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Constitutional history of
Syria

The Syrian Arab Republic, once the home of the Ottoman Empire, covers approximately 185,000 square kilometers of land in the heart of the Middle East. On the west, it is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, and it shares the rest of its borders with many other Arab states. Syria is bordered by Lebanon and Israel in the southwest, Jordan in the south, Iraq in the east, and Turkey in the north. As of 2019, Syria has a population of 17.07 million people (decreased from 21.4 million in 2010). Aleppo is the largest city with 2.13 million people, and the capital of Damascus is second largest with 1.41 million. Syria is a multiethnic society. The majority of the population is Arab and Sunni Muslim, but there are small communities of Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shiahs, and Jews. The minority Alawites have maintained control over political power since the early 1970s.

Constitutional history

The Ottoman Empire ruled the area that is now Syria from 1516 until the end of World War I. When Allied forces overran the Middle East during World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Its former territories were divided into British and French spheres of influence in April 1920 at the San Remo Conference, which formalized a 1919 British-Franco agreement on revising the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. French claims to parts of (Greater) Syria – the four cities of inland Syria (Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo) and lands stretching from the north of Palestine to Cilicia, the Mediterranean coast (Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Tripoli, Tartous and Latakia), Mount Lebanon, and the port of Alexandretta – were legitimized in international law under the mandate system established unilaterally in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

However, on 8 March 1920, a geographically representative Syrian National Congress declared the region of Greater Syria to be the sovereign Arab Kingdom of Syria with Faisal bin Hussein as king (the Congress was elected in 1919 according to a two-tier electoral law and by delegates from the most recent Ottoman elections of 1913). The Arab Kingdom of Syria claimed the “natural borders” of the greater Syria region – inclusive of inland, coastal, and Palestinian zones, and expressly including Palestine and Mount Lebanon.

The Syrian National Congress, acting as a constituent assembly, negotiated and approved (in principle) a constitution for the Kingdom on 5 July 1920. It established a secular constitutional monarchy and civil parliamentary regime built on the principles of justice and equality among religious communities. The ratification process was never completed. On 25 July 1920, French troops, acting under the French Mandate from the League of Nations, forcibly occupied the capital of Damascus and expelled Faisal bin Hussein from Syria. The Kingdom of (Greater) Syria lasted for 22 months, from October 1918 to July 1920.

This French occupation was followed by an almost 50-year period of constitutional instability characterized by the adoption, suspension, and restoration of different constitutional charters and the piecing together of the territorial political entities that would become the modern state of Syria.

In 1928, delegates elected to a constituent assembly formulated a constitution that established the First Republic of Syria. It provided for a parliamentary system of government with an indirectly elected president, a unicameral legislature, and a High Court composed of 15 judges. In substance, the draft also asserted a nationalist agenda and pathway to independence, in part by calling for the reunification of all partitioned territories. The French initially rejected the draft as encroaching on their mandate. However, in 1930, the French High Commissioner unilaterally adopted the charter, but with key alterations to scale back the scope of nationalist territorial claims (Art. 2) and assert that no provision of the constitution could counter the power of the French Mandate (Art. 116). This 1930 Constitution formed the basis for all future constitutions.

The French suspended the 1930 Constitution briefly in 1933 and then again from 1939 to 1943. Both suspensions related to contentious negotiations over a Syrian-French treaty to replace the French Mandate. The Constitution remained suspended through the years of war while Syria was governed by the Vichy government in France. In 1943 the 1930 Constitution was restored and amended; the Syrian parliament voted to withdraw recognition of the French Mandate (Art. 116), but to retain the provision regarding the extent of the Syrian territory (Art. 2). As a consequence, the boundaries of the modern state of Syria – as an entity separate from that of Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan – took shape. The amended 1930 Constitution remained the basic law upon Syria’s independence from France in 1946.

