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Politics of Syria

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Title: Politics of Syria  
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Subject: Syrian opposition, Prime Minister of Syria, National Progressive Front (Syria), People's Council of Syria, People's Party (Syria)
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Politics of Syria

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Politics in the Syrian Arab Republic takes place in the framework of what is officially a semi-presidential republic, but others 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-dominated Ba'ath Party (established in 1966 when the original Ba'ath Party was dissolved and split into two).[2]

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.[6]


  • Background 1
  • Neo-Ba'athism 2
  • Government administration 3
  • Legislative branch 4
  • Political parties and elections 5
  • International organization participation 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8
  • Further reading 9


Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, and after his death in 2000 his son Bashar al-Assad succeeded him as President. A surge of interest in political reform took place after Bashar al-Assad 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). Assad 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 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-dominated 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.

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

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 (Council of Ministers), 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.

The Syrian constitution of 2012 requires that the president be Muslim but does not make Islam the state religion. 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 Pan-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

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

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]

 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

Syria is a member of the World Tourism Organization.

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


  1. ^ a b CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ a b Article 8 of the Constitution
  3. ^ Syria's state of emergency, Al Jazeera, 17 April 2011.
  4. ^ Syria 101: 4 attributes of Assad's authoritarian regime - Ariel Zirulnick
  5. ^ a b c SANA Syrian News Agency - Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic Approved in Popular Referendum on February 27, 2012, Article 8
  6. ^ a b Syria (05/07)
  7. ^ Decrees on Ending State of Emergency, Abolishing SSSC, Regulating Right to Peaceful Demonstration, SANA, 22 April 2011
  8. ^ SANA Syrian News Agency - Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic Approved in Popular Referendum on February 27, 2012, Article 88
  9. ^ "Presidential Decree on Syria's New Constitution".  
  10. ^ Wright, Dreams and Shadows, (2008), p.261
  11. ^ Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.176
  12. ^ Syria Comment

External links

  • Syria Government at DMOZ
  • Syria at the United States Institute of Peace
  • Syria Policy categorizes new stories published over the past 24 hours by major news agencies.
  • Syrian Jihadism by Aron Lund added November 13, 2012
  • International Red Cross Red Crescent in Syria accessed November 13, 2012
  • The Syrian Constitution accessed November 13, 2012

Further reading

  • 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.
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