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On Mythologization and Totemism of the Syrian Revolution

Wael Sawah talks about the National Pact drafted by Syrian American activists in an op-ed to Al-Araby al-Jadeed.
On Mythologization and Totemism of the Syrian Revolution

Hundreds of conferences were held in or on Syria. None of them managed to escape negative criticism and canned attack. The latest of these conferences was recently held by a group of Syrian Americans in Washington, DC. – The Syrian American Conference for the National Pact.

The conferees announced a specific goal for their conference: to formulate a national pact that comprises a set of principles that, from their point of view, should define coexistence in Syria. They explained that they were not writing a constitution not a political platform for a political group. Rather, they were writing a set of principles that must – in their view – govern the Syrians, regarding their rights, duties, justice, the rule of law and equal citizenship. Therefore, the document asserted that Syria is a democratic state based on the rotation of power, without addressing issues such as the form of government, nor did it address issues such as the political solution, the political process, negotiations and UN resolutions on Syria.

In general, the document deemed Syria as a homeland for all Syrians, regardless of any ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, national or any other affiliation. It should be based on neutrality towards all communities, public and individuals. It is an independent and sovereign country within its internationally recognized borders, and its policies are based on Syrians’ common interests and values. The document guaranteed religious freedoms and affirmed the independence of religious institutions from the state and the independence of state institutions from religion.

The document grants the right of Syrian citizenship to all those born to a Syrian father or a Syrian mother, or those born on Syrian territory and granted them full citizenship rights.

The document adopted Syria as a democratic state that guarantees the dignity of its citizens, in which power is transferred peacefully through the ballot boxes in a free, direct and secret electoral system based on the one-person-one-vote rule. All power belongs to the people through an elected parliament in accordance with a constitution that meets their interests entirely. It is based on the rule of law and the principle of equal citizenship. It educated the principle of separation of powers and individual and public freedoms, foremost among which is the freedom of belief and expression. It underscored the rights of assembly and the right to protest and strike peacefully, in addition to the freedom to form civil and political organizations.

Religion & State

A few critics disparaged the National Pact document. Criticism primarily addressed certain areas. The most severe criticism touched on two points, the first of which is the independence of religious institutions from the state and the independence of state institutions from religion. If one reads the document without endeavouring to scrutinize the phrase can simply conclude that the document calls for the separation of religion from the state. In fact, the document’s phrase was precise; it says: “Religious freedoms and the independence of religious institutions from the state and the independence of state institutions from religion shall be guaranteed.” The phrase began with ensuring that religions and worship are inviolable. The content of the provision means that the state should not interfere in religious institutions, imposing their discourse on imams and priests, obliging them to adopt a certain political orientation, seizing their endowments, and interfering in their charitable associations. On the other hand, religion should not interfere with state institutions. A cleric, jurist or preacher should not impose his own understanding of religion on the work and performance of state institutions.

The other provision that received the most attack, even labelling it as treason, was the phrase that reads, “People born to a Syrian father or a Syrian mother, or born on Syrian territory, shall enjoy Syrian nationality and full citizenship rights.” The disapproval here is that this article means accepting the demographic change that Bashar al-Assad and Iran are trying to bring about in Syria, by attracting large numbers of Iranians, Afghan Shiites, and others by considering their children as Syrians. These critics have missed that Pact principles do not come in response to a specific circumstance or to remedy a specific defect. Thus, a Pact principle cannot be approved or abolished only because this principle can benefit a few hundred people whom we do not want to benefit from. The bottom line here is that the constitutional or supra-constitutional principle cannot be set to serve a political or religious goal or maximize the role of one group of people or undermine another group. On the contrary, the principles are set to express the spirit of the nation in line with the human value and principles of democracy and the International Bill of Human Rights.


A sharp criticism, and sometimes sarcastic, came from the Syrian Kurds, because the document failed to address decentralization and the national rights of the Kurds. In fact, the National Pact did not aim to address the Syrian national, ethnic and religious communities, but rather the nation as a whole and its human components (gender and age). Centralization, decentralization or federalism, the rights of national populations and others are determined by the constitution and explained by laws.

The fiercest criticism came from individuals who believe that they represent the Syrian “Revolution” and – therefore – have the right to monopolize speaking on behalf of the Syrian “Street“. However, the problem is that they cannot define Revolution or the Street. Is the Revolution the peaceful uprising that began in 2011 and was led by people such as Omar Aziz, Ghayath Matar, Razan Zaitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Basil Shehadeh, Mishaal Tammo, Yahya Sharbaji and countless others; Or is it the revolution of Adnan Al-Ar’oor and the banging of pots on the roofs and the cries of takbeer (Allahuakbar) in the middle of the night? Or is it the jihad that Zahran Alloush and Hassan Aboud and the leaders of the battalions and companies started, which mushroomed in Syria without supervision or accountability? The same is true of the Street, as the word does not denote something that can be defined and measured but rather indicates my individual perception and your individual perception of the idea of the Street, and our use, you and I, of this Street, to serve your idea or my idea of the past, present and future. In such an attitude, Revolution and Street are mythologized and totemized, turning them into an idol.

The importance of the Washington conference is that it was held in the most important capital in the world, which has the final decision regarding the international role practically. The advantage is that the conferees and those with them constitute a large sector of the Syrian community in the United States, a community that has accumulated experience and knowledge to reach the American decision-makers in Congress and the administration. United to the world to communicate with all Syrians in the diaspora, to hold their first inclusive national conference, this time seriously.

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