Three years later in 1949, the 1930 Constitution was again suspended as part of a series of military coups over several months. It was replaced with a new constitution promulgated in 1950. The 1950 Constitution expanded the Bill of Rights which newly included articles relating to land and education. For the first time, a Syrian constitution stated that fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) was to be the main source of legislation (Art. 3). This provision would be retained in all future constitutions.

The 1950 Constitution was dissolved in 1951 following a military coup, which resulted in yet another charter. The 1953 Constitution mandated that instead of the President being elected by the Parliament, he would be elected by a direct popular vote. However, the 1950 Constitution was restored in 1954 after yet another coup. Syria’s attempt in 1958 to join the United Arab Republic with Egypt effectively suspended the existing constitutional framework. When a military coup ended this experiment in 1961, the 1950 Constitution was again restored. It was replaced again briefly in 1962 through a series of negotiated amendments during an extraordinary session of the assembly following another coup. One of these amendments involved adopting the title ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ as the country’s name.

In 1963, the Ba’ath Party took power in what is officially called the ‘Revolution of 8 March’. Leaders established the National Council of the Revolutionary Command to exercise executive, legislative, and judicial authority; they also imposed a state of emergency that ultimately lasted until 2011. In 1964, a provisional constitution was promulgated by decree, which reorganized executive and legislative power and declared the state to be a sovereign socialist popular democratic republic with a pan-Arab orientation. It also retained the title of Syrian Arab Republic.

In 1966, the Ba’ath party was taken over in a violent coup by its more radical wing. The new leadership suspended the 1964 provisional constitution and produced another provisional charter in 1969. The party split in 1970 when a group of more moderate party members under General Hafiz al-Assad seized power. Assad was elected as the new president in 1971, and on 14 March 1973, he promulgated a new constitution following adoption by referendum. Apart from some periodic amendments, including changes expressed in the new 2012 Constitution adopted under mounting pressure from demonstrators, the 1973 Constitution continues to frame Syria’s governance structure.

1973 Constitution

The Syrian Constitution of 1973 was drafted by an appointed People’s Assembly under the strong guidance of Hafiz al-Assad. The Constitution adopted five socialist-nationalist principles which stressed the unity of the Arab world. The first stated that the Syrian revolution was part of a larger Arab revolution. The second stated that any threats to an Arab nation are threats to the Arab world and committed Syria to the fight against Zionism and imperialism. The third established a socialist order as a fundamental necessity for Arab mobilization, while the fourth principle asserted that freedom is a sacred right and democracy is the ideal form of government. The fifth and final principle stated that the Arab revolution is part of a worldwide liberation movement instead of an isolated phenomenon. Like all Syrian constitutions since 1950, the 1973 Constitution provided that Islam is the official religion of the President and the Republic and that legislation is to be governed by fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). It divided power between the President, the Prime Minister, the legislature, and the courts. It also entrenched the constitutional power of the Ba’ath Party as the leader of “society and the state” and head of the National Progressive Front, effectively establishing a one-party system (Art. 8).

Executive branch

The Executive Branch under the 1973 Constitution was headed by the President who was the Head of State, the leader of the Ba’ath Party, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (Art. 103). The President was elected to a seven-year term (Art. 85). The candidates for President were presented by the People’s Council from among their ranks at the suggestion of the regional leadership of the Ba’ath Party, and the candidacy was then submitted to the people by referendum (Art. 84). The President’s executive powers included upholding the constitution (Art. 93) and developing national policy (Art. 94). The President also assumed legislative powers when the Assembly was not in session or when such action was “extremely necessary” (Art. 111). He could declare and end war (Art. 100), appoint and dismiss civilian and military officials (Art. 109), conclude international treaties (Art. 104), grant pardons (Art. 105), and bestow decorations (Art. 106). The President could also directly submit issues for referendum to the people (Art. 112). The President was assisted in his tasks by a Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, all of whom were appointed by him (Art. 95). It was the task of the Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister, to supervise the enforcement of laws and policies and to oversee the functioning of the government (Art. 127).

