I am going to preface this with setting aside any theoretical or factual crimes against humanity and focus on the law and what by the law would be and is legal.

From my understanding since early 2000's Syria has been making strides towards human rights with Freedom of religion and opening its presses. From my understanding Christians are not prosecuted and women are free to dress without any religious garbs. Contempt expressed against the state was also allowable.

I have been searching for detailed documents, in English, concerning Syrian law but I am unable to find a good amount of information with even the Library of Congress linking to broken links. As for the Moderate US backed rebels I have found no information about their issues with the laws of the current regime.

So I am wondering is Syria a liberal or at least a progressive regime as expressed by the written law and how does the US backed moderate rebels view points compare to the current law? Are the rebels out to end any affronts against humanity rather than/as well as being discouraged by the current law?

I do not mean to demean any acts done and the totality of the acts can shift a regime's viewpoint but again this question is meant by the law.

edit: Syrian constitution under the previous ruler: http://web.archive.org/web/20041014033534/http://www.moi-syria.com/_politic.asp?FileName=20021118201233 - Linked obtained form LoC.gov

From the founding tenets I can see that Syria

  1. Was founded under socialist principles giving the government responsibility over basic services
  2. Offered political asylum to anyone
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. No reference to sex or gender (how likely it would be is another issue)
  5. Is a democracy, oligarchy, and then at times a dictatorship. The people vote on parliament members, the parliament members nominate candidates for president, the president has the power to create and implement law while parliament is out of session but parliament can review and throw it out when they are back in. No references to if the president can dissolve parliament
  6. Have an eminent domain policy the same as the US
  7. Focus on Education as a right and necessity

Reading through the constitution it seems very much based off of Western ideal and dogma and was very progressive for it's time though may not have been so in practice.

However there is still the law aspect which may change things as Islamic Jurisprudence is a foundation of their country.

  • Don't like the custom description of the bounty I set but no idea how to change it...
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 17:04
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 16:04

5 Answers 5


Alright Personal answer as many do not seem to know too much about Syria, myself included, this may be a bit long

For reference in this answer: The current Syrian Constitution

To start we need some history

Foundation and history Syria

Syria was under French mandate from 1922-1944 effectively giving them control over Syria. After the French had withdrawn, Syria has been in a constant state of civil war with one coup after another with factions constantly fighting, some even sponsored by the US. The regimes went through many different periods of dictatorship and democracy's constantly being replaced.

It was not until 1963 when The Arab Socialist Resurrection (Baath) Party (hereafter, Baath Party), with a secular, socialist, Arab nationalist orientation, took decisive control in a March 1963 coup. The Baath Party was active in throughout the middle East since the 1940's.

In 1970 a revolt occurred after many military failures a bloodless coup occurred and Hafez al-Assad, former Defense Lieutenant General, won the popular referendum and became president for the next 30 years.

In 1973 a constitution was established defining the roles of parliament, the president and vice president, the cabinet of ministers, and the people. It began by declaring Syria under a single party system that party being the Baath party, Islamic Jurisprudence was also established based on Shia law, the president is also required to be a follower of Islam. However, it also allowed for freedom of religion so long as public order is not threatened, this would later be used primarily on Sunni Arabs and Jews in Syria. There was a large focus on education and jobs as a right of the people for the government to uphold.

During the next 30 years Hafez's regime would be labeled authoritarian as a State of Emergency was declared allowing for suppression of citizens. Notably the Muslim Brotherhood who rose up declaring the regime too secular, I honestly didn't think I'd be typing that. Many reports of people disappearing or being assassinated. The economy also did poorly during much of this time according to the source in the header.

In 2000 Hafez died. Parliament amended the constitution lowering the age for the presidency from 40 to 34 allowing Bashar Assad, Hafezs son, to run. Parliament did not elect any opposition to run against Assad.

Assad was met with pushback. A few years later Assad began reforming by enforcing/enacting mandatory retirement and replacing certain high-level administrators with appointments from outside the Baath Party. This effectively kicked many of the old out of the government who opposed his rule.

In 2011 many rebellion groups began to pop up and a few years later a civil war broke out.

