Syria’s cabinet has approved a bill that would allow the formation of new political parties in the country for the first time in 48 years, the official SANA government news agency reported Monday.
The report claimed the law was passed “as part of the directives of the political reform program and the efforts to enrich and revitalize political life, share responsibility and alternate the possession of power.”
The Washington Post noted, however, that the terms of the new law are so restrictive, that the move seems unlikely to defuse the uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
According to SANA, the new law requires parties to be vetted by a government committee and to pledge allegiance to the constitution. However, The Post noted that the Syrian constitution in its current form guarantees the supremacy of the ruling Baath Party.
The law also prohibits parties that are formed on a “religious, tribal, regional, denominational, or profession-related basis or on the basis of discrimination due to ethnicity, gender or race.” The Post noted that these restrictions would exclude Islamist parties, as well as those formed by Kurds and other minority groups.
The law was passed as violence continues to rage throughout Syria. On Friday, the biggest protest yet against Assad took place in the province of Deir al-Zor. Assad responded by replacing the local governor.
Last Thursday, Assad’s troops stormed several neighborhoods in Homs, firing machines guns and pulling people from their homes in a series of arrests.
Last week the army surrounded the eastern Syrian town of Albu Kamal after 30 soldiers defected following the killing of four protesters in the town.
Syrian opposition groups, meanwhile, rejected the new parties law, saying it is evidence that the Syrian government is not serious about democracy.
The Washington Post cited the opposition members as saying they would not accept any reforms promulgated by the current government unless they are negotiated with the opposition, which rejects all talks as long as tanks remain on the streets and thousands of people are detained.
Shakeeb al-Jabri, a founding member of a new Syrian political group by the name of the National Bloc, told The Post the new law is “absolutely useless,” and added his group will not be racing to register “because we would have to pledge the supremacy of the Baath Party.”
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview with The Post that the new law “shows that the regime is desperate. They realize the security solution isn’t working so they’re trying these Band-Aid measures.”
Tabler added that “no one’s going to believe that the political system is going to open up when a political party has to be approved by a committee appointed by the regime.”
He noted that the timing of the move likely reflects Assad’s concern about the upcoming month of Ramadan, which protesters are hoping will give them new momentum.
According to Tabler, evening prayers at the end of any Ramadan fasting day would provide a new opportunity for crowds to gather and protest. He noted that any death during the holy month “is going to supercharge the political tensions and the sectarian tensions.”