Economic Policy and Amer Lutfi as Head of State Planning Commission

Amer Hosni Lutfi

Amer Hosni Lutfi

Following the dismissal of Mr. al-Reddawi, President Assad nominated Mr. Amer Hosni Lutfi to head the planning commission. Mr. Lutfi had been serving as the Minister of the Economy and Trade. This move will be seen as a promotion for Mr. Lutfi, a Christian from Homs, who taught at Aleppo University after earning his Ph.D. in economic analysis from Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.

Ms Lamia Aasi will now head the Ministry of the Economy and Trade (Mr. Lutfi’s old job). She has been serving as the Syrian Ambassador to Malaysia since 2004. Between 2002 and 2004, she was the deputy finance minister. Her appointment takes the number of women in the government to three. Lamia Murii Assi was born on December 27, 1955, holds a BA in Commerce from the University of Damascus and an MBA from the Higher Institute for Business Administration in 2005.

Addendum: Ayman Abdalnour takes exception to our argument that Assi was chosen by Hussein. He asserts that it is not true. Read his All4Syria article about the recent job shuffles.

This latest reshuffle means that Mr. Dardari now has to work closely with Mr. Lutfi on the new 5-year plan over the next few months. The new head of the SPC is no stranger to the process and his economic views are known to represent those to the left of Mr. Dardari. [Thanks to Ehsani for help with this information]

The economic team has been reshuffled with the exception of the Ministry of Finance led by Muhammad Hussein, who comes out of these changes stronger. If we are to read the tea leaves, and admittedly it is early to do so, we conclude that Ms. Aasi is a Hussein pick. She served as deputy finance minister immediately after Muhammad Hussein took charge of the finance ministry at the end of 2001; she reported to Hussein prior to her becoming ambassador. Hussein is related, although distantly and through marriage, to the first family, has a PhD from a Romanian university, and serves as head of Economic Affairs at the Baath Party. He has been on the ascendancy for some time. Dardari’s authority, as the “free trader” in Syria’s economic team, has been embattled since he became deputy prime ministery.

How will Amer Hosni Lutfi change the mix? It is said that he is a member of the Baath party, unlike Dardari. He will undoubtedly be more polite to Dardari than was Reddawi, but he will be unable to help Dardari fight his battles for opening up the economy, even if he were inclined to do so.

Another factor that I take into consideration in judging the question of whether Syria will gamble on a policy of free trade and more rapid economic opening is foreign policy.

If Syria opens up and allows foreign banks and investors to pour money into the country, it will make itself vulnerable to economic sanctions in the future.  Should the US increase sanctions on Syria, as it did in 2004 and 2005, causing foreign money to be withdrawn from Syria, the economy would suffer a bad hangover. Public disapproval would spike.  In short, if Syria wants to move quickly with liberalization, it must be prepared to give up “resistance” to Israel and give up hope of getting back the Golan.

I do not believe that Syria is willing to give up the Golan.

This means it must up the ante on resistance to counter Israel’s growing power. In light of Israel’s refusal to give back the Golan or enter serious peace negotiations predicated on the return of Syria’s occupied territory, Damascus cannot stand by with crossed arms; it must respond. Israel has improved its military and diplomatic position dramatically in the last decade. The bombing of Syria’s nuclear plant, the bombing of Hamas, and the bombing of Hizbullah have all strengthened Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan have moved closer to Israel and further from Syria. Israel’s success during the Bush years and ability to turn back Obama’s peace overtures and to frustrate his request for a settlement freeze at the same time as it has successfully petitioned the US for more and better arms is testament to its growing military and diplomatic strength and hammer lock on US foreign policy.

If Syria does not wish to abandon the Golan, it must strengthen resistance and correct the balance of power. It must strengthen Hizbullah, by giving it better and more sophisticated arms. It must hope that Iran gets out of its present pickle and continues to grow economically and militarily. Turkey must continue to shift toward Syria and Iran, and away from Israel and the US. Syria must improve relations with Iraq. Iraq needs to rebuild and join a Syria-Turkey-Iranian norther alliance. All these things need to happen if Syria is to increase its stature and muscle in the region to the point that Israel would reconsider its intransigence on the Golan. I do not know if Syria can be successful in such a policy, but it must follow this path, if it wants the Golan.