In 2012 the Syrian Constitution was amended again transforming Syria into a multi-party democracy like much of the West.

Is Syria a Dictatorship - Section based off of The current Syrian Constitution

It can be for 3 months. Syria follows a parliamentary system. In this system The Citizens of Syria elect members of parliament who then proceed to nominate one or more candidates for the presidency. The president then appoints a cabinet who have to be confirmed by parliament, the same way in the US.

The president more or less has power over most things aside from the law, which he is tasked to enforce. When parliament is out of session the president gains power over the law, however when parliament is back in session their first order of business is to scrutinize any laws made with the ability to throw them out in their entirety.

The president can also abolish parliament for up to 3 months, however a reason is needed and parliament can never be abolished twice for the same reason.

The president also has veto power, when parliament passes a bill the president can veto it, in which case it goes back to parliament where if it passes again with a super majority it will become law.

So in short, kind of. The president can gain absolute power at times and the system is flimsy without much oversight that I could find of the president itself. I'll put it this way if the US is a Demo-Republic then Syria is an Oligarch-Democracy.

Also worth noting in the 2012 referendum the presidency was limited to two 7 year terms. Meaning that if they wish to prove any semblance of non-dictatorial rule that this should legally be Assads last term ending in 2021. One more thing, a state of emergency had been in place for over 30 years allowing governments to seize those that speak out openly against the government. Assad lifted this state of emergency in hopes of avoiding a civil war.

Personal Thoughts

The Syrian regime, under the founding Baath party, seemed to show a great deal of French influence with their political breakdown/separation of power, religious liberty, and the government giving to the people. These were not commonly found during that period with many still being under Shariah or totalitarian regimes.

Not to say this is not a totalitarian regime. Syria had been in a State of Emergency for over 30 years now suspending many of the citizens rights, which rights I cannot say. This allowed the ruling regime to crush the opposition brutally. The current regime have lifted this state of emergency in 2011 in hopes of .

Religious Freedom is alive in Syria, however you might end up being monitored or arrested depending on if the government deems you as a threat or radical. So unless you believe what the government believes you do not have a guarantee of safety, but yet again this appears to be widely focused on Islam and I am having trouble finding instances of Christians being brutalized, though Jews are widely discriminated against, although there are systems in place to protect them (Jews in Syria). That being said I have no basis on whether the Arabs persecuted were radical so please take that with modicum of salt I am merely basing that on the crackdown on the muslim brotherhood and the general tone of the area arguably/in-arguably discriminatory, but this is the thoughts section, always open to read new sources.

Speaking out against the government was also banned, I am assuming this has to do with the State of emergency. Doing this seems to get you jailed according to the sources and this seems to be a main stay of the current political asylum seekers from Syria, though having trouble finding examples of political asylum seekers and why they are seeking.


Syria for the area seems very progressive for an Arab nation in that region. Although I am not comparing it with it's Israeli neighbor Israel but if you view Religious Freedom is alive you can see that few other arab countries in that area tolerate any other religion. The reformations under the current regime are also very positive as it is no longer a single party system.

Criticism is simply that the State of Emergency made the rights questionable and gives the government far too much reaching power by Western standards. The disappearances and brutal suppression of those that speak out against the family or government is also very disheartening. We cannot forgot about the abuses of power such as redefining the constitution in 2000 for the sake of what amounts to a Kingdom/Monarch. The president is also a pure dictator while parliament is out of session as he gains the ability to make and enforce laws, those laws are reviewed as top priority when parliament reconvenes but it appears to be far too much power. State of Emergency has been lifted since 2011 with hopes of the regime putting a better foot forward though alleged reports of abuse were still prevalent since then

Now for the war - and not the inevitable comment war

In short the war is MUCH bigger than I thought Factions fighting in Syria. It seems the only role the US is supporting is The Combined Joint Task Force, however this is purely against ISIL. We are providing arms to various groups as well, however we do not seem concerned with their ideology as the Syrian Democratic Council has ties to ISIL, though I cannot comment on the stretch. The Syrian opposition is funded by Qatar who are having some issues lately due to funding radical groups. I do not mean to be too dismissive of these groups, however there is very little known about what they want so all there is to go off of is association. That being said US's reasoning for arming these groups would be an entirely separate question altogether

Please bear in mind this post is not to make any types of excuses or promote any belief. If you disagree with something and have something that will change my mind please feel free to comment.

