UN says deal reached on committee for new Syria constitution

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks to the press at United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., September 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 18 September 2019

UN says deal reached on committee for new Syria constitution

  • Guterres expressed hope that the constitutional committee “will be a very important step" towards reaching a political solution
  • It has taken nearly 20 months to agree on the list the United Nations was authorized to put together

UNITED NATIONS: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced Wednesday that a long-sought agreement has been reached on the composition of a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria, an important step toward hopefully ending the more than eight-year conflict.
The UN chief told a news conference that UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen “is doing the final work with the parties in relation to the terms of reference, and we hope that this will be very soon concluded.”
Guterres expressed hope that formation of the constitutional committee “will be a very important step in creating the conditions for a political solution for this tragic conflict.”
At a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. This was a key step toward elections and a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, which has killed over 400,000 people.
There was early agreement on 50-member lists from the Syrian government and the opposition. But it has taken nearly 20 months to agree on the list the United Nations was authorized to put together representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women, mainly because of objections from the Syrian government.
Pedersen, the UN envoy, told the Security Council in late August that the package to resolve outstanding names and terms of reference and rules of procedure was “nearly finalized, and the outstanding differences are, in my assessment, comparatively minor.”
He said he was “quietly hopeful” an agreement would be announced before world leaders gather next week for their annual meeting at the General Assembly.
An agreement on a blueprint for peace in Syria that was approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the UN, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five veto-wielding Security Council members — the US, Russia, China, France and Britain — remains the basis for ending the conflict.
It calls for a Syrian-led political process starting with the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers, moving on to the drafting of a new constitution and ending with elections. The Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement in a resolution in December 2015 that set a timetable for talks and a cease-fire that was never met.


In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

Updated 25 September 2020

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

  • $30,000 Is being demanded by players for a single season

DAMASCUS: Professional football clubs in war-battered Syria are struggling to sign new players, who are demanding raises to counter the decline in the value of their pay packets. 

Nine years into a grinding civil war, Syria’s economy is in tatters, life is increasingly expensive, and the national currency is in freefall on the black market. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded economic woes, with footballers forced to play in closed-door stadiums, wiping out turnstile revenues. 

“Professional football has become a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, president of Homs city’s Wathba club, runners-up in the Syrian league last season. 

“Players who once played with us for reasonable amounts are now demanding astronomical sums. They say it’s because of the devaluation” of the Syrian currency. 

The Syrian league, which has no foreign stars, was suspended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop during the war except at the outset in 2011. 

Players were transferred last year for as little as 35 million Syrian pounds ($17,500 at the current black market rate), but Sibaei said players are now demanding salaries of up to 60 million pounds ($30,000) for a single season. 

“Next season, we’ll need between 400 and 500 million pounds for contracts and other expenses, knowing that the club only has around 160 million in its kitty,” he said. 

He said the club spent around 315 million last year, some of which he had to advance from his own pocket. 

Whereas the average Syrian earns between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an average professional football player brings home around 1.5 million pounds ($750) on a monthly basis. 

Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which finished fifth last season, conceded football players were better off than the average Syrian. 

“The salaries are decent and the purchasing power of some players is good,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder with the Damascus club. 

“But it’s not enough to secure their future as a player’s lifespan on the field is short,” he said, as most players retire in their early thirties. 

No foreign player has been recruited since 2012, but today’s record devaluation is making even acquiring Syrian talent tough. 

The pound’s value against the US dollar has plummeted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the official rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black market. 

The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and police in English) are funded by the defense and interior ministries, respectively. 

But other clubs say the dual economic-coronavirus crisis has depleted their coffers, and are seeking funds elsewhere to recruit before the new season starts in a month. 

Reigning champions Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new players with funds from sponsors and club board members. 

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philippines in World Cup 2022 qualifiers, is moving from Jaish for 50 million pounds ($25,000). 

Kamel Kawaya, 22, signed for Tishreen from Shorta for the same figure. 

Al-Wahda has renewed contracts with all its players, and even made three new signings. 

Its president Maher Al-Sayyed said he had pitched in to help cover some of next year’s ballooning budget. 

“I lent the club 180 million pounds while waiting for conditions to improve,” out of a projected budget of more than 600 million pounds, he said. 

In the northern city of Aleppo, Al-Ittihad are looking at a budget of 500 million pounds — more than twice last year’s. 

Basil Hamwi said they would be counting on fans and expatriates to help make it through the season. 

At Hutteen, another top-flight club from Latakia, coach Hussein Afash said he understood players’ demands. 

“The players are right to be asking for better-paid contracts after the devaluation of the pound as they’re now earning a fourth of what they did,” he said. 

Club president Khaled Tawil said he hoped that wealthy business tycoon Samer Foz would help cover costs. 

“We are counting on Foz, who sponsors our team,” he said.