Was reform ever possible in Syria?

Was reform ever possible in Syria?
Political reform was never possible due to the regime's hard line policies and failure to allow popular political participation.
3 min read
22 Jan, 2015
Civil war was a consequence of the regime's uncompromising position [Anadolu]

The Syrian revolution has entered a bottleneck with some revolutionaries lamenting and blaming foreign forces for not toppling the regime and handing them power. This scenario reflects the regime's claims of a universal conspiracy against it, one it now believes it is winning.

Bashar Assad's regime thinks it is succeeding despite a third of Syria being controlled by the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, a third by other armed groups, and a third divided between Iranian troops, Iraqi and Lebanese militias and the Syrian army. Meanwhile, the Syrian people continue to suffer, whether they are inside or outside the country.

Some have become nostalgic. They question the legitimacy of the revolution by naively asking if reforms would have solved Syria's problems instead. I will ask another question: was reform possible?

Like others I have been involved in long discussions about the Syrian situation and its social and economic problems. I have looked for solutions when authorities have blocked any attempts at change.

     All proposals of political reform would shatter against the deaf walls of the regime.

A story told by Yusuf al-Faisal, the secretary general of a faction of Syria's Communist party, gives insight into the nature of the Syrian regime. His story takes place in early 1971, when the Baath regime was consolidating power, and the communists were a united and prominent force on the Syrian political scene. Faisal writes in his memoirs:

The Baath party launched a wide-scale campaign for the presidential elections  promoting Hafez al-Assad, the only candidate. Hafez gave speeches in different governorates around the country where he was received with great popular support. His positive attributes were widely praised in the media."

However, the Communist party's leadership questioned the campaign's purpose. It wondered if it was an attempt to disrespect the future president, because of the effect it had on the people and the intelligentsia.

I went to talk to Hafez about the media campaign promoting his presidency. This was not the first time I had met him - I had previously visited him at his home when he was minister of defence.

I spoke for 15 minutes about the election campaign. When I stopped, he asked if there was anything else. I said no, he said the meeting was over, and I left.

The Communist party's secretary general, Khalid Bakdash, was heard telling his members: "This regime is a special kind of dictatorship."

What is noteworthy from this story is that it shows all proposals of political reform would shatter against the deaf walls of the regime. The main problem with the regime has been its refusal to allow political participation.

Therefore, the demand for freedom made by peaceful protesters was exactly what Syria needed, and what Syrians long for.

No matter what the Syrian revolution has become, it is important it continues on its path even if a political solution is imposed by local and regional powers. There is no solution to the Syrian crisis other than removing the main obstacles to freedom.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.