Legislative branch

The unicameral Parliament of Syria is the People’s Assembly. The 1973 Constitution restored direct election of the Assembly’s members (which had been suspended for the previous 12 years), but under a system dominated by the Ba’ath party. Its 250 members were elected to four-year terms (Art. 51). At least one-half of the seats in the People’s Assembly were reserved for peasants (الفلاحين) and workers (Art. 53). The Assembly had the power to pass laws, nominate the President, approve development plans and the budget, ratify treaties, accept or reject a member’s resignation, and pass a no-confidence vote in the Council of Ministers or any Minister (Art. 71). Members of the People’s Assembly were immune from criminal and civil proceedings while in office, unless they were caught in the act or the Speaker or majority of the Assembly agreed to lift the immunity (Art. 67).

Judicial branch

By law (rather than constitutional provision), the Syrian judicial system was divided between secular and religious courts, as well as many specialized courts established by law. The secular courts had jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters; however, there were separate courts of appeals and a court of assizes for major crimes. The Court of Cassation heard appeals regarding law and procedure, with sections devoted to criminal, civil, military, commercial, religious, and real estate matters. There were religious courts as well, with separate courts for Christians, Jews, and non-Muslims with jurisdiction over cases concerning personal matters.

Some of the judicial system was also established by constitutional provision. A Council of State had jurisdiction over administrative cases (Art. 138). The independence of the judicial branch was guaranteed by the President with the assistance of a Higher Council of the Judiciary. The formulation, powers, and procedures of the Higher Council of the Judiciary, as well as the organization of the judicial system and the appointment, promotion, transfer, discipline and removal of judges were established by law (Art. 132). The highest court of Syria was the Supreme Constitutional Court, and its five members were appointed by the President by decree (Art. 139). They had the authority to decide on the constitutionality of laws before promulgation if requested to do so by the President or one-fourth of the members of the People’s Assembly (Art. 145). The Court could not review the constitutionality of laws passed by referendum (Art. 146), but it did have the power to oversee the constitutionality of elections (Art. 144).

The Arab Spring and Civil War

In the wake of the Arab Spring that swept the Middle East in early 2011, the entire Syrian political establishment was subject to intense pressure from protesters demanding political reform. Chief amongst their calls was the repeal of the 1963 Emergency Law (that had been a basis for restricting freedoms for more than 30 years), the departure of President Bashar al-Assad (son of Hafiz al-Assad, who became president upon his father’s death in 2000), and constitutional reforms – particularly the removal of Article 8 which secured the Ba’ath Party’s control of power. Peaceful protests began in Syria in March 2011, which the regime responded to with violent force, killing hundreds of protesters and imprisoning even more.[1] Beginning with the formation of the Free Syrian Army from military defectors in July 2011, the conflict in Syria became more sectarian and more violent.[2] President Bashar refused to step down, although he enjoined the government to repeal the Emergency Law, removed certain corrupt officials, released some political prisoners, and abolished the Supreme Court of State Security.

On 16 October 2011, President Bashar appointed a 29-personConstitutional Commission by executive order to draft a new constitution.[3]; The Commission completed its work in early February 2012 and the draft was presented to the public for referendum on 26 February 2012.[4]; Syrian state-run television announced that the referendum passed with 89.4% voting in favor of the constitution draft and about 9% voting against, with a turnout of 57.4% of eligible voters.[5]; By this time, civil conflict and violence were already rampant.[6]; The ongoing violence made it difficult or impossible to count votes from rebel-held regions of the country. Additionally, it was reported that Assad supporters made up the vast majority of those who participated in the referendum; the vote was widely boycotted by those opposed to Assad and those doubting the legitimacy of the drafting and referendum process.[7]

