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Why do Syrian youth refrain from joining political parties?

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Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi 

The Syrian revolution that started in 2011 has driven many young Syrians to participate in and organize civil movements and demonstrations, raising slogans demanding the regime’s departure, political freedom, and power rotation. Nonetheless, this momentum was not translated into political activism in the parties that have declared their opposition to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, despite having more room for political freedom for thousands of young people who left Syria towards Europe.

The Syrian regime of the al-Assad family dominated political life in Syria after the coup of former President Hafez al-Assad, who ousted his fellow Baathists in 1970 and appointed himself as the undisputed leader of Syria in 1971.

In 1972, Hafez al-Assad established the “Progressive National Front (PNF),” which included a number of Syrian parties at the time, before expanding later, with the arrival of Bashar al-Assad to power in 2000.

This monopolization of power has turned political parties into mere names of no real role in opposition, devolution of power, and genuine participation in the Syrian political life.

No trust… Why do Syria’s youth keep themselves away from political parties?

“I have no trust in Syria’s political parties.” These words, by the former member of the “Syrian Communist Party (SCP)– Qasioun wing, Farah Bayezid, to Enab Baladi, reflects an idea that exists among a wide range of young Syrians, whether inside or outside Syria.

Bayezid, who joined the communist party in 2005, believes that the freedom of expression was not only absent in the “al-Baath” party or the Syrian regime, but also extended to other political parties, such as the “Communist” party or the “Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP).”

The “Communist” party has joined the PNF since its establishment in 1972, with the two wings of Khaled Bakdash and Yousef Faisal, while the “Nationalist” party was allowed to attend the PNF’s meetings as an observer in 2001.

For his part, member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Samer Fahad, told Enab Baladi that he does not want to join or participate in Syrian parties because they “cannot attract young people,” who lost trust in the political establishment in general. According to Fahad, these parties are “a mirror that reflects the policy of political family and money, rather than the Syrian youth, who revolted for freedom, social justice, and the construction of the state of law.”

Since the formation of the “Syrian National Council (SNC),” which included a number of Syrian political blocs and currents in 2011, dozens of independent, Islamist, and nationalist political parties were established.

Some of these parties are the Justice and Constitution National Party (Waed Party) established in 2013 in Idlib province, the Republic Party in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which was formed in 2014, and the “Tayar Qamh” led by Haytham Manna, and founded in 2015.

Other political platforms established after 2011 included the “Cairo,” “Moscow,” and “Astana” platforms.

According to Syrian researcher Sasha al-Alou’s book entitled “The Political Emanations of the Syrian Revolution,” published in 2018 by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, three political and coalition bodies emerged in Syria between 2011 and 2012, besides the Waed Party, the Syrian National Movement, and the “Mother Syria Movement.” According to the book, these bodies are Islamist movements and parties that share the Muslim Brotherhood movement’s ideology.

The book mentioned that nine national political emanations, including the “Republic Party, the Syrian Democratic Party (SDP), and the “Building the Syrian State” current have emerged after the Syrian Revolution.

According to the book, five political platforms have emerged after the uprising in Syria, along with the “Kurdish National Council,” the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES),” as well as Turkmen political emanations, which al-Alou classified as nationalist political emanations.

Still, the lack of trust for the Syrian youth in the Political scene does not seem to be the only reason that keeps them from joining the Syrian political parties.

Mohammed al-Hamawi, a young Syrian living in Germany, nominated himself for municipal elections, designated to elect an advisory board for the municipal council on immigration and integration. Al-Hamawi said to Enab Baladi that “he did not try to reach for Syrian parties and formations, nor did they reach him.”

Al-Hamawi, who is a 31-years old electronic engineer from Darya city in Rif Dimashq province, said that at one point, he lost the ability to recognize and differentiate the many organizations, institutions, and formations that appeared after the Syrian revolution. Therefore, he lost all curiosity to learn about them, according to his expression.

He added that most of the Syrian youth did not participate in any political activities before the revolution, for they were occupied by securing a living, which is to them more important than giving an opinion about a subject. Al-Hamawi added, politics is practiced in stabled conditions not, war, and the participation in the revolution was “mistakenly classified as a practice of politics.”