The necessity of “resistance” gives Finance Minister Mohammad Hussein great leverage in arguing that Syria needs to proceed with caution in its effort to liberalize. It cannot throw the doors open before Western banks. It must turn to friendly nations for investment. Syrian economic independence is crucial to its ability to resist Israeli occupation by military means. Western pressure could be devastating if the economy gets drunk on dollars and foreign investment. Syria is not Iran and cannot challenge the West directly. For this reason, I believe President Assad will continue to favor Baathist economics, which preaches fear of the West and capitalism. It is not a blind and irrational fear, as most in the West assume. It is a calculated fear based on long years of bitter experience and witnessing the impotence of the UN to counter the pro-Israeli policies of the West. If Syria wishes to resist Israel and ignore US pressure to fall in line with Israeli policies, it must look askance at those who advocate rapid transformation and lifting of firewalls in front of Western institutions and dependency.

Addendum: Idaf writes:

This is why Syria’s best friends and business partners are Turkey and Iran, and this is why Chinese, Malaysian and Indian companies have better chances in the oil sector in Syria. Russia will always be there too.

In the last weeks, the Syrian president also started expanding ties with South America.

Syria has decided 5 years ago that “The West” is not a sustainable business partners. Business decisions in the west are too dependent on the mid-east politics (which in turn is too dependent on Israeli influence in these countries). Syria’s 3 options were to to choose a defensive approach and close on itself again, become an Arab satellite to the US (just another Saudi or Jordan and give up the Golan) or keep opening up the economy seeking alternative.

If Syria keeps making successful alliances and strategic decisions on business partners, soon the US and Europe will have less and less leverage with Syria, and Syria will have more maneuvering space for ‘resistance’ to get the Golan back. Israel will be well advised to try to get a Golan deal with Syria before the latter becomes more independent (ie. Stronger geopolitically)

Joshua replies to Idaf:

One of the reasons Syria did not sign the EU trade agreement was because of these calculations. Europe punished Syria in 2004-05. It is following Washington’s lead on Iranian sanctions and puts its relations with Israel above those of Syria or Lebanon, as we saw during both Israel’s bombing campaigns against Lebanon and Gaza. The EU followed Washington’s lead, and covered for Israel in the UN Security Council while Jerusalem carried out its objectives.If Syria is to get back the Golan and continue to resist Israeli occupation, as it claims it has a right to do under international law, it needs to substitute European investments with those from friendly nations that are not bound by America’s pro-Israel policy.

Register your opinion on the new POLL found on the upper left corner of your screen.

Amer Lutfi

Amer Lutfi, Giath Barakat, Yarub Badr, and Imad Moustapha

Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri (L) is accompanied by the Syrian Ambassador to Malaysia Lamia Aasi (R) as Najo Otri arrives at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on January 6, 2009.

Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri (L) is accompanied by the Syrian Ambassador to Malaysia Lamia Aasi (R) as Najo Otri arrives at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on January 6, 2009.

U.S. official: Arming of Hezbollah could spark Israel-Syria war
By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Israel news, Syria, Hezbollah

An American source says that Syria allowed Hezbollah operatives to train within its territory in the use of advanced SA2 anti-aircraft missile batteries, the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported Sunday.

In an interview, the senior U.S. official warned that if Syria supplies Hezbollah with this type of missile, Israel will bomb Damascus and a war will likely ensue.

According to the official, Israel has warned Syria not to allow the transfer of the SA2 missiles into the hands of Hezbollah, and views the transfer of such missiles as the crossing of a red line.

He added that he did not believe that a war would break out soon, unless one of the sides violated the undeclared agreement not to cross the red lines defined by both sides.

The Second Lebanon War, waged in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, turned southern Lebanon into a territory not unlike the Golan Heights, in that it does not enjoy the absence of conflict but rather a fragile cease-fire, the official said.