The 2012 Constitution

The 2012 Constitution, while it contains several innovations that in theory reflect substantive democratic reforms, does not represent a fundamental departure from the 1973 Constitution. Perhaps the most significant change is the removal of Article 8 of the 1973 Constitution which had effectively established a single party system founded upon the Ba’ath Party. In response to demands of the opposition, the 2012 Constitution established a multiparty system based on the principle of political pluralism (Art. 8). The new Constitution also expanded citizens’ political rights by enumerating rights of assembly, peaceful protest, and association (Arts. 43-45). The 2012 Constitution also includes provisions protecting cultural diversity and banning political activities or parties created on the basis of religious, sectarian, racial, regional, class-based, professional, or gender discrimination (Arts. 8, 33). Although the new Constitution limits the president’s term of office to a maximum of two seven-year terms (Art. 88), the provision is not retroactive (Art. 155). The practical effect of this non-retroactivity is that President Bashar al-Assad could serve an additional 14 years in office following the next election (held in 2014).

Despite its reforms, the 2012 Constitution was criticized by Syrian opposition because of its exclusionary adoption procedure, lack of separation of powers, and continued centralization of power in the President.

Executive Branch

The executive branch underwent limited changes under the 2012 Constitution. Most significantly, the President is now directly elected in open competition (by absolute majority with a run-off election if necessary) instead of proposed by the Ba’ath Party, and need no longer be “Syrian Arab” but only of Syrian nationality by birth (Art. 86).[8] The President is now limited to serving two seven-year terms (Art. 88). Like the 1973 Constitution, the 2012 Constitution empowers the President to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and other ministers (Art. 97). The President retains the power to appoint and remove both civilian and military officials (Art. 106). The President also retains the power to declare a state of emergency, but with a new caveat: the declaration can be repealed with a two-thirds majority vote of the Council of Ministers (Art. 103).[9]

The President’s powers in relation to the legislature remain substantially the same as in the 1973 Constitution. The President has the same veto power over legislation offered by the Assembly, which can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote (Art. 100). The President can also dissolve the People’s Assembly (Art. 111) and draft legislation for the consideration and approval of the Assembly (Art. 112). In cases of “absolute necessity” or when the People’s Assembly is not in session, the President can even assume legislative authority, and legislative acts taken by the President remain in effect except by revocation or amendment supported by an absolute majority of the entire Assembly (Art. 113) (revocation or amendment, however, does not have retroactive effect).

Legislative Branch

Legislative power under the 2012 Constitution is still held by the single-chamber People’s Assembly (Art. 55), whose members are elected to four-year terms (Art. 56). It is still constitutionally mandated that half of this body be elected from workers and peasants (الفلاحين) (Art. 60). The body may submit a vote of no-confidence against the Cabinet or Ministers or a specific minister, upon questioning by the Assembly, proposal by at least one-fifth of the Assembly, and vote by a majority of the Assembly (Art. 77).

Judicial Branch

Like the 1973 Constitution, the 2012 Constitution declares the judiciary independent, and assigns the President (and the Supreme Judicial Council, which the President heads) as the protector of judicial independence (Arts. 132-133). The Supreme Constitutional Court was extended from five members to at least seven members, but all are still appointed by presidential decree (Art. 141), so independence is not safeguarded. Constitutional Court members continue to serve four-year renewable terms (Art. 143). As under the 1973 Constitution, the Constitutional Court retains the power to exercise constitutional review, regulate and consider challenges to elections, express opinions on the constitutionality of draft laws upon request, and try the President in the case of high treason (Arts. 146-147). The Constitutional Court is still denied the power of constitutional review over laws passed by referendum (Art. 148).

The 2012 Constitution also establishes the Administrative Judiciary and places it under the authority of the State’s Council (Art. 139). Much of the rest of the judiciary system is regulated by law (Arts. 135-136).

Constitutional Amendments

The amendment process under the 2012 Constitution is slightly modified. Either the President or one-third of the members of the People’s Assembly (down from two-thirds in 1973) may propose a constitutional amendment (Art. 150).[10] The amendment then must be accepted by at least three-fourths of the Assembly (up from two-thirds) as well as the President.

