“Majorities” and “Minorities”… The Attempts to Distort National Identity
Saad Saeb & Reem Issa Saad Saeb & Reem Issa

“Majorities” and “Minorities”… The Attempts to Distort National Identity

Despite the great differences among the Syrian sides, and among the non-Syrian sides interfering in Syrian affairs, they all agree in repeating the phrase: “Syria’s territorial integrity and unity of the Syrian people.”

The mere verbal repetition of this phrase does not mean at all that those who say it really believe in it and sincerely seek to implement it. For example, among the sides (Syrian and non-Syrian) that repeat it, there are those who clearly and publicly work against the country’s territorial integrity. Perhaps the most dangerous tool in this regard is the attempt to rebuild the concept of “national identity” on the basis of the concepts of the “majority” and “minority”.

The National/Religious/Sectarian Level

The clearest and simplest use of the terms “majority” and “minority” is that which divides the Syrian people on a national, religious, or sectarian basis, and transforms them into “majorities” and “minorities.”

One of the aims of this process is that certain political sides, within the regime and the opposition, openly or under the table, use descriptions of “majority” and “minority” -- sometimes nationalistic and sectarian religious at other times -- for the primary purpose of claiming to represent millions of Syrians (and without consulting them), and even presenting themselves to be their defender and lawyer, and against whom? Against the “minority” or the “majority” on the opposite side.

This type of division includes a false description of the reality of the conflict that took place -- and still taking place -- in the country. Each of the supposed representatives of “minorities” and “majorities” presents a narrative of what is happening in Syria that suits its political agendas. This narrative usually includes three complementary elements:

  • Talking about a particular group’s grievance, which is necessarily a national, religious, or sectarian group.
  • Denying or underestimating the existence of opposite grievances.
  • Attributing the injustice inflicted on the concerned group to an opposite “national, religious or sectarian” group.

The many actions involving violence, repression, killing, and blood shedding, in parallel with the internal and external incitements that have taken place for years, have enhanced the possibilities of a significant number of Syrians sliding towards becoming convinced of these divisions.

All this, of course, has negative effects that have allowed thus far the despicable investment in this kind of imaginary divisions, which do nothing but divide the poor and plundered Syrians between the fronts so that they are used -- with their blood and suffering -- in the warring between the “big guns” to re-divide the plundering while keeping the plundered plundered.

The Democratic Level of the “Majority” and “Minority”

There is another level in talking about the “majority” and “minority”, which is related to elections and the democratic process in general.

Meaning that the results of the elections, particularly the parliamentary ones, lead to the formation of a parliamentary majority and minorities. This is considered completely healthy, even ideal, and is presented as one of the elements of the panacea for the Syrian tragedy, especially for the existing de facto partition situation. What is meant, of course, are the first free elections after the formation of the transitional governing body, which is not untrue, but it is also not without major risks, if we accept in advance that it will itself turn into a carrier of national unity and national identity.

This is because the crisis has lasted for many years and left deep wounds that urgently need to begin immediately the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254 with all its elements, not as a panacea, but as the first vital dose necessary to start a treatment that will take several years.

If the aforementioned is too general and not specific enough, we will next move into enumerating and explaining eight factors that we believe can greatly limit the ability of the first electoral process within the transitional period to reunite Syrians.

First: Transition Starts from the Existing Reality

The first free, fair, and internationally-monitored elections within the transitional period should take place in all or most of the Syrian territories (if al-Nusra has not been eliminated yet).

Although the elections will only take place according to a new constitution and with the presence of a transitional governing body resulting from consensus among the Syrian sides, where this TGB controls practically the entire Syrian territories, this control will not be achieved magically or with the push of a button. What we mean is that the currently existing control conditions will affect the first elections, even if the effect is little.

Second: Refugees are Part of the Existing Reality

Within the same existing reality there are millions of Syrian refugees, nearly seven million. These refugees are an essential part of the voting process. Naturally, the countries in which they are located will try in various ways to influence the voting process in proportion to these countries’ interests. This is in addition to the disparity of laws in the countries of asylum with regards to holding elections for another country, the media, and the refugees’ ability to reach polling centers, which will likely be limited to certain cities. These are all things that have a huge impact on the voting by refugees and even expatriates.

Third: The Deep Wounds are also Part of the Existing Reality

The secondary divisions that warlords have reinforced among Syrians, and used them to make Syrians kill each other, are divisions that do not go away simply, especially if the bereaved and oppressed are not convinced that the reason for their oppression is not an “opposing” nationality, sect, or religion, but rather the plunderers from all religions, nationalities, and sects, who exploit all these to divide the plundering among themselves. This is a conviction that perhaps an increasing portion of Syrians has, but it has not yet turned into a prevailing general conviction. Therefore, secondary divisions will play some role in the first upcoming elections, no matter how free and fair these elections might be. The warlords will try to return to the political process, using propaganda with sectarian, national, and religious dimensions, simply because they do not have real programs they can present for the benefit of the people. Furthermore, their only real program is: “we want to continue plundering you”, which is a program that no one can succeed in using, so they resort to disguising it by presenting themselves as protectors of a nationality, sect, group, etc., and to portray others as enemies of that nationality, sect, or group.

