Syrian oppositionists are holding extensive meetings in Istanbul to prepare for the announcement of a new Syrian party named the National Party for Justice and Constitution, or Waad according to its Arabic acronym.
Waad’s founding conference was held on June 25, 2013. More than 100 members representing various segments of Syrian society participated. There was good participation by women and young people. At the end of the conference, an 11-member executive council was elected and worked on establishing and staffing eight party offices in accordance with party rules.
The party is preparing for its launch by implementing its political program, which now focuses on supporting the Syrian revolution politically, through the media, and by providing humanitarian support.
The meetings of the party’s constituent body decided that party members will be one-third Muslim Brotherhood, one-third Islamists and one-third liberal national figures.
The party was due to be officially announced on June 12 but that was delayed, because “Turkish authorities requested that the party’s principles and political program be clarified,” according to what informed sources told Al-Hayat.
Waad spokesperson Jihad al-Atassi told Al-Hayat that the new party “is an independent national party with a centrist Islamic reference that works to entrench the principles of freedom and justice by democratic means.”
He said that Waad “is independent from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic movements, and is definitely not affiliated with — nor an arm of — the Muslim Brotherhood. Its members come from all of Syrian society and include Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds and so on.”
It has been rumored that Waad was no more than the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, a claim supported by Ali Bayanouni, the Brotherhood’s former controller. He had said that Waad was about to be launched and that the new party will strive for “equality, justice, dignity and freedom” for the people of Syria and will seek to establish democratic mechanisms according to the Islamic model.
Waad’s executive council includes two Christians, one of whom is the party’s vice president. According to Atassi, “Executive council members have been directly elected based on their curricula vitae. Two of our Christian brothers have won because they are national figures and because of their curricula vitae. The executive council convened to nominate and vote for party leadership positions, including its president, vice president, secretary-general and his deputy, and the rest of the offices. Mohammed Hikmat Walid was elected president; Nabil Qassis, vice president; Ahmad Kanaan, secretary-general; and Saad al-Wifai, deputy secretary-general.”
According to Atassi, “[Waad] has no organizational links with the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP). [Waad] is still in its first stages, and it looks forward to friendly relations and cooperation with all parties: Syrian, Arab and international.”
Well-informed sources told Al-Hayat, “Meetings were held between [Waad] officials and senior AKP officials in Turkey. [Waad] hopes to benefit from AKP’s experience in various fields.”
Atassi also said, “The new party [Waad] sees the [National] Coalition as the political representative of the Syrian revolution and as a political body that includes many good political and national blocs.”
Regarding Waad’s position on the Geneva II conference, Atassi said, “Going to the Geneva II conference is an opportunity to change the general political position to the interest of the Syrian revolution by clearly defining [the revolution’s] objectives, represented by reaching a transitional phase having a government with full powers, without Assad and his regime, as specified in the Geneva I document. The coalition has set the foundations of participating in Geneva II based on that. So, we in Waad believe that the coalition’s vision on that is good and achieves the revolution’s objectives.”
About the criteria for party membership, Atassi said, “The party is open to all components of the Syrian people, without marginalization and exclusion. Every Syrian citizen has the right to belong to the party as long as they are committed to the party’s goals, directions and rules of procedure.”
Atassi sees that the Arab Spring revolutions, including the revolution of “our heroic people in Syria, have brought a qualitative change in the political arena and revived partisan spirit and vitality. We in [Waad] look forward to being an active part in this movement, and we will work with all our energy to not repeat the catastrophe caused by the Baath Party, when the latter froze political activity by reducing political parties to mere decorations to hide the Baath dictatorial nature. That requires all Syrian parties that believe in the goals of our glorious revolution to cooperate and adopt — in deeds and not in words — true democratic practices, which are the true solution for the 'political desertification' afflicted on us by the Baath Party.”
Political parties have been absent from the Syrian political scene since the Baath Party came to power in the coup of March 8, 1963, when one-party rule was established. After reaching power, then-President Hafez al-Assad formed the National Progressive Front via a statement issued by the Baath Party’s nationalist regional, temporary command on Nov. 16, 1970. The statement stipulated: “The progressive and popular energies should be mobilized and put in the battle’s service by developing relations toward a progressive front led by the Arab Socialist Baath Party.”
The front was consecrated on March 7, 1972, when the National Progressive Front charter was signed. The front’s existence is stipulated in Article 8 of the Constitution: “The Arab Socialist Baath Party shall lead a National Progressive Front that works toward unifying the energies of the people and put them in the service of the Arab nation’s goals.”
The front included a number of socialist and leftist parties that are generally close to the Baath Party’s thought, as is the case in communist countries. Meanwhile, dozens of “non-nationalist” parties were banned, including Kurdish, Assyrian and Islamic parties. Syrian law was then changed to hand down the death penalty for anyone belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
After President Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000, Syria witnessed political activity that was limited to some forums and cultural clubs. That activity peaked with the Damascus Declaration in 2005, when prominent Islamist, liberal and civil society figures signed a document calling for an end to the rule of the Assad family and for replacing it with a democratic system. But the Syrian authorities cracked down on the document’s signatories and imprisoned some of them.
After the Syrian revolution started, a parties law was issued in August 2011 and amended in February 2012. Pursuant to that law, a number of new parties were licensed. But the oppositionists accused the newly licensed parties of being directly or indirectly subservient to the Syrian security services, which have a grip on all aspects of life.
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