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and Proposed Constitutional Change

After years of further violence and political crisis in Syria, on 18 December 2015 the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2254.[11] This Resolution called for the UN Secretary-General to immediately begin efforts to bring the Syrian government and opposition groups into formal negotiations over a peaceful, “Syria-led, Syria-owned” political transition.[12] These negotiations were to include setting a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution for Syria.[13] The Resolution also supported holding new “free and fair elections” in Syria within 18 months. These requests amounted to an endorsement of the transition plan generated by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG). The UN Secretary-General, UN Member States, and particularly the ISSG (as a subset of Member States and other organizations) were tasked with helping to achieve a nationwide ceasefire in Syria as quickly as possible.[14]

At the end of 2016, Russia, Turkey, and Iran united efforts to broker a nationwide ceasefire on 28 December 2016.[15] Shortly afterward, Russia hosted the leaders of several Syrian opposition groups in Moscow (although some opposition groups refused to attend) and presented them with a constitution for Syria that Russia had unilaterally drafted.[16] Key changes proposed by the Russian draft were: more inclusivity by dropping the word “Arab” from Syria’s official name (Syrian Arab Republic); decentralization through the establishment of a “Constituent Assembly” or “Assembly of Regions” as a second chamber to the legislature; and a single seven-year term for the presidency.[17] The Russian draft, however, was rejected by both the Syrian government and the opposition groups, primarily because it was not the product of a Syrian-led process.[18]

The Syrian Constitutional Committee

While the Syrian government slowly gained military victory over opposition forces, the United Nations continued efforts to facilitate political transition in Syria. In January 2018, at a Syrian peace conference hosted by Russia, parties agreed to the formation of a Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC).[19] On 23 September 2019, the UN Secretary-General announced the creation of the “Syrian-organized and Syrian-led” Constitutional Committee, to include representatives from both the Syrian government and opposition forces.[20]

The SCC consists of 150 members divided equally among three blocs: the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition (more specifically the Syrian Negotiations Committee, although opposition bloc SCC members are from a variety of opposition groups), and the “Middle Third” whose representatives are nominated by the UN to represent Syrian civil society.[21] About 27.3% of SCC members are women, with about 46% of these women are nominated from the UN bloc.[22] Within the SCC is a smaller constitution drafting committee consisting of 45 members, again with 15 each representing the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, and Syrian civil society. [23] The constitution drafting committee is tasked with either reforming the 2012 Constitution or drafting a new one, and has met several times in Geneva: in April 2019,[24] November 2019, [25] August 2020, [26] January 2021,[27] and February 2021.[28] The February 2021 talks ended with little or no progress and no date set for the next round of talks.


[1] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria’s war explained from the beginning’, 14 April 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/4/14/syrias-war-explained-from-the-beginning, accessed 17 March 2021.

[2] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria’s war explained from the beginning’, 14 April 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/4/14/syrias-war-explained-from-the-beginning, accessed 17 March 2021.

[3] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria says new constitution approved’, 27 February 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2012/2/27/syria-says-new-constitution-approved, accessed 17 March 2021.

[4] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria says new constitution approved’, 27 February 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2012/2/27/syria-says-new-constitution-approved, accessed 17 March 2021.

[5] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria says new constitution approved’, 27 February 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2012/2/27/syria-says-new-constitution-approved, accessed 17 March 2021.

[6] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria says new constitution approved’, 27 February 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2012/2/27/syria-says-new-constitution-approved, accessed 17 March 2021.

[7] Al Jazeera, ‘Syria says new constitution approved’, 27 February 2012, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2012/2/27/syria-says-new-constitution-approved, accessed 17 March 2021.

[8] C.f. 1973 Syria Const. Art. 84.

[9] C.f. 1973 Syria Const. Art. 101.

[10] C.f. 1973 Syria Const. Art. 149.

11] United Nations, ‘Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Endorsing Road Map for Peace Process in Syria, Setting Timetable for Talks’, 18 December 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12171.doc.htm, accessed 17 March 2021.

[12] United Nations, ‘Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Endorsing Road Map for Peace Process in Syria, Setting Timetable for Talks’, 18 December 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12171.doc.htm, accessed 17 March 2021.

