A plan to establish a committee tasked with rewriting the Syrian constitution first appeared at the Sochi Syrian peace conference that took place earlier this year, and the Syrian government submitted a list of constitutional committee candidates to the United Nations on May 28.
The Sochi Syrian conference got off to a rocky start when opposition delegates refused to leave the airport in protest over the pro-Assad symbols – including the Assad regime’s flag – that were on prominent display even as the delegates deplaned. The event was further marred when participants booed the Russian foreign minister off the stage, and the Kurdish groups which claimed control over nearly a quarter of the Syrian territory boycotted the conference entirely.
The UN, which is overseeing the selection of candidates to the constitutional committee, hesitated to throw its support behind the Sochi conference, worried that the conference might be an attempt on the part of Russia to subvert the UN-sponsored peace process in Geneva. Ultimately, however, the UN agreed to send Staffan de Mistura, the special envoy to Syria, to the conference.
The issue of Syria’s constitutional process has been a central concern in the battle between President Assad, the international community, and the Syrian opposition.
Back in 2012, the Assad administration announced the results of a constitutional referendum, claiming that the Syrian people had allegedly overwhelmingly supported the proposed constitution. However, the international community quickly called foul since the referendum had occurred during a period of fierce fighting.
Since then, Assad and his backers have been advocating for a constitutional process that would be limited to amending – and not rewriting – the 2012 constitution.
According to the U.N.-backed plan for the constitutional process, de Mistura will be responsible for choosing 50 candidates, who will be asked to serve on the constitutional committee, from the recently presented list.
The main opposition group agreed to cooperate provided that the formation of the committee is carried out under the U.N.’s authority, and de Mistura pledged to select a diverse range of people, including both supporters and opponents of the Assad regime.
The Syrian government has been wavering in its support for the plan, initially supporting it, then rejecting it, until finally declaring intentions to uphold the plan after Assad’s surprise visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.
Some see the new constitutional list as a major step forward in the process of bringing Syria’s brutal civil war to an end, but others argue that the list itself can be seen as evidence of the Syrian government’s ill will in so far as the list skews heavily toward Assad’s allies.
Only two candidates on the list have any legal background, according to Gulf News. The lone lawyers on the list are Amal Yazagi, a professor at the University of Damascus, and Ahmad Al Kouzbari, a current member of the Syrian Parliament.
Furthermore, the constitutional process seems to be not much more than a simple game of charades. Early in the Syrian civil war, the opposition had hoped to overthrow President Assad and rewrite the constitution. Assad is still holding on, and now it appears that the constitution will be rewritten on his terms, leaving many to wonder how a revolutionary constitution can be created under the auspices of the same old regime.