Citizenship legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Author:Davis, Uri

Editor's Note: This article is the second part of an ongoing research project titled "Creating the Basis for Democracy in the Middle East: Conceptions of Citizenship in the Levant". The first portion of the research appeared in Arab Studies Quarterly, Volume 17, Numbers 1 and 2, Winter-Spring 1995, and was titled, "Jinsiyya versus Muwatana: The Question of Citizenship and the State in the Middle East - The Case of Israel, Jordan and Palestine." The research project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham. Dr. Davis works on the project with Prof. Tim Niblock.


In February 1973 Israel was rocked by the political trial of Daud Turki, Udi Adiv and Dan Vered, together with their comrades in the Red Front. The trial marked a milestone in the history of the democratic and anti-Zionist opposition in Israel. It transpired that the Red Front, a splinter offshoot of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen in the early 1970s) aimed to form a common anti-Zionist military resistance underground for Arabs and Jews inside Israel and link forces with the PLO resistance to Zionism and the Israeli occupation. Some thirty people, Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, were brought to trial. In the course of the trial it became known that Udi Adiv traveled clandestinely to Damascus via Athens to meet PLO resistance leaders. The case - dubbed by the Hebrew press as the "Syrian spy ring trial" - was to become the most sensational political trial in Israel to date. Udi Adiv and Daud Turki were sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment each. Dan Vered received ten years. Israel and Syria were on the war path and later in the same year, the third Israeli-Arab war to rock the region, the October 1973 war, was launched as a successful joint Egyptian-Syrian attack against Israeli forces in the occupied Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.

Twenty-one years later, where my friend and anti-Zionist militant Udi Adiv could only step clandestinely, I could walk legally. In November 1994, I was issued a visa on my British papers to visit Damascus in my capacity as Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham, to carry out fieldwork on Syrian citizenship legislation. To remove the slightest possibility of "misunderstanding" I made sure in the correspondence with the Syrian Embassy in London to explicitly register the fact that, though traveling on British papers, I was a dual citizen of Israel and Britain. I returned to Durham and in December of the same year I traveled to Tel Aviv. Israel and Syria are today on the path of peace negotiations. Unlike Udi Adiv, I was not arrested. It is my privilege and honor, however, to acknowledge Udi Adiv's pioneering contribution to the development of the common Arab-Hebrew struggle for equal rights and for the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These same values guide and inform this research project as well.

In these twenty-one years, the political geography of the Middle East has significantly changed. And in the context of these changes, the State of Israel has also changed. Three successive major regional wars represent important milestones in the process: the 1973 war (representing a joint Egyptian-Syrian initiative to break the international diplomatic deadlock of the Gunar Jarring UN mediation and force the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967); the 1982 Israeli invasion of the Lebanon (highlighting the failed attempt by Israel to eliminate the PLO out of the political equation of the area); and the 1990-91 Gulf war (confirming U.S. hegemony over the region and re-aligning the area in terms of the Middle East regional peace process launched in Madrid in October 1991).

Within a decade of the 1973 war the first peace treaty between Israel and a neighboring Arab state, the Egyptian Arab Republic, was signed. Within five years of the 1982 war Israel faced a protracted, mass Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, leading to the recognition of the PLO by Israel as the representative of the Palestinian people. And within five years of the 1991 war we are likely to witness the finalizing of peace treaties between the government of the State of Israel and the governments of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Lebanon.

As a critic of the current Middle East regional peace process, this writer is placed in a moral and a conceptual junction that could, perhaps, be best understood by way of an analogy to a young adult who came into a huge inheritance after the death of one or both parents. There is no question that a young adult who inherited a large fortune after the death of a parent could put the fortune to good application. But it is a moral, logical and emotional fallacy to conclude that because the inherited fortune could be put to good use by the beneficiary offspring, it is "a good thing" that the parent died.

There is no question that the current peace process between Israel and the neighboring Arab states is predicated, inter alia, on the defeat of my organization, the PLO. Like the death of a parent it is a tragedy for the Palestinian people that the PLO has been defeated, resulting in the hugely damaging Declaration of Principles on Self-government Arrangements (DOP) signed by Israel and the PLO in Washington DC in September 1993 and the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area signed by the same parties in Cairo in May 1994. And like an inheritance, Israel's recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and the consequent Middle East peace process could be put to good application.

The Middle East after the Gulf war is as different from the Middle East before the Gulf war as Europe after World War II is different from Europe before World War II. It is indeed a "New Middle East."

Recognizing the positive prospects of a "New Middle East" does not entail and should not imply moral and political endorsement of most past wars in the region. And identifying in the current peace process between Israel and the neighboring Arab states opportunities for "good development" does not imply moral and political endorsement of Israeli criminal policy regarding the question of Palestine. Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, the DOP and the Cairo Agreement notwithstanding, remains totally negative in that it continues to rest on occupation, colonization and legal apartheid.

The ultimate irony of the current circumstance could well be that the peace currently forged between the Government of Israel and the governments of the neighboring Arab states will unite them in a coalition of war against the Palestinian people. It is at the flashpoint of this emerging anti-Palestinian "peace" coalition that new alliances in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people will emerge. These alliances will, broadly speaking, fall-into two classes: one, an alliance based on political Islam; second, an alliance based on the principles of universal human rights, first and foremost the right of every man and woman to citizenship.

This work, as all of my work, is dedicated to inform the emergence of this second alliance. We are united in membership in the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Middle East is in many ways truly our region. We have, as scholars and intellectuals, personal responsibility to our region, and within this responsibility it is our duty to make the best contribution we can to assure that the "New Middle East" becomes a better place for its citizens. It is the author's contention that an examination of the question of citizenship and the state in the Middle East is a useful and illuminating conceptual vehicle to negotiate the question of how to make the "New Middle East" a better place for all the peoples of the region.

The fieldwork for the study of citizen legislation in the Syrian Arab Republic was carried out during my first visit to the country in November 1994. Having visited Syria and completed my fieldwork, I took back with me to the United Kingdom an unresolved question. How is it that a state with relatively progressive and enlightened legislation gave birth to the current authoritarian regime of the Socialist Arab Ba'th Party?

I am not sure about the answer but I am aided by my interview with Sadiq al-Azm, who pointed out that what the Constitution says can make a material difference in determining the politics of any state. The fact that the Syrian Arab Republic is constitutionally a Parliamentary democracy could have identifiable implications regarding its future. For instance, however hard President Hafiz al-Asad may attempt to establish a ruling Asad dynasty in Syria, he is likely to fail, largely because Syria has been formally established as a constitutional republic, not like the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which is constitutionally a "parliamentary dynastic monarchy". It is therefore nearly impossible in Syria to legitimize a dynastic regime. When democratic political changes in Syria bring down the authoritarian Ba'th regime, the fact that there exists in Syria a functioning constitutional Parliament will make a huge and positive difference toward the success of replacing the current rule with a democratic alternative.


The Syrian Republic was founded in 1943 two years after the occupation of Syria by Allied forces (British, Commonwealth and Free French Forces) in 1941. Elections held in 1943 resulted in the victory of the National Bloc and the appointment of Shukri al-Quwatli as its first elected President. The last French soldiers left Syrian Republic territory in April 1946, which is regarded as the year of Syrian independence. A constitutional amendment allowed al-Quwatli to be re-elected to office following the victory of the National Bloc in the 1947 elections.

Syria's short...

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