The Future Syria Party: Symbols and role

• By Sirwan Kajjo •  April 4, 2018 

Last week, representatives of different communities in northern Syria and other parts of the country attended a meeting to launch a new political party in the Syrian city of Raqqa. The formation of the Future Syria Party comes amid uncertainty over the future of the former de facto capital of Islamic State (ISIS) militants and other areas liberated from the terror group. It has also brought some controversy among Kurds and Arabs in the war-torn country.

Since the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS terrorists in October 2017, there have been many talks to come up with a civilian-led body that could govern the city. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed multi-ethnic alliance led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that defeated ISIS in Raqqa, sponsored the creation of the Raqqa Civil Council as the sole civilian group responsible for providing services in the post-ISIS Raqqa. Sure enough, the U.S. put its trust in the newly-established council and promoted it among international donors to receive funds for reconstruction efforts.

A poster at the event launching the new party. (Screenshot)

No symbols

However, there was a urgent need to fill the political vacuum that was created by ISIS after more than three years of a brutal rule. And hence came the creation of the Future Syria Party (FSP).

Unlike other PYD-led meetings, the inaugural congress for the new party didn’t have any signs that represented Kurdish symbols – or any other symbol for that matter. Except for few slogans about pluralism and decentralization in Syria, the meeting hall had almost bare walls. 

In its declaration statement, there was no mention of the Kurdish-led local administration in northern Syria. Turkey, an arch enemy of the PYD and most Syrian Kurds, was specifically named as a neighboring country with which the new party will “seek to build the best relations based on common interests and mutual respect.” 

Some nationalist Kurds within the PYD and other affiliated parties have expressed discontent over the creation of such a party that doesn’t openly address the Kurdish cause, an SDF official told me. They argue that the new party deviates from their well-established discourse that has succeeded at maintaining Kurdish nationalism and multi-ethnic progressivism at the same time.

U.S. is working hard to turn Raqqa into a success story

It has become clear that the U.S. is working hard to turn Raqqa into a success story for areas recently liberated from ISIS; a place with functioning political and security institutions, growing economy and promising opportunities. To that end, Washington has poured a lot of money into reconstruction projects and rehabilitation programs.

But the United States has learned the hard way that Turkey is willing to sabotage any political project in Syria that has direct involvement of PKK-linked Kurds –  especially after Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin and continued threats to occupy the Kurdish-led town of Manbij. And thus, the attempt this time around was to distance the new party from the PKK and its Syrian affiliates as much as possible. By doing so, the U.S. would ensure that Turkey no longer have a pretext to go after the Kurds in east of the Euphrates.

Besides the fact that a U.S. delegation attended the meeting in Raqqa, local sources said that the U.S.  – and some Gulf states – has pledged to provide financial and political support for the FSP. Some even go further to say that the U.S. is behind the very idea of establishing the FSP.

“We would welcome any party that’s committed to UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” said US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, answering a Kurdish reporter’s question about the FSP.

The FSP has indeed said in its manifesto that the aforementioned UN resolution could be the basis to “draft a new constitution and hold presidential and parliamentary elections.”

An inclusive national party that can play a pivotal role in the transitional phase

Benefiting from the fact that Syrian regime and opposition forces have no presence or influence in Raqqa, the FSP – as the name suggests – intends to be an inclusive national party that can play a pivotal role in the transitional phase and afterwards. The 800 attendees included some representatives from Idlib, Daraa, Deir Ezzor and Aleppo.

Interestingly enough, the new party leaders are careful in their wording. For example, instead of using federalism, they choose to use decentralization. While both terms could carry the same definition in the Syrian context, federalism has some negative connotation among most Sunni Arabs as one step away from partitioning the country, particularly perpetrated by the “secessionist Kurds.”

The PYD would undoubtedly have a political leverage – if not an organizational one – over the FSP. Moving forward with a broader vision to remain relevant in a post-conflict Syria, the PYD leadership appears to be persistent in working behind the scene as a strategy enforced in non-Kurdish areas. Although the Kurdish group has adopted this strategy for a long time, it was never fully implemented on the ground. This time, however, it seems they have come to realize the limits of their direct authority.

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