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Syrian Constitutional Committee: An Overview

Alwaght– After several rounds of intra-Syrian UN-mediated talks, on Monday the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that an agreement has finalized the members of the to-be-founded Syria constitutional committee that will act as part of a broader mechanism pushing towards a solution for the 9-year-old crisis in the Arab country with a green light by the central government. After the news was announced, the Syrian government, as well as Russia, Iran, and Turkey— as the brokers and guarantors of the Astana peace process— confirmed the outcome and expressed contentment with the speed of the constitutional committee foundation process.

The formation process  

The foundation of the constitutional body, in essence, has its roots in the results of the Geneva negotiations between the warring sides. In the initial years of war, the anti-Damascus Western-Arab camp demanded such committee with its main aim being the removal of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Damascus and its allies resisted the push arguing that the priority was the fight against foreign-backed terrorist groups and restoration of calm and stability to the Arab country. In December 2015, the Security Council adopted the resolution 2254 dubbed “Syria transition roadmap” with a consensus of the members after the opposite powers, mainly the US and Russia, reached an agreement on the necessity of a deal pushing towards a political solution.

The resolution advocated drafting a new Syrian constitution in accordance with the international standards within 18 months under the supervision of the UN. The committee foundation was hampered to date as Damascus and opposition forces kept conflicting views on the very formation of the committee, its mechanism, and the distribution of the posts among the potential members.

The Astana and Sochi initiatives, pushed ahead by Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara marked a turning point in the progress of the committee formation and moving a step closer to the settlement to the devastating crisis. In January 2018, at a Moscow-hosted meeting, an agreement was reached on the body to be comprised of 150 members who would be entrusted with a new constitution draft. There were preliminary accords between the two sides on proposing 50-member lists.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem confirmed the progress saying that a 45-member body will follow the 150-member committee in which the government, the opposition, and the civil society will each have 15 representatives.

Muallem, throwing light upon the mechanism of the new body, said that the “grand committee” will once hold a session in Geneva. Then in the shadow of the progression made by the “small committee” a demand for another meeting of it will be made. As much as the small committee advances in its mission, the grand committee will be recalled to adopt the accomplishments.

In a further explanation, the spokesman to the Syrian opposition negotiation delegation Yahya al-Uraidhi said that according to the agreements, in case of disagreement inside the committee about a decision, a decision will require 75 percent yes votes to pass.

Damascus upper hand in equations 

Over the past eight years of war, the Syrian government stood firmly in the face of the adversary states which supported terrorism against Damascus. At the same time, it focused on fighting and defeating the terrorists and taking back control of the terrorist-held regions. In October last year, Damascus sent letters to the UN and Security Council chiefs complaining that the UN envoy to Syria crisis Staffan de Mistura sought mandate over the Syrian people through his push for a constitutional committee. The government set four conditions for the committee formation among them avoiding a timetable for the process. Now the question is that why has Damascus accepted the process under the UN which has never been a neutral party in the crisis, especially that the government has an upper hand in the battleground equations?

A couple of issues can specify that Damascus joined the initiative from a strong position. First, the government said it reserves the right to continue the war against the terrorists until the country’s territories are fully cleansed. Muallem in an interview with Syrian News Network said that the anti-terror war will continue strongly until full recapture of the whole territories. “This is not in conflict with the constitution,” he was quoted as saying.

Furthermore, Damascus has cut as much as possible the foreign intervention. The 50 people of the UN-proposed list will have to get Damascus green light for membership. Muallem warned: “We do not accept the ideas and timetables dictated by the foreign powers and will not allow meddling in our new constitution writing.

Additionally, the committee is an outcome of the Astana initiative and comes in coordination with the government not the Western-influenced Geneva process. President Bashar al-Assad told a top Iranian diplomat on Tuesday that the constitutional committee was formed despite all of the problems the terrorism supporters caused and this is a sign of our successful cooperation.

Kurds, the main losers of the equation 

Certainly, one of the most important aspects of the constitutional body is the participation of the Kurds of the autonomously-run regions in northern Syria who practically have no representatives in the three lists. The foreign affairs office of the Kurdish autonomous region in the north and the east announced that it does care about the committee outcome because the Kurds are marginalized and not represented. The Syrian Kurdish autonomous administration, founded in 2016, took control of most of east Euphrates regions after ISIS lost them to the Kurdish fighters. It receives military and logistical support from the US-led Western military coalition in Syria.

In the Sochi and Astana talks, Turkey was the top opponent of the Kurdish representation in the constitutional committee. The Kurds, setting their eyes on the US diplomatic and military backing to save the seized areas, over the past months lost golden opportunities of a deal with the central government one after another and now even Russia has, at least ostensibly, halted its efforts to bring them on board. This makes them the main losers of the constitutional body case.

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