Syria/ 5.1 General legislation  

5.1.1 Constitution

The Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic

This research is being conducted during a period of dramatic transformations which Syria has been experiencing (2011-2013). Although the image is still vague as to what the public policies would get into because of the dramatic changes on the political scene, and thus on the legislative structure as well, we believe that studying the current legislative structure is the foundation, and that change will be made according to the current situation which is “starting from the situation to understand the situation and changing it.” As precise knowledge of laws will allow cultural activists to work on advocacy and get considerable support to change it in a way compatible with their vision, their participation, and the fundamentals of creative and cultural work. This knowledge also allows  to sense legislative flaws that prevent the activation of independent cultural work, far from “services” offered by the Ministry of Culture which is considered the patron, protector, and owner of cultural work in Syria. As well as repairing weaknesses in the legislative structure in such a way that cultural work is returned to its society and to the intellectual and creative sources.

The year 2011 was enriched with law and constitutional transformations in Syria. Along with the political changes and the intense popular movement opposed to the regime, the political authority worked on a “reforms program” which included the law in addition to other fields. There was a referendum on a new constitution, which was put forth by a constitutional commission. The suggested constitution had the acceptance of Syrians by a percentage of 89.4% as the Minister of Interior, Nidal Al Sha’ar, claimed. He also said that out of 8,367,000 voters 57.4%, practiced their right in the referendum, while out of 753,208 voters, 9%, rejected the constitution’s proposal.

We will mention a group of legislative transformations affecting cultural work either directly or indirectly. Some of the important legislations are: the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Civil Society Organizations Law Project, and the Information Law and E-Information Law Draft. In addition to studying the change that happened to the cancellation of the State-Emergency Law which was replaced by the Terrorism Law, as well as issuing alternatively restrictive laws such as the Law of Demonstration.

The Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic was issued on the 13th of March 1973. Since its issuance, the Syrian Constitution has only been modified three times. The first was on April 29, 1980 which requested that Article (6) to be modified. This article was related to the flag of the country, the motto, and the national anthem; the flag of the Unified Arab Republic was removed, as it was to its motto and national anthem which the constitution had previously stated. The second modification was on 3 July 3 1991 which requested that Article (84) to be modified. This article was related to the electing of a new president before the term of the president still in office finishes, and to be within a time-period of not less than one month and not more than six months (it was previously two months). The third modification was on June 11, 2000 which requested Article (83) to be modified. This article was concerned with reducing the nomination age for presidential candidates from 40 to 34 years old to elect Al Assad, the son, as the father’s successor. The modification was endorsed for the first time by the vice-president, due to the president’s death.

The New Constitution

The project of the new constitution for the Syrian Arab Republic in which the “referendum” was carried out in the beginning of 2012, came in favor of the cultural scene. Although, unlike the former constitution, it did not hold any description for the cultural sector whether in the matter of service or development. The constitution considered cultural diversity as one of the fundamental principles that should be reserved, as it was mentioned in the beginning along with national unity, public freedoms, and human rights. Also as part of mentioned were relevant principles, such as the equality of opportunities and citizenship which are necessary principles to reinforce working on the protection of cultural diversity.

Article (4) urges on the usage of Arabic as the official language of the State, which is considered an encouragement for the Arab culture. This encouragement came as a result of the introduction that mentioned the political location of Syria as “the beating heart of Arabism”, in addition to what was mentioned in the first article that people in Syria are part of the Arab Nation. Article (9) guarantees the protection of the Syrian society cultural diversity with all of its components, considering it a national heritage that reinforces national unity in the frame of Syrian territorial unity; giving culture a political dimension and an important role in preserving the cohesion of the various components of Syrian society.

Article (23) reinforces the role of women in culture, stating that the state provides all sorts of opportunities which allows them a comprehensive and active role in the political, economic, social and cultural life. However, Article (25) considers education, health, and social services as fundamental pillars for building the society. The constitution specified “The State works on achieving equal development between all Syrian regions without mentioning culture as one of the components of development work.”|

The fourth chapter specializes all of its articles in cultural and educational principles. Article (28) states that the educational and teaching system aims to build a generation who hold on to their identity, heritage, origin, and national unity; thus, the educational and teaching system should blend in the cultural dimension to achieve integration between the current items and the introduction. As for culture, it maintains an important role in preserving identity, heritage, and national unity.

