Consensus Among Syrians as a Necessity, and Politics as an Art for this Necessity…
Some sources indicate that in 1867 Otto Von Bismarck said: Politics is the art of the possible. This was one way of describing what has been known by action and practice for centuries and perhaps millennia.
However, as is the case with all big concepts that are directly related to human society and its life in particular, the inconsistency and diversity in the definition of these concepts and their approaches stem not only from their broad generality, but also from the reality of the ongoing and continuous conflict within society itself. Therefore, it will not be strange to find other descriptions of politics, including the description used as a title by Dr. Kadri Jamil in an article of his published in Kassioun in 2010: “The Art of Necessity” (Arabic).
The Art of Consensus
In the actual situation that we are living in now as Syrians, I believe that politics is not only the art of necessity, but rather this this necessity is concentrated in the need to reach consensus. I think this what we (as Syrians) need to understand today and work on in our efforts to get Syria and Syrians out of this crisis, which the extremists in all sides are continuously and tirelessly working on prolonging by ensuring no agreement is reached between the two main sides of the political process or any two Syrian sides in general.
What the extremists have done in reality is building a Chinese wall or Chinese walls among Syrians, and demanding that they find their place on one side and not the other. This “with me or against me” mentality was a gift to the extremists on both sides, as it became a useful tool for them to label anyone who disagrees with them on any point “an enemy” or “with the other side”, and a traitor to the cause, the homeland, the revolution, etc. This also means that in Syrian politics, there is no place for consensus.
In the Constitution
Article 8 of the 1973 Syrian Constitution says: “The Socialist Arab Baath Party is the leading party in the society and the state; it leads a patriotic and progressive front seeking to unify the capacities of the people’s masses and place them at the service of the Arab Nation’s goals.”
This article was the basis for excluding a lot of Syrians from the public life in Syria, including from the majority of public offices, political positions, certain professional and academic opportunities, and even from things like unions and civil society. Thus, it has been part of Syrians’ lives for decades that not being a member of the Baath party was in the eyes of the regime equivalent to being somehow a second-class citizen.
In 2012, the regime changed the Constitution to take out some of its more controversial articles, to show that it was carrying out some “reforms”, while neglecting key issues like separation of powers and complete hegemony of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial branches. Among the amendments was the removal of Article 8.
Although the Constitution was changed in 2012 to remove Article 8, in practice nothing changed, and the mentality and spirit of Article 8 lived on within the regime. What is worse is that it seems as if the mentality and spirit of Article 8 also lives on within the opposition.
Within the Opposition
Most of the opposition bodies are “coalition” bodies, in that they include representatives of different political backgrounds, affiliations, movements, currents, etc. This is certainly the case within the Syrian Negotiations Commission. While these types of bodies should work to try and find consensus among its components and members, and then with the other side.
However, in practice, what we have seen is that one group through different tools and means intimidates and blackmails enough members to get a vote to its liking (or the liking of those to whom it has allegiance) to guide decisions and positions. Then, anyone of its members or components that says anything different is portrayed as a traitor or an “agent of the regime”. This has enabled the extremists within the opposition (just like within the other side) to overshadow the true patriotic voices that are honestly working to help Syria and Syrians to get out of the crisis.
These techniques were well-received among some Syrian audiences for some time during the crisis, but then started to lose their ability to influence, mainly because more and more Syrians started to understand the importance of diversity in political points of view. More critically, Syrians are now seeing that a large portion of the slogans and rhetoric used are nothing but empty slogans. They also understand that those using these slogans are not interested in reaching a solution, but in fact, they are just another version of the regime.
This technique had also justified for a long time refusing any and all attempts for dialogue. This was a gift welcomed by forces at the local, regional, and international levels that did not want for Syrians to sit at one table. If they do, that means they will talk and listen to each other, and that might result in a real dialogue that will lead to a solution, which will cut off the profits and gains that the extremists are making from the continuation of the crisis.
True dialogue means reaching consensus, consensus means making mutual concessions, not only from one side to another, but also from all sides for the benefit of the Syrian people as a whole. Some are just not willing to do that, even if the cost is Syrian lives and Syria’s territorial integrity.
The MOU as an Example
As Syrians, we have to start from somewhere, and as Syrians who want to stop the attrition of our homeland and our people, we have to start as soon as possible. All Syrian sides can and should learn a lesson from a recent example and replicate it at all levels, that is the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the People’s Will Party and the Syrian Democratic Council at the end of August.
The MOU is an example of two Syrian sides with diverging views and positions on many points, coming together and articulating their commonalities as a starting point for future deliberations. Extremists from all sides have rejected this and tried to undermine it by pointing out the positions that either side holds to show that it is actually an “enemy” and not a “partner”, that is, proving why sitting with this side is indicative of being against the interest of Syrians. Nevertheless, these attacks did not find the desired reverberations among the majority of Syrians who saw in the terms of the MOU something that represents exactly what they want.
This is exactly what consensus is, exactly what politics is, and exactly what we need to see all Syrian forces from all sides do – find the common ground, articulate it, and go from there. Without this, we will keep going in the same infinite loop that is prolonging the suffering of Syrians and delaying the political solution.