Back in March of 2011 after a group of teenagers was arrested for scrawling anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Daraa — the start of the Syrian uprising — opposition groups had called for constitutional changes. Under the current constitution, the ruling Ba’ath Party is referred to as “the leader of the state and society.” Hafez al-Assad, father of the current ruler, Bashar al-Assad, was president for 29 years until his death; the younger Assad has been in power for 11 years.
As the uprising has dragged on for almost a year — with at least 6,000 killed and thousands detained according to the United Nations — the opposition has called for Assad to step down. Such a demand was at the center of a United Nations Security Council resolution that was blocked by a veto from Russia and China at the start of this month. Just this Wednesday, Assad has announced that a referendum on a new draft constitution will be held on February 26, in a seeming attempt to offer some sort of reform after “almost a year of the most sustained crackdown in the so-called Arab Spring,” says the New York Times.
The draft constitution calls for the dropping of Article 8 which says that Assad’s Ba’ath party rules “state and society” and calls for a multi-party system. But it also does not allow for the creation of parties based on religion, profession or regional interests, in an apparent attempt to avoid the legalization of the Muslim Brotherhood or of Kurdish parties in the northwest of the country.
At Least 20 Dead Today in Syria
With continued violence — shelling, fires, explosions, reports of the residents of the long-besieged city of Homs scavenging for food or trying to flee across the border into Lebanon in the intervals between shelling — how such a referendum will take place as the government battles with army defectors is very unclear. Videos from the syriapioneer channel on YouTube show explosions and wounded, bloody corpses. On Wednesday, a fuel pipeline in the beleaguered Baba Amr district of Homs — which has reportedly been shelled at for 12 days — exploded. Activists also reported that attacks have stepped up against the city of Hama, the site of a 1982 massacre in which 10,000 were killed under Hafez al-Assad.
Response From US, Russia, Egypt
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Assad’s announcement was “laughable” and that it “makes a mockery of the Syrian revolution”; Russia said that it is “a welcome idea.” While expressing concerned about the “deteriorating situation” in Syria, Egypt has remained wary about other Arab states’ diplomatic efforts and has insisted that there be no military intervention.
Assad’s announcement about the draft constitution and the referendum also occurs a day after his regime rejected UN allegations of crimes against humanity.
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