Recently, a number of cautious calls have emerged in Syria favoring reforms and changes in the political arena. The editor-in-chief of the ruling Ba'ath party daily Al-Ba'ath, Mahdi Dakhlallah, devoted two editorials to this subject: "Reform: Political or Economic?" and "Developing the Social Foundation: Much Work Awaits." The following are excerpts from the editorials:
'Reform: Political or Economic?'
"All systems in Syria – political, economic, legal, and cultural – operate mutually and in agreement within the overall social system. Any significant change in one system directly affects the others and the overall social system… There is no doubt that it is impossible to bring about significant economic change without developing the entire political sector, especially in a country like Syria, in which the political regime is considered the primary motivating force in society.
"Giving temporary priority to economic reform being 'the first among equals,' does not change this truth. Rather, it is based on a different truth that raises a different question: Is the political system [in Syria ] – the most important factor in political life as a whole – still capable of bringing about [economic] development? Is there enough space in the infrastructure of the political system and its activities to absorb the innovations and advance together with them?
"The answer is definitely affirmative. It is the political and ideological system in Syria that began to raise the issue of [economic] development, and it is the primary force that promotes economic development and directs it… There is no doubt that the announcement of specific laws aiming at accelerating economic reform is thought to be a change in the content of the political system… however, this does not change the structure of the system itself.
"…There is no doubt that [more] advanced stages of [economic] reform will [also] demand [alterations] in the structure of the political system, which will help continue the push forward. What is surprising is that our political system [itself] is capable of developing its activities at the appropriate stage.
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"This ability stems from the ideological background on which the [Syrian political] system relies, and particularly from the ideological texture of the Ba'ath party. This party is not a factional or sectarian system but rather a popular movement that includes a variety of schools of thought, factions, and groups. Its thinking, therefore, is broad and able to accommodate the changes and the initiative [on the economic level] and to take them into account at every stage. Despite its wide popular outreach, the party has always stressed that truth is the property of all… At the beginning of the 1970s, at the height of its strength, the party invited the other parties [to participate] in a lengthy and open dialogue, from which the Front [i.e. the Progressive National Front – a coalition of eight parties led by the Ba'ath party] emerged, out of a belief that [no one] has a monopoly on the people's opinion, and out of a recognition that the other exists, regardless of his actual size in the society…
"Our political system was built on an open approach, and it has the suitable ideological support for broad national dialogue… Our political system does not constitute a barrier to development and reform; it is the basis for reform and its motivating force."
'Developing the Social Foundation: Much Work Awaits'
In another editorial which appeared about three weeks later, Dakhlallah stated that economic or political change must be preceded by development of society: "… It is impossible to build a developing political or economic system on a backwards societal base… The main problem of economic development lies in society… Therefore, focusing on developing [the political, economic, etc.] systems will be useless as long as the influential forces in society led by the Ba'ath party, the other parties, and popular organizations, do not appeal to the broad social base…
"Today, even the 'intellectuals' raise doubts about [the chances for] the development of the financial or political system, about the role of the Ba'ath party and the Progressive National Front, about the establishment of the government and the parliament, and about the administration and those who stand at its head. [But] no one asks: What is [the problem] at the [core] of our society? [What is the problem] with the street, with people, with their relationships, and with their values? Why is our educational system still so backward, when children and students receive but do not participate, listen but do not make a sound? What [is the problem with the] liberation of society, for example, with full equality between women and men - which is a constitutional right? And are the constitutional solutions sufficient to change the reality without massive educational and revival campaigns? What is the value system of society? Is it related to performance, effort, obedience, and innovation, or to the ability [to amass] wealth, honor, and power? The true role of the intellectuals is to educate, to enlighten, and to instill values that have proven to be essential to progress – the values of performance, innovation, social cohesion, and benevolence.
"Will our excessive preoccupation with the economic and political systems someday make us forget all the rest, including our Golan, the part of our spirit that groans under the occupation and is, essentially, the leading national problem of every Syrian citizen? If development in the economic sense is a qualitative move forward, there is no option but to return to the broad societal base, to the main focus of the move. There is much work that must be done there."