an improvised temporary administration after the Paul Bremer’s fashion in Iraq, followed by building up a military contingent similar to Afghanistan.
Apart from the above mentioned on the U.S. usual activity in this field, first of all, both the content and the tone of the constitution would be defined by the circumstances of its creation, namely, foreign military occupation, complete elimination of existing state structures, erosion of the majority of procedures and customs formed by the former government as well as the stereotypes of the Syrian themselves. As the constitution would be written by the Western, mainly American experts on constitutional law, the text would be based on the principles and the models of the Western democracy.
Second, the provisions of the constitution which regulate social and economic issues would lack perspective. This project would not be able to reflect either the political norms and principles traditional for the Arab states nor the current balance of political powers in the country.
Third, the project would be negatively viewed because the U.S. would fail to find the middle ground between various ethnic and religious groups in multiple issues.
It is worth noting that Russia prevented the U.S. from intervening in Syria, and from creating a temporary administration and seeding controlled chaos, as it happened in Iraq. Furthermore, the U.S. is still struggling after the victory of Donald Trump, who made a U-turn in Washington’s foreign policy and took considerable efforts to discredit the previous administration.
This is why the forecasted American project of the constitution would be destined to fail. Having realized that, the U.S. is trying to distance itself from the Syrian riddle, as it is unable to provide an alternative to the Russian project. And perhaps it’s for the best: the U.S. suffers from accumulating internal problems demanding an immediate solution.
After the slacking Obama administration, Mr. Trump has his hands full with managing internal friction, consolidating the power, neutralizing his adversaries, dealing with spy leaks, health care, and immigrants. As it was wisely mentioned in an ESISC article on the constitution, only time will show the results. Can the caterpillar become a butterfly and can the project turn into an actual constitution? Only Syrians can decide. Neither Russia nor the U.S. can help them in this issue. We can only gather the parties behind the negotiating table to end this senseless bloodshed.
Here is the hypothetical variant of the U.S. draft constitution
Form of rule
The constitution would set up an independent, sovereign, democratic federal state with a parliamentary-republic form of government. This step would encourage creation and legalization of political opposition.
The constitution would introduce a two-chamber legislative body consisting of the National Assembly and the Council of Nations (Council of Provinces). A deputy of the National Assembly would be elected from each 100,000 residents of the areas and provinces with a population over 1 million for a four-year term via a universal secret ballot. The parliament would consist of up to 250 members.
According to the constitution, no person would be able to occupy multiple positions in the parliament and other branches of power. The parliament would conduct two 8-month sessions per year. A special quota for female deputies, reserving at least ¼ of the lower chamber for women, would be introduced.
The Council of Nation (Council of Provinces) would comprise the representatives of areas and provinces with the population of fewer than 1 million people. The Council’s composition, the conditions of becoming its member, the framework of its powers and other issues could be outlined by the law to avoid controversial points and conflicts. The U.S. understandably considers ethnic and confessional issues to be complicated, as it is still struggling to defeat racism.
The American project would unlikely limit the powers of the president and prime minister except that stipulating their Muslim faith and continuous residence in Syria for 5 years. The president would have a representative role and would possess both legislative and executive powers. The fewer requirements, the easier it is to appoint a ‘puppet president’. The prime minister would be vested with ultimate power, though.
The Islamic law would cease to be essential in such issues as the freedom of conscience, protecting the rights of women and ethnic minorities. Religious community would likely be prohibited from dealing with marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance according to their own traditions. Congressmen and senators have always been concerned that such conditions would open a way for Islamists to infringe the religious freedoms and rights of women.
Senator Susan Collins and a “Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq” board member Tamara Sarafa Quinn were among the contributors.
It would be stated that no law could contradict neither the principles of democracy (with all these principles having been specified) nor the rights and freedoms declared in the constitution.
However, there would be no mention of a procedure for declaring a law unconstitutional or a special body authorized to do this. The constitution would include provisions allowing a minority of the Syrian population to veto the majority’s opinion at a referendum, similar to a condition of temporary Iraqi constitution deemed unacceptable by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
This would require establishing a procedure for creating constitutional amendments with extremely strict conditions, such as approval of the National Assembly by 3/4 votes and unanimous approval of the members of the High Constitutional Court who would be appointed for life. It would be impossible to make changes to move the time of elections, to impose limits on the rights of the regions, to tamper with the issues of Islam and other religions.
the provisions of the constitution which regulate social and economic issues would lack perspective. This project would not be able to reflect either the political norms and principles traditional for the Arab states nor the current balance of political powers in the country.
Essential rights would be provided to Sunnis and Kurds as U.S. main allies. Moreover, a concept of ‘security zones’ would be implemented, and the country would be declared a stronghold of counter-terrorism efforts until foreign military bases are allowed to be set up (most likely near oil fields and on the shoreline). The federal structure itself would be based on geographical and historical principles without taking into account the ethical and confessional diversity of Syria.
The constitution would guarantee a special legal status for the provinces (national autonomies), including local financial authority in accordance with the administrative decentralization. The provinces could be granted the right to have a legislative body, e.g. a one-chamber council, while the executive power would be represented by a governor and a local government with the possibility of writing its own provincial constitution.
We could suppose that the U.S. lawyers would copy the American Electoral College, despite the constant criticism it gets from the U.S. citizens. The term of the presidency would be limited by four or six years, providing the business elites with leverage over the authorities, as it has happened in the U.S. The voter turnout would not be addressed and the electoral system would be made rigid and centralized to prevent the likes of Donald Trump from coming to power.
Rights and Responsibilities
Sunnis would be given and unfair advantage against the Baath party. However, the issue of language and religion would not be tackled to avoid the anger of the Syrians towards the U.S. The Constitution would grant equality before the law, personal freedoms, permits for foreign companies to explore Syrian natural resources, encouraging the private sector, etc. The healthcare would not be mentioned, as the U.S. is still struggling with this issue itself.
The Baath party would be prohibited. Creation of a national committee for “de-baathisation” counting representatives of judicial and executive powers among its members would be stipulated. It would be prohibited to have multiple citizenships. The issue of uniting the Syrian people against the Israeli threat would be ignored.
Following the example of Iraq, the constitution would call for disbanding and rebuilding the army under the pretext of presence of terrorist supporters among its ranks. A ban on creating popular militias not accountable to the state military would be introduced, limiting the people’s will. The constitution could deprive servicemen from the right to be elected to the key posts. It is vital to guarantee that this moves against the Baath party and the military would not lead to the creation of a new ISIS, which was established when the Iraqi military came under the influence of the Gulf states hoping to feed their families.
Finally, the constitution would declare the independence of the judicial power, represented by courts of various levels. Creation of ad-hoc tribunals would be prohibited, limiting the power of the military.
Sophie Mangal is a freelance writer and a member of the Inside Syria Media Center. After attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a media and journalism major, Mangal monitored the refugee crisis in Europe, drawing parallels between the Syrian conflict and the Balkan problem, and has visited Syria on several occasions. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.