The Syrian parliament, a rubber stamp body officially known as the People’s Council, has expelled ten of the 250 members elected in May 2012. On July 30, the parliament’s official website published a short note mentioning that ten members had been stripped of their offices.

This was said to have been carried out in accordance with section 174 of the parliament’s internal regulations, which allows for the dismissal of members who act in contravention of the constitution or fail to meet parliamentary attendance requirements. According to the United Arab Emirates–based pro-opposition TV channel Orient News, which cites “journalistic sources,” the latter seems to have been the issue in most cases, with members of the group having shirked their parliamentary duties for periods ranging from a year and a half to three years.

The ten parliamentarians affected by the decision, in the order listed in the parliamentary notice, are:

  • Nader Buayra, Baath Party, Damascus
  • Qadri Jamil, Popular Will Party, Damascus
  • Mustafa al-Sayyed Hammoud, Socialist Unionists, Damascus Countryside
  • Mohammed Arbou bin Adnan, Baath Party, Aleppo Region
  • Abdou al-Najib, Independent, Homs
  • Mohammed Fadi al-Qaraan, Baath Party, Aleppo Region
  • Imad Hajji Mohammed, Independent, Raqqa
  • Said Elia bin Daoud, Baath Party, Hasakah
  • Taysir al-Jugheini, Independent, Daraa
  • Saleh al-Tahhan al-Nuaimi, Baath Party, Quneitra

The Socialist Unionists are an Arab nationalist group created out of a series of chaotic splits and mergers between the Baath Party and the pro-Egyptian Nasserite movement in 1961. For a brief moment, it was probably Syria’s largest political organization, with power in reach, but the opportunity was squandered. This surviving faction of the Socialist Unionists was first repressed and then domesticated by the Baath Party after its March 8, 1963 coup d’état, only to regain formal legality as a puppet organization after Hafez al-Assad had taken power in 1970.

While many of the ten appear to hail from rural bedouin areas and at least one is a locally prominent tribal sheikh, Qadri Jamil is the only name on this list of any significance to Syrian national politics. His organization, the Popular Will Party, is a contemporary reincarnation of the small splinter group of Communists that he used to lead in Damascus during the 2000s. Originally a leading member of a regime-friendly, Moscow-backed branch of the Syrian Communist Party (the Bekdash faction), he left it after losing a leadership struggle in 2000. Jamil’s small group of loyalists remained formally unlicensed until 2011 and he pronounced himself a member of the opposition, but was never taken seriously as such by either the government or its enemies. He clearly enjoyed protection from the intelligence apparatus and had strong ties to political and business circles in Russia.

The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Man in Damascus

When the uprising of 2011 erupted, Jamil attempted to exploit the ambiguity of his position to step forth as a Syrian opposition leader, even as he remained supportive of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian state media happily obliged, promoting the purported dissident at every turn. His Communist splinter faction was rebranded as a more blandly leftist group called the Popular Will Party and awarded legal status. He was also appointed to a committee tasked with redrafting the Syrian constitution and was allowed to win a seat for himself in parliament.

In June 2012, Jamil was appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs, a position with high visibility but very little power. The appointment of an “opposition member” as deputy head of the cabinet was hailed by Syrian state media as a bold step toward reform, which, of course, it was not.

It may have been a grateful nod to Russian President Vladimir Putin, because Jamil was seen as a favorite of the Russian government. In 2012–2013, Jamil’s name was often mentioned in speculation about who could serve in a hypothetical Syrian unity government and, even less plausibly, as Russia’s pick for future president of Syria. He basked in the attention and was frequently quoted in the media.

In late 2013, Jamil apparently overstepped a redline by meeting U.S. ambassador Robert Ford in Geneva, where preparations were under way for the 2014 Geneva II conference on peace in Syria. On October 29, 2013, Jamil was informed live on air in a Russian state TV broadcast from Moscow that he had been fired from the Syrian government. The order was given by President Assad personally, citing Jamil’s neglect of duty, absence from Damascus, and unapproved meetings with foreign officials. After some initial confusion, Jamil meekly declared that he accepted the accusations, apparently trying to make amends.

The background to this incident remains disputed. According to a story attributed to Jamil by opposition sources and recently cited on the website of his political group, he had received contradictory orders on whether to meet Ford or not from Assad and one of his aides, possibly the president’s powerful security adviser, Brigadier General Husam Sukkar. After his dismissal (the story goes), Jamil was informed by Ayham al-Assad, who is a relative of the Syrian president and married to Assad’s cousin Kinda Makhlouf, that he would be assassinated if he tried to return to Damascus. Others place Jamil’s dismissal in the context of Russian attempts to pressure Assad ahead of the Geneva talks, or to the perpetual jockeying for factional influence and Assad’s attention that goes on within the Syrian government. Then there is a theory that he was fired as a ruse, in a bid to recycle him as a dissident and send him to represent the opposition at the Geneva talks—but that never happened. Some, of course, think that Jamil simply miscalculated by being too ambitious and thinking he could conduct a bit of freelance diplomacy without Assad’s say-so.

Seeking a Way Back In

Whatever the case, Qadri Jamil’s relevance in Syrian politics now seems entirely contingent on how useful he can be for the Kremlin. Now in exile, he has contributed energetically to the Russian attempts to mold a pro-Moscow bloc of moderate opposition members. He was a prominent participant in the Moscow opposition conferences organized in early 2015, when Syrian state news again found occasion to approvingly cite the views of Mr. Qadri Jamil, “opposition figure.”

Yet, Jamil now seems to have lost most of his usefulness. For the opposition, he has no credibility whatsoever and is universally viewed as an instrument of Moscow, Damascus, or possibly both. The Syrian government, for its part, has stripped him first of his ministry, in 2013, and now also of his parliamentary seat. Of the official standing he enjoyed between 2011 and 2013, nothing remains.

The parliamentary purge may have been a routine matter, but the timing is of course intriguing. Jamil’s dismissal comes just as the Kremlin is increasing its diplomatic activity, for uncertain ends. One set of rumors claim that Putin is trying to organize a rapprochement between the ruling clans in Syria and Saudi Arabia, while another claims that he has started to look for alternatives to the Syrian president. Whether Russia would be capable of achieving either of these goals is open to question and what role Qadri Jamil could play is even less obvious. But as long as Russia remains involved with Syrian politics, there may well be a niche for him to fill. In the Syrian government, some would undoubtedly prefer that niche to stay empty.

Read also:  Aron Lund, "The Qadri Jamil Affair," Syria in Crisis, Nov. 1, 2013