[13] United Nations, ‘Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Endorsing Road Map for Peace Process in Syria, Setting Timetable for Talks’, 18 December 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12171.doc.htm, accessed 17 March 2021.

[14] United Nations, ‘Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Endorsing Road Map for Peace Process in Syria, Setting Timetable for Talks’, 18 December 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12171.doc.htm, accessed 17 March 2021.

[15] Hauch, L., ‘The road towards the Constitutional Committee: Previous initiatives’, Clingendael Institute (2020), p. 7.

[16] Hauch, L., ‘The road towards the Constitutional Committee: Previous initiatives’, Clingendael Institute (2020), p. 7.

[17] Hauch, L., ‘The road towards the Constitutional Committee: Previous initiatives’, Clingendael Institute (2020), p. 7. This article states that there was conflict between Russia’s public and private intentions – the Russian draft favored decentralization in Syria, but Russia itself favored centralization.

[18] Hauch, L., ‘The road towards the Constitutional Committee: Previous initiatives’, Clingendael Institute (2020), p. 7.

[19] Al Jazeera, ‘UN’s Guterres announces Syria constitutional committee formation’, 23 September 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/9/23/uns-guterres-announces-syria-constitutional-committee-formation, accessed 17 March 2021.

[20] Al Jazeera, ‘UN’s Guterres announces Syria constitutional committee formation’, 23 September 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/9/23/uns-guterres-announces-syria-constitutional-committee-formation, accessed 17 March 2021.

[21] Shaar, K., and Dasouki, A., ‘Syria’s Constitutional Committee: The Devil in the Detail’, Middle East Institute, 6 January 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/syrias-constitutional-committee-devil-detail, accessed 17 March 2021.

[22] Shaar, K., and Dasouki, A., ‘Syria’s Constitutional Committee: The Devil in the Detail’, Middle East Institute, 6 January 2021, https://www.mei.edu/publications/syrias-constitutional-committee-devil-detail, accessed 17 March 2021.

[23] Moubayed, S., ‘Syria’s Constitutional Committee convenes with historic opposition involvement’, The Arab Weekly, 3 November 2019, https://thearabweekly.com/syrias-constitutional-committee-convenes-historic-opposition-involvement, accessed 17 March 2021.

[24] Kenny, P., ‘45 members of Syrian Constitutional Committee meet’, Anadolu Agency, 4 November 2019, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/45-members-of-syrian-constitutional-committee-meet/1635457, accessed 17 March 2021.

[25] Reuters, ‘Syria constitutional talks end without consensus on agenda: U.N. envoy’, 29 November 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security-un-idUSKBN1Y31FT, accessed 17 March 2021.

[26] UN News, ‘Substantive’ talks on new constitution bring hope of forging path out of Syria’s near decade-long conflict’, 18 September 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/09/1072812, accessed 17 March 2021.

[27] United Nations Office at Geneva, ‘Syria Constitutional Committee – Departures – 25 January 2021’, 25 January 2021, https://www.unognewsroom.org/story/en/563/syria-constitutional-committee-departures-25-january-2021, accessed 17 March 2021.

[28] Holleis, J., ‘Geneva talks: Is Syria’s new constitution a mission (im-)possible?’, Deutsche Welle, 30 January 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/geneva-talks-is-syrias-new-constitution-a-mission-im-possible/a-56383085, accessed 17 March 2021.

