Syrian president Bashar Assad is no longer waiting to be pushed and prodded from Washington and Paris. He is now setting his own deadlines. Next week, he promises that every last Syrian soldier will be withdrawn from Lebanon, so ending the 29-year Syrian military-intelligence presence on the soil of its small neighbor. It remains to be seen whether Syrian army commanders will obey the president’s orders and how comprehensive the pull-out order really is.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive Middle East sources report that Assad has also secretly fixed a date to launch an epic reform of his own country’s political system, nothing less than a political and military revolution. Unlike most other Middle East revolutions that were protracted – the Baath revolutions in Iraq and Syria dragged on through the 1960s and 1970s – the Syrian ruler wants his upheaval to start next week and be over and done by June 2005.
This is a very tall order as well as a dangerous gamble, considering that Assad is proposing to roll back four decades of Syrian history.
He plans essentially to transform his Baath from a Marxist-socialist ideological movement to a pragmatic ruling party, severing the link between army and party, shutting down the movement’s pan-Arab center – and so withdrawing the mother party’s support for the many Baath branches around the Arab world, especially in Lebanon and Jordan; rewrite Syria’s national constitution and introduce an open market economy.
It is hard to believe that even a dictator can accomplish all this in three months. It stands to reason that his lightening revolution will raise a storm of opposition in established military and political circles. They may not only seek to thwart his every step but try and dump him with his program.
Since he grasped he was doomed to lose Lebanon, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources describe Assad as talking in a way that recalls Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi‘s manner in 2003 when he had become reconciled to ceding his nuclear option and weapons of mass destruction programs and so coming to terms with the Bush administration.
Recently, the Syrian ruler told confidants: “I don’t want to see foreign troops in Syria forcing us to accept the sort of reforms imposed on Iraq. We can carry out those reforms on our own.”
Damascus Spring, Syrian Baath’s Demise
Our Middle East sources have obtained exclusive access to the details of Assad’s forthcoming Damascus Spring.
Sunday, April 3, Baath party branches will hold meetings across the country to prepare for the 10th national party convention in June. The last convention took place five years ago straight after the death of Bashar’s father, President Hafez Assad.
Friday, April 1, prior to these meetings, registered Baath members will receive a memo asking them for input on a new Baath platform amended to adapt the party to modern-day requirements. Proposed amendments should be forwarded to the following four drafting committees.
A. External Relations Committee
Unbeknownst to the rank and file, this panel will start work on the abolition of the Pan-Arab Commission of the Baath Party, the closure of its Damascus offices and dismissal of its staff.
B. Security Committee
This body will go to work on severing links between the army and the Baath party. This decision is extremely important because it means that armed forces appointments will not longer depend on party membership. Officers will be selected on the strength of their qualifications and ability.
C. Administrative Committee
This panel is charged with drafting resolutions for the national convention. They will be asked to approve a new name for the party, updated goals, a fresh motto. The current motto of Arab Unity, Liberty and Socialism is deemed to redolent of antiquated Marxist socialist values and will be erased from party literature. It is proposed to rename the party he National Ruling Party of Syria.
After invading Iraq in 2003, the Americans banned Saddam Hussein‘s ruling Baath. Two years on, the Syrian ruler actuated by US-French pressures, is convinced that it is to his interest to obliterate the Syrian Baath.
D. Economy Committee
This panel will restructure the Syrian economy and oversee its transition to a market economy.
A timeline has been drawn up for the three critical stages of the Syrian reform program:
April 9 – elections for Baath party branch councils. The plan is to bring fresh blood to the branches to replaces veterans some of whom have been in place 40 years.
April 26 – the newly-elected local branch councils will pick new district bodies.
June – the national party convention will meet to approve the reform program.
The next three months will therefore be crucial for Syria and its ruler.
A con trick to distract from misdeeds?
Our Middle East sources stress that Assad faces formidable resistance to his plans for jettisoning the old political structures and long-entrenched officers that he inherited from his father. Powerful opponents include such top men as Abdullah al Ahmed, acting general secretary of the Syrian Baath, who took over after Hafez Assad’s death; three vice presidents Zuheir Masharka, Khalim Haddam and Muhammed Jaber Jabjush, all of whom are warning Assad that if he goes through with his plan he will be riding for a fall and bring about the demise of the Assad dynasty’s rule of Syria.
Dissent is even broader and deeper among lower Baath echelons and the military officers who treat local Baath branches as power bases.
The entire reform scheme for his domestic power structure may be one of Assad’s typical shifts to throw off Washington’s complaints on a great many sensitive issues and demonstrate that after leaving Lebanon he has turned his face inward. For one thing, he needs urgently to make up the revenue shortfall generated by the loss of his lucrative grip on Lebanon. Certainly he can afford economic sanctions less than ever before.
At the same time his Damascus Spring seems to have no relation to the controversial Syrian-Iraqi border traffic he permits on behalf of Iraqi insurgents, the bases and havens he provides Saddam Hussein’s ex-officials, the terrorist bases allowed to operate out of Damascus, the Syria-Iran military alliance, his links with Hizballah, or the Iranian intelligence teams imported to Lebanon and Syria to man early warning and radar stations.
There is more than a suggestion that under cover of the Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon, Damascus will retain a clandestine presence through local agents or its own operatives in civilian disguise.