Since the war ended, the international intelligence community and the United Nations have been closely monitoring the smuggling of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah, but the ongoing smuggling has not yet crossed the so call red lines.

The official added that Israel’s top priority at this point is to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining the SA2 missiles, which are controlled from a remote command center. The official stressed that if Syria turns these weapons over to Hezbollah, Israel will not hesitate to strike Syria, including the capital Damascus.

Comments (10)


1. majedkhaldoun said:

A.P. said
What price would that be I wonder?
He is talking about Israel attacks Syria.
Are you implying that such an attack ,would have no price for Israel to pay?
Israel in 2006 fought with H.A. that was a chance for Israel to attack Syria ,but it did not. Why?
Israel lost Turkey after the attack on Gaza, Israel is paying a price for that invasion.

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January 19th, 2010, 12:21 am

 

2. norman said:

It is logical conclusion that making Syria dependent of foreign investments will make it vulnerable to foreign pressure ,
anyway it is good that Syria has two balancing views on the economy so there are checks and balances ,
DR Landis ,
by the way , i think Christians have more influence than many people think , as they do not compete for the presidency , they have as i think the president’s ears ,

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January 19th, 2010, 3:39 am

 

3. Yossi said:

Interesting dilemma. What about the option of opening up Syria to investments from countries which are less likely or are willing to commit to not supporting sanctions against Syria (e.g, Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, India, Brasil, etc.) and which are willing to make long-term investments?

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January 19th, 2010, 7:40 am

 

4. idaf said:

Yossi,

this is why Syria’s best friends and business partners are Turkey and Iran, and this is why Chinese, Malaysian and Indian companies have better chances in the oil sector in Syria. Russia will always be there too.

In the last weeks, the Syrian president also started expanding ties with South America.

Syria has decided 5 years ago that “The West” is not a sustainable business partners. Business decisions in the west are too dependent on the mid-east politics (which in turn is too dependent on Israeli influence in these countries). Syria’s 3 options were to to choose a defensive approach and close on itself again, become an Arab satellite to the US (just another Saudi or Jordan and give up the Golan) or keep opening up the economy seeking alternative.

If Syria keeps making successful alliances and strategic decisions on business partners, soon the US and Europe will have less and less leverage with Syria, and Syria will have more maneuvering space for ‘resistance’ to get the Golan back. Israel will be well advised to try to get a Golan deal with Syria before the latter becomes more independent (ie. Stronger geopolitically)

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January 19th, 2010, 12:16 pm

 

5. Joshua said:

Dear Idaf, I think that one of the reasons Syria did not sign the EU trade agreement was because of these calculations. Europe punished Syria in 2004-05. It is following Washington’s lead on Iranian sanctions and puts its relations with Israel above those of Syria or Lebanon, as we saw during both Israel’s bombing campaigns against Lebanon and Gaza. The EU followed Washington’s lead, and covered for Israel while it carried out its objectives.

If Syria is to get back the Golan and continue to resist Israeli occupation, as it claims it has a right to do under international law, it needs to substitute European investments with those from friendly nations that are not bound by America’s pro-Israel policy.

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January 19th, 2010, 3:06 pm

 

6. idaf said:

Dear Joshua,

Yes, I agree. The EU deal was a step within the same lines.

It is an excellent example for Israel to consider. The EU offered to sign the agreement with Syria in 2004 when Syria was too weak. Syria back then would have signed immediately. The EU got greedier and got influenced by the political atmosphere then and wanted even more from Syria.

In 2009 the EU rushed to sign the deal after it was clear that Syria is getting stronger economically and that the deal will soon be less appealing to Syria. Syria on the other hand decided that the deal is not good enough anymore.

If Syria keep playing its cards right, Israel will soon have to accept less in return in a Golan deal. The EU example is a good learning case for the Israelis.

