Legal Tradition Overview

The new political parties, notably the Ba’th and the Communists, utilized the socioeconomic unrest in Syria at that time — due mainly to the unequal distribution of the means of production in both the urban centers and the countryside — as well as the political instability and the aspirations of the middle class to increase their political participation. Many of the disaffected, particularly among the rural lower-middle class and young members of the minorities (including Hafiz al-Asad himself), were recruited by the party (Jan, 2006 p.79).

However, for the young members of the minorities, the army continued to be the major avenue for socioeconomic mobility (Campbell, 1999 p. 314). Many of them were promoted in rank, mainly by senior Ba’th officers who strove to increase their influence in the army. Over time, the new recruits rose through the ranks of the military hierarchy (Hopwood, 1999 p. 526).

By the mid-1950s, Syria’s political parties, particularly the new parties, the Ba’th party, the Syrian National party and the Communist party, had come to the conclusion that the parliamentary system and the political structure could not help them to gain power in the country (DeLong and Lukeman, 2004 p. 72). These young officers, including Asad, played a prominent role in the March 1963 Bath revolution. While these officers exploited the party and its old civilian leaders for their purposes, in practice they adopted the party’s ideology, mainly in the socioeconomic arena (Campbell, 1999 p.

314). The major socioeconomic changes, which began during the union with Egypt were further reinforced under the Bath rule and the neo-Ba’th regime that followed (February 1966—November 1970). At that juncture, following the February 1966 coup deta, the temporary and unprecedented cooperation between the Bath officers from the various religious sects was terminated (Hopwood, 1999 p. 520). The Alawi officers, led by Salah, Jadid and Asad, enjoyed superiority in both the army and the parry commands, and eventually overcame the Druze officers.

Yet, during the neo-Bath period, the sectarian factor was not the only reason for the struggle among the new Syrian leaders (Hopwood, 1999 p. 521). This struggle, which began in February 1966, surfaced in February 1969 and ended in November 1970 with the victory of Asad, who became the supreme Syrian leader (Dana, 2003 p. 289). In 1987, the Syrian Council of Ministers had last been positionally modified in April 1985. Prime Minister Abd ar Rauf al Kassim headed the council with three depute prime ministers, who also handled managements on country’s economic affairs, and defense (Dana, 2003 p.289).

Moreover, the legal and judicial transitional system that has emerged since the I980s in Syria is not built on military force, patronage, confessional ties, corruption and other rather uncivil means of control alone. The institutions of a modern state, as outlined, have actually been established, although, under the system of authoritarian rule, which they have so far been furnishing, they do not play their role (Lawson, 1996 p. 314).

Regarding the general interest in the maintenance of stability and in a smooth transition, there is a chance, therefore, that these institutions — parliament, government, the judiciary — may develop and play their role more fully. One should not preclude that in order to prevent chaos and destruction, Syria’s military and security strongmen—much like their Egyptian counterparts after the assassination of Sadat—could respect constitutional rules (Hopwood, 1999 p. 527).

It is likely that they would do so on certain conditions; these might be, in particular, that parliament only nominate a presidential candidate whom the military supports, that military budgets not be cut over-proportionally and a modernization of the armed forces be allowed, and that, analogous to several Latin American cases, the security apparatus be indemnified against any prosecution for crimes and offences committed during the Asad years (Campbell, 1999). Another transitional event that occurred in the legal system was during 1987 wherein Syrian courts moved in three-tiered system in addition to the state security courts.

The Court of Cassation from Damascus became the Supreme Court and the head court of appeals, which possessed the authority to manage both jurisdictional and judicial controversies (Watson, 2003 p. 98). Next, the Court of Cassation has been designated differently as magistrate courts, summary courts, and peace courts, which courts of appeal and at the lowest level were courts of first level. In addition, the ground level was juvenile and other special courts, and an administrative tribunal known as the Council of State (Dana, 2003 p. 289).