One of the most important articles in the constitution is article (31) which guarantees the support of the State for the scientific research and all of its needs, as well as cultural, artistic, literary, and scientific freedom while providing the tools to achieve this purpose. It also provides all the help needed for science and art progress, and encourages scientific and artistic inventions along with creative talents and efficiencies while protecting their outcomes.

According to Article (32), the State is in charge of protecting archaeology, archaeological and heritage sites and valuable parts of art, history and culture. The article in the current constitution is considered to be a more noticeable development than the former. Article (34) strongly states that each citizen has the right to contribute to culture, leaving this issue for the relevant laws to organize.

Articles (42 - 2) and (43) adopt freedom of expression by all means and freedom of press and publishing. Moreover, they add an important part related to the independence of informational tools according to the law. Here, we inquire about the law and how it will sponsor the independence of information without interrupting the legitimacy of freedom of expression and information.

Article (147 – 2 – A) states that the Supreme Legitimate Court would hold surveillance over the legitimacy of laws.

The Constitution includes legislations that address the cultural case as embodied in the following articles:

The Socialist National Culture:

Part 3 of Chapter one of the Syrian Constitution addresses the constitutional principles in the educational and cultural domains. Article 21 of this Chapter stipulates that the educational and cultural system aims to” Creating a socialist nationalist Arab generation which is scientifically-minded and attached to its history and land,  proud of its heritage, and filled with  the spirit of struggle to achieve its nation objectives of unity, freedom, and socialism, and to serve humanity and its progress".

Article 23 stipulates that:

The Socialist Nationalist Culture is the base for building the unified socialist Arab society. It seeks to strengthen moral values, to achieve the higher ideals of the Arab Nation, to develop the society, and to serve the causes of humanity. The State undertakes to encourage and to protect this culture.

The encouragement of artistic talents and abilities is one of the bases of the progress and development of the society. Artistic creation is based on close contacts with the people life. The State fosters the artistic talents and abilities of all citizens”.

Article 24 of the same chapter stipulates that “The State protects the rights of authors and inventors who serve the  people interest”.

Other articles are included in the Constitution on woman rights and on rural life; underlying the great interest the State is paying to these two domains on different levels, amongst them the cultural domain:

Woman Rights:, Article 45 set forth in part 4 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution stipulates that the State “Guarantees woman all opportunities, enabling  them to fully and effectively participate in the political, social, cultural, and economic life. The State removes the restrictions that prevent women development and participation in building the Socialist Arab society.

The Rural Life: Article 47 set forth in part 4 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution stipulates that:”TheState guarantees cultural, social, and health services. It especially undertakes to provide these services to villages in order to raise their living standard”.

The Constitution of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party

The legislative texts of the Constitution of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party, the leading Party of the State and Society, are worth considering.

The first principle of the Constitution of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party entitled: “The Arab Nation Unity and Liberty” highlights the national dimension of the Party vision with regard to the Syrian culture by stating that: “the Arab nation is one educational entity. All differences existing amongst its natives are casual and fake. They can be removed by the awakening of the Arab conscience”.

The second principle entitled: “The Arab Nation Character” indicates clearly the Party's support of the freedom of Art by stating that: “The freedom of speech, Assembly, Belief and Art are sacred and that no authority can undermine them”.

Article 41 highlights the Party's vision on “The Culture of the Society”

TermOne:”The Party shall work on establishing a generation, national, Arab, free, progressive, comprehensive, and profound culture. This culture will be generalized amongst all classes of the people”.

Term Two: The state is responsible for the perseverance of the freedom of speech, publication, assembly, protest, and press, within the limits of the supreme Arab national interest, and offering all means and capabilities that shall fulfill this freedom.

Term Three: The intellectual work is one of the most sacred works, and the State has to protect and encourage the intellectuals and the scientists”.

Term Four: “Giving way- within the boundaries of the Arab National Conception-  for the establishment of clubs, association, parties, youth organizations, establishments of tourism, and utilization of cinema, broadcasting, television, and all means of modern civilization on the generalization of the National Education and entertainment of  the people”.

Article 44, on the other hand, confirms: “To stamp all the intellectual, economic, political, constructional and technical phenomena of life with pan-Arab national character that can restore the glorious history of the nation and spur it to look for a more glorious and ideal future”.

Chapter published: 06-05-2016