Fourth: Money Will Play a Role

An evident condition of a fair and free electoral process is to neutralize the ability of people with money to use their money to buy people’s votes. This matter necessitates developing elections law so as to reduce it as much as possible. Nevertheless, with the miserable situation in which the vast majority of Syrians are living, the possibility of manipulation using money will be greater, not to mention that a major part of those who possess huge money amounts are the warlords in particular.

Fifth: Influence of the Media

The ability of the media to influence the results should also be limited, so that the chances for candidates to appear in the media are equal, whether domestic or foreign media. This can be regulated within reasonable limits through the same elections law. However, what cannot be controlled is foreign media interference, particularly Arab media, in promoting specific lists and candidates, and attacking other lists and candidates.

Sixth: Nature of the New Constitution

One of the factors that have strong influence on the results of the first upcoming parliamentary elections is the theoretical positioning of Parliament within the general structure of the new political system for the new Syria. Will we have a two-chamber or one-chamber parliament? What is the appropriate way to elect its members? What are its actual powers and the nature of its relationship with the other powers? Etc. All these matters will set the general framework for the entire democratic process, and for its results as well.

Seventh: The Elections Law

The elections law that will be approved within the transitional phase will play a major and proactive role in determining the nature of the results. If a law is passed in which Syria is a single proportional district, this will give a greater opportunity to reach Parliament for those with comprehensive national programs. While the opportunity will be greater for those with a sectarian and nationalist rhetoric if the law is a majority system or the district is not comprehensive (governorate or individual). Particularly with the current reality of de facto division, the method of choosing the elections law is a major patriotic responsibility that will play a role in repairing or deepening national fissures.

Eighth: Political Parties Law

In the same context, the political parties law that will be approved during the transitional period will play a key role in preparing for the structure and nature of the elections that will be held. The more patriotic and modern the law is, and the more it prevents the establishment of parties of an isolated national, religious, or sectarian nature, the greater the ability of the elections to heal national wounds.

The Actual Majority and Minority

The purpose of the brief listing and explanation of the aforementioned factors is to arrive at the following idea: The first elections process in the transitional period will not be sufficient alone to re-sort Syrians in a correct political manner on the basis of their deep real interests, foremost among which are their socioeconomic and democratic rights.

According to these rights, the real sorting is between an overwhelming crushed majority of the plundered, exceeding 90% of Syrians, distributed among different sects, nationalities, religions, and current (for the time being) political affiliations, and a plundering minority, less than 10% of Syrians, who are also distributed among the various sects, nationalities, religions, and current political affiliations (including regime and opposition).

Extremists on both sides and warlords will play as much as they can, using all the above factors to keep as much as possible of the plundered deceived or frightened of them and within their camp, and while they do so, they will delay the healing of the deep national wounds, and will even deliberately open wounds as part of their ongoing electoral propaganda.

A Lot of Work Ahead of us

Perhaps the oppressed majority will not be able to reach a sufficient degree of organization by the first elections within the transitional period, even if those elections were “free and fair”, due to the influence of the aforementioned factors and other ones. However, the main direction of the national and class struggle process is for the benefit of the plundered and in the interest of Syrians’ unity and Syria’s territorial integrity, will remain steadfast towards gathering a sufficient and highly organized critical mass of these people in order to be able to defend their interests and seize power for themselves. Only then will the revolution happen. Working to this end and working to organize the plundered, starts today, even yesterday. It is daily work, perhaps monotonous and dark, but it is the only main means.

So let’s get to work!

 The Transitional Governing Body

Perhaps one of the most important factors that will greatly affect how the political process moves along as a whole, and the general direction in which the country will proceed in the subsequent phase, is how the transitional governing body stipulated in UNSC Resolution 2254 is formed. The TGB was simply defined as “inclusive and non-sectarian governance”, “with full executive powers”, and “which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent” among the Syrian sides enumerated in the resolution.

The first problems in dealing with this definition came from the Arabic translation, which translated the word “body” into “commission”, because there is an important difference between the two terms. The term “body”, as appeared in the English version of the resolution, leaves the door open for Syrians themselves to decide what this body is, while the term “commission” preemptively confiscates the way in which body is formed.

Extremists on both sides benefited from this point. On the opposition side, an explanation was presented for the “transitional governing commission” making it a “revolutionary command council” similar to military coups in the fifties and sixties. This same explanation was used by the regime’s extremists to say: Look what these people want, it is not possible to have a dialogue or reach an understanding them.

On the other hand, the essence of the transitional governing body is that it should be reached by consensus among the various Syrian sides, and possibilities are numerous, and only the Syrians are concerned with choosing among these possibilities or inventing new ones that are suitable for them, whether the discussion is about a presidential council, a national unity government with general powers, a set of councils, or other possibilities that Syrians can agree on in detail.

Another important aspect at the core of the transitional governing body is its clear function, to establish the appropriate conditions, and within a limited period, to complete the process of drafting a new constitution, and for free and fair elections that include all Syrians inside Syria and abroad, which has become an entry point, as noted above, to reunifying Syrians politically and nationally.

(Arabic version)

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