While the member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Samer Fahad, thinks that the Syrian youths, in general, kept themselves away from political participation for reasons beyond their control and as a result of the “western dictations to politicians and military figures controlling the political and military situation in Syria.”

Moreover, the countries that influence the Syrian political scene did not contribute to establishing a representative group for the Syrian youth in the international conferences, according to Fahad.

Profound effects on young people’s thinking structure

For his part, Syrian sociology professor Talal Mustafa said to Enab Baladi that the changes that struck Syria after the revolution, the war, and asylum, led to “profound effects on the social and political aspects of Syrian youth thinking structure. He added, this affected their attitudes and perceptions of current and future realities For Syria.

Mustafa said, the Syrian youth considered the new parties an opposition to the regime but only in form, for in political actions, the new parties are in line with the practices of the Syrian regime and the al-Baath Party. Therefore, Syrian young people found themselves detached from these parties.”

As for the Syrian political researcher Hassan al-Nifi, he thinks that there is a “state of estrangement” between Syrian politics and society. This state has developed from the fact that the political action itself was not available under the al-Assad’s rule, to the extent of prohibition that would lead violators to dire consequences.

Thus, this political taboo or “criminalization” has had a profound effect not only on Syrian citizens’ refrain from practicing politics but also promoted the distortions of intellectual and psychological concepts of politics in the collective unconscious level, al-Nifi said.

Al-Nifi based his opinion on the fact that the Syrian youth’s reluctance and extreme caution of political engagement comes from considering it a risk with severe repercussions. Surprisingly, this belief still exists despite the disappearance of its reasons, al-Nifi added.

He said, a large segment of Syrian youth views the Syrian political parties with a mixture of mistrust and suspicion.

How does youth absence affect Syrian political life and society?

According to sociology professor Talal Mustafa, political parties are a tool for reaching power based on a legal system, which legislates the issue of power alternation and allows political competition to reach power through elections, and that is why the Syrian youth did not find the parties eligible for the next stage.

Mustafa pointed out the legislative environment necessary for the establishment of political parties. This environment sets the parties’ framework and legal standards governing their work within the future Syrian state.

Besides, he looked forward to the emergence of political parties devoid of ideologies, and thus not affiliated ideologically to parties outside Syria.

These political parties should adopt practical programs that serve Syrians first, as their continuation’s criteria must be their ability to give to Syrians. At the same time, the parties should believe in others’ right to come to power to serve Syrians, according to Mustafa.

Even though the Syrian regime issued Legislative Decree No. 100 in 2011, which regulated Syria’s political parties’ work, it continued to suppress the voices that opposed it inside Syria.

The Syrian security forces in Damascus arrested the Secretary-General of the Youth Party for Development and Alteration, Parwin Ibrahim, for participating in a protest stand in front of the People’s Council of Syria, in coincidence with its first session after the elections.

The “Youth” party confirmed through its “Facebook” account on 10 August that Ibrahim was arrested in front of the People’s Council, along with three other party members, Basil Hokan, Jafar Mashhadiya, and another member from Aleppo, while they were protesting with other parties, as reported by “Rudaw” news website.

In 2012, the Syrian regime established the Counter-terrorism Court (CTC) under Law 22 of 2012, which is more similar to a “new security branch” as the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) described it.

Through this court, the vast majority of detained human rights activists, politicians, media professionals, and protesters are prosecuted, whom the Syrian regime issues accumulated accusations against them, such as the charge of “terrorism.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime’s detention centers still hold about 130,000 Syrian detainees from March 2011 to March 2020, including 7,913 women and 3,561 children, equivalent to 88.53 percent of the total number of detainees in all Syrian regions, according to the database that the SNHR built during the last nine years.

Moreover, by besieging and detaining Syrian citizens who wish to practice political work inside Syria, the regime contributes to killing any chances for political life in the country.

Political parties play cultural and social roles, besides their role in the rotation of power, the preservation of laws and the constitution, and ensuring a smooth transition of power between the parties.

In addition, the absence of political life and communication between political parties and youth is a problem for Syria’s political future, as it indicates the traditional mentality’s continuation in political work, according to professor Mustafa.

Mustafa added that this indication means that there are future adverse effects on Syria’s political development issues, which will reach what he called “an ageing phase in the Syrian political work. “

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