Also please note the history source has various comments to party suppression, however to reiterate a point in the answer, it was in the constitution that the country would be single party that is until 2012 when they removed Article 8.

  • 1
    "no other arab countries in that area tolerate any other religion", this phrase is contrary to fact, since around % 10 of Egypt is formed by christian coptes. Also, Lebanon, neighbor of Syria, has % 40 christian population.
    – Kaan E.
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 22:19
  • @KaanE. changed form almost no other to few other. Though I am surprised that Lebanon has 40% christian population. I'll need to read up on them
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 22:30

I have recently listened some conferences from specialists in France on the first part of your question from IReMMO (Institute de Recherche de Méditerranée et de Moyen Orient, which roughly translates to Middle East and Mediterranean Research Institute). You can find the conference in here, this talks about the legitimacy of the Syrian power. You can find another more interesting conference on the role of religion and its instrumentalisation by the state here, Salam Kawakibi speaks about it.

Apparently right before the events of Syrian civil war. Things were already not going well for the regime. According to Ziad Majed, though the regime presented itself as laic, and knew how to work with the interior contradictions of its own society to stay in power, there was unrest among people, which manifested itself from time to time in the street and which met with severe reparations such as imprisonment and even "disappearance". He even mentions that law enforcement "kidnapped" rich people's relatives from time to time to make money.

Majed also mentions that Assad's coming to the power is the second event in the world history that in a parliamentary system the father offered his position to his son, the first case being the North Korea.

An argument from Kawakibi is that the regime had a lot of weight with the religious communities. That is religious communities tend to work closely with the regime. This was also mirrored, he says, by the thanks given to religious leaders after victory in the elections. Though there was a non negligible liberty for opening religious associations, if you are willing to work as the "eye" of the regime. He explicitly states that the Directory of Religion was effectively adjoined to Intelligence Service. As far as Kawakibi goes, he says that by pointing out the religion as the main concept of appartenance, even superior to being a citizen, according to Kawakibi, State increased the piety of the people. This went both ways, meaning the State not only ensured his own existence through religious leaders, but also religious leaders maintained their position as an authority through State. The second part is done, according to Kawakibi, by banning reforms within the religious communities. State, in his words, supported a religion that governed daily life, a religion that pronounces on questions as "how to enter a bathroom", "how to marry one's wife", etc, but not on questions like "can class struggle be considered as a jihad too ?", etc. Regimes goal nowadays, is to make military powers from religious communities, and one christian assyrian leader is demoted from his position for his refusal to contribute to this. I myself, can testify for the piety of a section of Syrian immigrants in Turkey, since I have some friends working in non-governmental organizations.

If I may answer the first part of your question directly, though in theory, Syrian regime was indeed projected itself as a democracy, in practice, the society was repressed severely. However, though Ziad Majed is scholar who is teaching Middle East Studies and International Relations in American University in Paris, i have no idea how biased he actually is on the issue. I simply don't know how all this relates to rebels though.

  • 1
    I cannot find any evidence of Assad being unjustly elected. According to article 88 the parliament nominates a new president and elections are held with in 90 days the vice president which I am surprised exists in syria runs the country until then. I find no evidence to suggest this did not happen. Overall this question seems to be largely speculation, but I won't down vote as it does present some new information. Ziad Majed is also lebanese with a western education so I am skeptical on how much more he knows in relation to what the media reports. Though his book looks interesting.
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 17:29
  • Just wish I could read French
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 17:33
  • 1
    @SCFi It is probably true that the elections were justified according to Syrian law, but its mechanics is probably a little different than what we would have expected, according to Guardian, Assad was previously elected in a referandum in which he was the sole candidate, and the people casted a yes/no ballot. The link: theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/…
    – Kaan E.
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 17:41
  • Yes but that is actually allowed under the constitution though we can say that is definitely 5 points against Progress, but nothing illegal occurred nor was he appointed by his father. As I mentioned in the question it goes Democracy/parlimentary election -> Oligarchy appoints presidential candidates -> Dictatorship when oligarchy is off constitutionally speaking. Also any chance you can elaborate on the restriction of religion in the country or how they make people more pious. I know the head of state has to be a follower of Islam
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 17:45
  • 1
    @SCFi as far as what i've understood from the conference, in the period of election he was actually not eligible due to his young age,36, he was supposed to be 40 for being elected, then they change the constitution in order for him to be a candidate, then he got elected. the religious activities were not necessarily restricted, that's what i meant by non negligible liberty. But I see that the question religion is analysed in another conference, I am editing now.
    – Kaan E.
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 22:15

