By Stephen Gowans
Prior to Assad drafting the new constitution, the US State Department complained that Syria had “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, had failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, among them Wall Street financial interests. The State Department also expressed dissatisfaction that “ideological reasons” had prevented Assad from liberalizing Syria’s economy, that “privatization of government enterprises was still not widespread,” and that the economy “remains highly controlled by the government.”
Were Assad to demonstrate a readiness to appease Wall Street’s demands he would have departed holus bolus from the dirigiste practices that had irritated the State Department. Instead, he did the opposite, drafting a constitution that mandated that the government maintain a role in guiding the economy on behalf of Syrian interests, and that the Syrian government would not make Syrians work for the interests of Western banks, oil companies, and other corporations. This was effectively a slap in Washington’s face.
He then compounded the sin by writing certain social rights into the constitution: security against sickness, disability and old age; access to health care; and free education at all levels. Now these rights would be placed beyond the easy reach of legislators and politicians who could sacrifice them on the altar of creating a low-tax, foreign-investment-friendly climate. To make matters worse, he included an article in the constitution which declared that “taxes shall be progressive.”
Finally, he took a step toward real, genuine democracy—a kind that decision-makers in Washington, with their myriad connections to the banking and corporate world—could hardly tolerate. He included a provision in the constitution requiring that at minimum half the members of the People’s Assembly are to be drawn from the ranks of peasants and workers.
Therein were the real reasons Washington, London and Paris rejected Assad’s concessions. It wasn’t that they weren’t genuine. It was that they were made to the wrong people: to Syrians, rather than Wall Street; to the Arabs, rather than Israel. And nor was it that his reforms weren’t democratic enough. It was that they were too democratic, too focused on safeguarding and promoting the interests of Syrians, rather than making Syrians promote the interests of Wall Street, Washington and Tel Aviv.