September 1, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 774

Syrian VP: After 40 Years in Power, Time to Reexamine the Ba'th

September 1, 2004
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 774

In a recent interview with the independent critical Syrian weekly Abyadh Wa-Aswad (Black and White),whose editor is the son of Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani, Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, the Syrian vice president and a long-time pillar of the Syrian Ba'th Party, discussed possible changes in the role of the Ba'th Party in Syria. The following are excerpts from the interview, as reported by the Syrian daily Champress: [1]

'After Over 40 Years During Which the Party Led Syria… There is a Need For Reexamination'

Question:" The national [Ba'th Party] leadership has set up work groups to examine the party's ideological development. Will the development also include the obstacles [facing] the party? And what direction will [the development] take? "

Khaddam: "After over 40 years during which the party has led Syria, primarily after the great cultural, social, and political developments that have begun in society, and in light of the great international political, cultural, security, and scientific developments and their ramifications for the Arab nation and Syria, a need is arising for reexamination and development in order to allow Syria to continue in its path of awakening, to refrain from the negative ramifications of the tremendous developments in the world, and to benefit from them…

"Development includes the party's way of thought, not the ideology – and there is a difference between them. Ideology [is connected to] fate and identity, and expresses the party's main principles. The way of thought, on the other hand, is the fruit of logic, and its goal is to meet the demands of reality; at every stage…

"After the Ba'th Party obtained the leadership of Syria in 1963, and primarily after February 1966, the prevailing perception was that the party alone would engage in leading Syria's political enterprise and in developing the country. This is because it was perceived as a revolutionary party, which led to the party's standing alone in the political arena. [This, however,] had disadvantages that affected the people and the society…" [2]

'Freedom of the Individual Ends with the Freedom of Others and of Society'

Question:" Will the socialist Arab Ba'th Party become a Syrian party?"

Khaddam: "Under no circumstances. Relinquishing the pan-Arab dimension of the party means relinquishing identity, history, and the future. What is to be discussed is the development of a pan-Arab work formula in the party, while adapting to the demands of the current stage in the pan-Arab area."

Question:" Freedom is the foundation of the Ba'th Party's principles. Yet since the eighth of March [1970], phenomena contradicting this fundamental principle have arisen. Will the development deal also with the meaning of freedom? "

Khaddam:"Freedom is a natural human right. There should be no restrictions on freedom, except for freedom itself – that is, freedom of the individual ends with the freedom of others and the freedom of society. If freedom has any other meaning, society becomes a jungle, as international society is a hothouse for a struggle of nations. The natural law that gave freedom to man and to society has restricted freedom of the individual and freedom of society so that there is no clash between individual freedoms and society's freedoms.

"Similarly, there are restrictions set by society via its values, customs, traditions, and heritage, [and] others derived from the individual's economic need, and still others determined by the religion…

"There have been some mistaken activities that were unconnected to the policy of the party and the country, but [were caused] by human error, by security conditions forced upon the country in order to ensure the security of the society and its sons or by the weakness of the supervisory and monitoring apparatus. It is natural for the reexamination to include the meaning of civil-rights based freedom for freedom of thought, expression, and participation [in political activity], as long as [all these principles] do not conflict with the freedom of others and with the good of society."

'It is Apparent that [Syria's] Sources of Income are Not Sufficient to Meet Basic Demands'

Question: " The party has disseminated the theory of popular democracy. Is this theory still valid?"

Khaddam:"Democracy is a national need, as it is the framework that enables the individual and society to actualize their freedoms and to participate in choosing their constitutional institutions. [Democracy] is the framework that actualizes the balance between the powers, and [ensures] proper execution. The expression 'popular democracy' is taken from the countries of the former socialist camp. Democracy is a framework of action that is not uniform in all peoples, but is linked to economic, political, and cultural factors [specific to each country]. Therefore, there are different forms of democracy."

Question:" Democracy requires the existence of parties. How will this come about?"

Khaddam:"Democracy requires the existence of parties, programs, and an [appropriate political] climate. The Syrian leadership attaches great importance to this matter in reexamining the development of the party's thought."

Question: " Will the party relinquish socialism? "

Khaddam: "The party accepted socialism as a main foundation out of its principles, but it did not set socialist theory [as an exclusive ideology]. Socialism is a way of realizing and awakening progress in society to achieve justice and equality, in order to raise the people's standard of living, to find work opportunities, to provide medical oversight, and to give opportunities… Socialism is not an absolute concept; [the] absolute is impossible. It is a relative concept linked fundamentally to the demands and needs of society…"

Question: "Is a state based on sources of income and a gradated tax system, together with the general economic situation, capable of meeting [society's] needs?"

Khaddam: "It is apparent that [Syria's] sources of income are not sufficient to meet basic demands. The average per capita income causes a large gap between the citizen's basic needs and his income, and the same goes for the gap between the state's basic needs and its income.

"When we see that the income is insufficient, there is a need to seek solutions that will provide income, as China, the biggest Communist state, has done…

"Comparing Israel's per capita income to Syria's is worrying, and this will not be resolved except by a new vision and [by giving] a new revolutionary meaning to socialism, as has been done by other countries such as China or Vietnam, whose socialist ideology cannot be disputed…"

Question: " There is talk of the need for national dialogue. What is your view on this matter? "

Khaddam: "First, there must be differentiation between national dialogue and political dialogue. The national dialogue takes place in a country under threat to its national unity – division, civil war, or the shadow of civil war, such as [is the case with] the national dialogue underway in Lebanon… [In contrast,] I am certain that all Syrians cling to their national unity and that there is no national conflict or national division in Syria.

"The national dialogue will take place between political forces or political elements, in order to reach an agreement on a political plan [which could be] implemented. The party has not locked the door to any element wishing to cooperate with it for the good of the country, in the framework of the national and fundamental principles accepted by the party."

'Those Who Suggested Changing and Replacing the Syrian Regime Do Not Know the Danger Therein'

Question: " Some are demanding the elimination of the article in the constitution determining the Ba'th party's control of society and of the state. Will the development include this principle? "

Khaddam: "There should be a distinction made between the developmental process of the party, the state, and society, which is a national need, and the right of every citizen to participate in the process of development and to express his opinion, [on the one hand], and the process of changing the regime and replacing it with a new regime [on the other]… It is good for the development process to include the political trends and forces in the Arab homeland and in Syria in the party's conventions, with observer status. This will enrich the discussion and hone the opinions.

"Those who suggested changing and replacing the regime do not know the danger therein for the future, the security, and the stability of the state, and do not know what can happen afterwards. Or, they know the danger, want it, and aspire to it, for reasons that are not connected to the good of the state, but serve the plans of foreign elements and of Israel…"

[1] Champress (Syria), August 24, 2004.

[2] A reference to the Ba'th Party's split into two rival leaderships, the Syrian and the Iraqi.

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