This depends on terminology you use ("liberal" and "progressive" have different meanings in the US and my country for instance).

The Syrian state order is based on European influence, both Western European and Socialist block. There is also some Islamic component (the president AFAIK should be Muslim and one cannot register as Atheist, etc) but these are quite minor issues.

Now, those people who are called "Liberals" in America (aka "progressives" aka Clinton-Obama-CNN-Qatar-Turkey group) designed the project of "Arab spring" to support rebellions in secular Arab countries with their main force on the ground being Muslim Brotherhood group.

Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists, but maybe not that much radical as Al Qaeda.

  • Not that I don't believe you but can you provide some sources on the third paragraph?
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 17:43

Compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Syria is very moderate, or one could say even progressive for Muslim standards.

Having said that though, Syria is a very repressive dictatorship. So it naturally became an easy target for U.S interventionism, which primary object was to deny Russia a naval base in the Mediterranean Sea and to topple Assad, a Russian ally.

Despite U.S funding the so called moderate rebels, are losing ground. You throw fundamentalists like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra front into the mix, who the the moderate rebels have been cooperating with, still are not able to topple the government. It should be a clear sign the war is over. Will U.S accept that fact or will they keep funding the war at the expense of the Syrian people and the European tax payers? Only time will tell.

  • Made an update to my answer address the dictatorship claim, which seems to be half true.
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 10:37
  • 2
    @SCFi That Ukraine is a democracy is also half true. In a real democracy, you don't kill and threaten MPs belonging to the party of the democratically elected president you just ousted. Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 2:50
  • Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives it has nothing to do with ethics or proper manners. What you described can happen under any system.
    – SCFi
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 10:48
  • 3
    @SCFi Agreed, but it's hardly democratic when the people you want to vote for get murdered, assaulted and threatened to the point where they flee or don't run for re-election. No wonder the rebels in eastern Ukraine rose up. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 3:17

An overriding factor to consider: Syria is very much like Iraq, in that it has a mixed Sunni/Shia population, or more accurately a mixed Sunni/Alawite population, the Alawites being a version of Shia Islam.

In reality, Sunni vs Shia is Arab vs Persian. There is a lot of bad blood between those two groups, has been for over a thousand years, since the very founding of Islam and even before that when the Persians crushed the remains of the Egyptian empire.

Assad and his government are Persian Alawites - which is why Iran supports them. The substantial Arab population in Syria doesn't like the Alawites, which is why the rebel groups are largely Sunni Arab (plus the Kurds, but more on them in a moment). ISIS claims to be based on Sunni Islam, though like most 'radical Islam' groups, they merely cherry pick a few bits of Islam as a recruiting tool. ISIS is, in reality, a group of street thugs looking to accumulate power.

As with Iraq, the two groups only coexist when a brutal dictator keeps them apart. Most likely, as with Iraq, removing that dictator would result in unrestricted individual warfare between the two groups, settling long standing hatred. A bloodbath.

That, not the liberal (or not) nature of the current Syrian government, is the source of the conflict in Syria. Toss in the Kurds, another ethnic group separate from Arabs and Persians. The Kurds reside in northern Iraq, northern Iran, southern Turkey, and eastern Syria, and want their own nation, while Turkey to the north sees the Kurdish rebel groups as stirring up trouble in their country, so Turkey doesn't want a strong Kurdish military building up.

It's a real mess over there. The family feud from hell.

Unfortunately, if one studies history, they find that the only way to resolve Arab/Persian conflict, is to completely separate the two groups.

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