System of Government under 2012 Constitution

 

Timeline

1918 Great Arab Revolt leads to the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in Syria
1920 National Congress proclaims Syria an independent state under rule of Emir Feisal, but San Remo Conference places the area under French control
1928 Constituent Assembly writes new constitution, but French High Commissioner rejects it, sparking national protests
1941 Free French forces free Syria from Axis rule after the French Vichy government falls to the Allies, Syria promised independence by General De Gaulle
1946 French troops leave Syria which is proclaimed an independent state
1951 Military coup led by army officer Adib al-Shishakhli seizes power and suspends constitution
1954 Military coup seizes power but restores a civilian government
27 Feb. 1958 Syria and Egypt form the United Arab Republic headed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser
1966 Ba’ath Party stages a successful coup, suspends the constitution, and drafts a new constitution
1967 Syria loses the Golan Heights to Israel
Nov. 1970 Hafez al-Assad and the moderate Ba’ath Party members take power
Mar. 1971 Hafiz al-Assad is elected president
1973 New constitution instituted by presidential decree, Syria and Egypt fail to take back the Golan Heights in war with Israel
1983 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama repressed by the military
Mar. 2011 Popular protests demand political and economic reforms; government responds with violence and arrests. In response, President Bashar al-Assad releases some political prisoners, replaces the government, and ends the 50-year state of emergency, but continued government repression leads to deaths and international sanctions
16 Oct. 2011 President Bashar al-Assad appoints Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution
26 Feb. 2012 Draft constitution passes by national referendum amidst nationwide violence
18 Dec. 2015 United Nations Security Council adopts Resolution 2254, aimed at national ceasefire and peaceful political transition in Syria
28 Dec. 2016 Turkey and Russia broker national ceasefire in Syria
Jan. 2017 Russian-drafted constitution rejected by Syrian government and opposition
Jan. 2018 At Syrian peace conference hosted by Russia, Syrian parties agree to form a Syrian Constitutional Committee
23 Sep. 2019 U.N. announces formation of Syrian Constitutional Committee, tasked with modifying 2012 Constitution or drafting a new constitution

Executive

President

Appointment
  • Directly elected in a national referendum by absolute majority
Powers
  • Commander in Chief of the army and armed forces
  • Representing Syria in international relations
  • Developing and implementing national policy
  • Appointing and dismissing the Prime Minister and Ministers
  • Creating and overseeing the implementation of general state policy
  • Vetoing or accepting laws
  • Declaring a state of emergency
  • Concluding international treaties
  • Granting amnesty
  • Granting honors and medals
  • Dissolving the People’s Assembly
  • Passing laws when the legislature is not in session or in emergency situations
  • Submitting matters to binding national referendum
  • Drafting laws
Removal
  • Upon submission of resignation to the People’s Assembly
  • At the end of 7-year term if not nominated for re-election, or second 7-year term if re-elected
  • In the case of permanent incapacity or death
  • Upon conviction for high treason by the Constitutional Court after proposal by one-third of Assembly and approval by two-thirds

Prime Minister

Appointment
  • Appointed by the President
Powers
  • Enforcing laws
  • Supervising government bodies
  • Passing administrative decisions
  • Advising the President
  • Overseeing the Cabinet
Removal
  • Upon dismissal by the President
  • Upon submission of resignation to the President
  • Upon removal or resignation of the President
  • Upon a vote of no-confidence by the legislature

Cabinet

Appointment
  • Appointed by the President
Powers
  • Implementing state public policy
  • Enforcing laws
  • Supervising government bodies
  • Passing administrative decisions
  • Advising the President
Removal
  • Upon dismissal by the President
  • Upon submission of resignation to the President
  • Upon removal or resignation of the President
  • Upon a vote of no-confidence by the legislature

Legislative

People’s Assembly

Appointment
  • Directly elected with half of the seats reserved for workers and peasants
Powers
  • Passing laws
  • Approving development plans and the budget
  • Approving international treaties
  • Accepting or rejecting Assembly member resignations
  • Approving general amnesties
  • Passing a vote of no-confidence in the Council or a Minister
Removal
  • Upon the end of 4 year term

Judicial

Constitutional Court

Appointment
  • Appointed by the President
Powers
  • Deciding the constitutionality of laws and regulations
  • Delivering opinions on the constitutionality of draft laws and legislative decrees upon request by the President
  • Supervising presidential elections
  • Considering challenges to presidential and legislative elections
  • Trying the President in the case of high treason
Removal
  • Upon the end of 4 year term if not renewed by the President