The Jasmine Revolution?
An uprising is taking shape within the Damascus branch of the Baath Party.
A petition is being circulated among Baath members protesting the undemocratic nature of recent party elections. Even cynics had hoped that 10% of the leadership would be new. What happened? Not one new candidate won!
This week, the second round of Party elections was held which set the ground work for the 10th Regional Party Congress to be held in June. On the 25th and 26th of April, Baath Party members voted for candidates in the Damascus region to decide which Party members would rise into the new leadership positions of Branch (fir`a) Director, members of the Branch Leadership, District (Sh`aba) Director and members of the District Leadership. High government appointments were also decided in the elections, including Ministers, Assistant Ministers, and Director Generals, according to Ayman Abdulnour.
It is from the winners of this round of elections that the new Baath Regional Leadership is to be selected. They will debate the larger issues of Party and political reform that have been put forward in four major reports produced by the working committees of the previous Regional Congress. Many Syrians have their hopes for the future pinned on the outcome of this Congress. In theory it will establish the direction of national development for the coming years. It is the institutional and ideological face of the regime.
Many Baath members were not expecting great changes in the party as a result of the voting. A number of Baathists had complained that due to Party procedures a maximum of only 10% of the membership could be changed. New blood would be minimal.
The results were much worse than even the skeptics predicted. Not one new personality was successful in the elections. Writing on April 27 in all4Syria, Ayman Abdulnour disparaged the results:
البارحة واليوم جرت إنتخابات الشعب الحزبية في فرع دمشق للحزب وفرع جامعة دمشق .... وكانت النتائج أسوء مما توقعنا إذ وصلت نسبة أصحاب المهام الحزبية والحكومية إلى 100 % ....أي لم يتمكن أي رفيق , حتى واحد فقط من الوصول على المؤتمر القطري من خارج تلك الدائرة ؟؟؟
No new blood. No hope for change. No hope that the Party can fix itself.
When candidates tried to campaign during the elections they were thwarted at every turn by the Party leaders, who were determined to hang on to their positions. Some candidates tried to print up their resumes and put out a small platform statement laying out their goals. "No," they were told by the party bosses. "You cannot distribute information unless every one does." This attitude of obstruction prevailed at every step of the election process.
The members don't know each other because most don't go to Party meetings. They couldn't pass out elections fliers and there was no printed material supplied by the election offices informing voters who the candidates were. Only general platitudes produced five years ago by the last Party Congress were published and they gave no guidance for voters hungry for information.
As a result the district and governate leadership was all reelected. A number of ministers and heads of the reform working groups failed to win seats. Who will be at the Party Leadership Congress to speak for their proposed reforms? That is the question being asked by a flood of articles published in the alternative press here in Syria - Elaph, SyriaNews.com, and all4Syria. The district and regional leadership were the only people party members knew, so they won the most votes.
Flynt Leverett in his new book quotes President Bashar al-Asad as saying that the old Guard is not four or five big honchos, it is thousands of people inhabiting every level of the government and Party who don't want to lose their positions and privileges and who are frightened by change. In a recent interview Levertt said:
The Old Guard is literally thousands of mediocre and fossilized — those are his words — "mediocre and fossilized" bureaucrats who are throughout the system and who have been entrenched in their positions over years and decades and have no interest in doing anything in a different way.
Dr. Zuhayr Ibrahim Jabour of Tishriin University writes in all4Syria (May 2, 2006) that the Baath Party cannot fix itself and that even if there were democracy within the Party it would probably not deliver the results that the reformers hope for. The officials are opportunists and corrupt, he writes. The Party will collapse because it cannot fulfill the hopes of the Syrian youth who are the majority of the country. It will bring untold suffering to the country if the Party does collapse because of the mindlessness of its members. "Hidden tensions are building up," he writes, "to the point that they can explode at any time. Who knows what destruction that may bring because who knows where it will stop."
في ضوء ذلك نؤكد ودون مبالغة بأن المسار الديموقراطي داخل الحزب لن يكون بالاتجاه الذي يريده الإصلاحيون وبالتالي لن يتمكن الحزب من أن يصبح أداة سياسية فعّالة للانتقال بالوطن إلى مرحلة جديدة تلبي طموحات السوريين وآمالهم...
وهنا نشدد على أن سوريا الجديدة لايبنيها سوريو الزمن الماضي الذين ينبغي وداعهم بعدما جعلوا سوريا تدفع اُثمانا باهظة بسبب أفكارهم ومواقفهم السياسية الخاطئة, ولأن الذين ترهلوا سياسيا وذهنيا عاجزون عن تقديم أي شيء مثمر للشباب السوري الذي يشكل أكبر شريحة عمرية في مجتمعنا والذي يبدي انعدام الثقة واللامبالاة بكل مايجري حوله بعدما اقفلنا أبواب الأمل في وجهه. ولايخفى على العقلاء منا بأن توترا خفيا يتراكم خلف هذه اللامبالاة والذي يمكن أن ينفجر في أية لحظة وينذر بالخراب الذي لانستطيع معرفة حدوده!!
Dr. Ahmad al-Hajj Ali, A member of the Committee to Develop Party Thought and ex-Head of the office of the Central Party Committee, who wrote one of the important reform papers that is to be presented at the upcoming Party Congress wrote an article entitled, "The Experience of the Baath Party Elections: Between the Permissible and the Pillage. He complains bitterly how there was not oversight or application of the rules. The party hacks were able to hold on to their privilege and position.
Al-Hajj Ali asks the million dollar question: So long as there is not a speck of democracy in the Party, how can it expect to lead society and move the country ahead in the world of ideas and realistic policies? So long as it is based on a system of spoils how can it not reward to worst and punish the best?
One of the readers of Syria Comment some weeks ago spoke about the "Jasmine Revolution." Be was referring to Syrian intellectuals and idealistic youth who are fed up with the lack of change and new ideas. They want to see the future open up to them. They want to be part of Syria and participate in building their country. In the last several days, we have even seen the members of the Baath Party crying out for change. The criticism by smart and ambitious Baath members who see just how broken their party has become is gathering steam.
Many hope that they can build pressure on the President that will help him take the bold steps they are hoping for at the Party Congress. Seeing how dysfunctional the system is and how incapable are the state institutions, they have placed all their hope in the hands of the President. It is a terrible burden for the President.
He has been trying to build up his own network of reformers and technocrats in the ministries who can provide him with the expertise and momentum for change. Considering how the Baath Party elections were carried out, it is hard to see how the reformers will be able to rise to the top.
Many in Washington and the West are predicting that the Syrian regime will implode, collapsing in on itself out of pure inertia and corruption. The Baath Party elections will not change these expectations.
The challenge for Syrians is whether they can carry out their jasmine revolution without a collapse of government and without chaos and disorder. It is time for vision at the top and organization below.