I strongly believe that the resistance card should be on the table all the time. It will always be a cost-benefit analysis for teh Israelis in deciding to have a deal about the Golan (as it was with other peace deals they signed). Syria should expand its economic capabilities and independence as well as grow a larger stick. Then the Israeli public will find the deal more appealing (as it’s now in the hands of the public with the new referendum requirement). Shai, Yossi and others had an interesting debate on this recently here:
http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=4731&cp=all#comment-232481

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January 19th, 2010, 4:31 pm

 

7. jad said:

Dear Ehsani,
Could you please explain to me how a country trying to be better is putting someone with only 2 years experience in economy as a minister????
I seriously don’t understand how our system work and how people in it think!!
What are Ms. Aasi achievements and the education researches that support the decision to put her in a prominent position as a minister during these critical times??

Check out this analyse:
لماذا لم يبق الدردري ولماذا جاء عامر لطفي ولمياء العاصي ؟؟

كلنا شركاء
19/ 01/ 2010

“ولكن الجديد الذي حصل هذه المرة هو تقارير الاجهزة الامنية التي اشارت الى ان جمع الدردري لهذين المنصبين بعد تدخل الرئيس شخصيا باقالة الرداوي تم اعتباره من قبل عامة الناس بأنه انتصار ودعم من قبل السيد الرئيس لخط الدردري وهو الامر الذي من شأنه احداث سوء فهم لدى عامة الشعب وخصوصا في النقابات العمالية والفرق الحزبية والتي تهاجم الدردري بشدة وصولا لنعته بالخائن والمرتبط وذلك ضمن اجتماعاتها
لذلك كان من الافضل ايجاد فاصل بين تصرف سيادة الرئيس والدردري بتعيين شخص جديد كرئيس للهيئة فورا ليبقى السيد الرئيس بعيدا عن المناوشات الحكومية والمدارس الاقتصادية , لذلك كان مطلوب تعيين شخص لرئاسة الهيئة وبسرعة ولكن يجب ان تتوفر فيه المزايا التالية : ان يكون مطلعاً على امور الاقتصاد والخطط الخمسية والهيئة لكي لا يضيع فترة زمنية طويلة في فهم العمل الاداري والفني والتخطيطي لانه يجب وضع الخطة الخمسية الجديدة خلال الاشهر القادمة
ايضا يجب ان يكون من مدرسة اقتصادية ليبرالية قريبة من الدردري ولكن متميزا عنه لكي تتعدد الافكار والاراء ويجب ان يكون ذو شخصية قادرة على مواجهة الدردري والقول لا له اذا ما تطلب الامر ذلك فوقع الاختيار على د.عامر لطفي الذي تتوفر لديه كل هذه المواصفات وخصوصا انه قد التقى السيد الرئيس العديد من المرات في لقاءات خاصة خلال السنوات الاخيرة”

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January 20th, 2010, 6:08 am

 

8. jad said:

Some super cool stuff out of Syria.
Regardless how primitive the city they design is and I’m sure that it will never ever work the way they design it, I also doubt that they use any urban and planning principles to design this crappy city not to mention how boring it looks architecturally and the materials they show in the presentation are laughable for Syria’s weather 🙂
BUT regardless of all that, I totally encourage what they are doing, and I’m proud that they did it, it’s just the beginning.
It is important to expose Syrians to the green culture, its elements, its benefits and its applications so Syrians can see its importance in their daily lives and how much money it saves them if they use it right. I’m happy to read this couple days old news, enjoy:
Syrian eco-homes’ zero-carbon footprint http://english.cctv.com/program/worldwidewatch/20100114/101273.shtml
With the world focused on the effects and challenges brought on by climate change, a Syrian entrepreneur thinks he may have found an answer for the future. Khaled Mahjoub- the director of Sukna Projects- aims to build entirely energy self-sufficient homes near the Syrian capital, Damascus. Using solar power panels, the homes will produce more energy than their consumption needs. It will also include a greenhouse for food to be grown locally. A typical house includes five bedrooms and two bathrooms, making it suitable for large families. The project strives to save money and protect the environment by eliminating energy bills and waste. Houses will be sold by instalments where families pay a third of their monthly salary every month.
Sukna Center of Excellence
http://www.mahjoub.com/windows/pdflanguage.html

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January 20th, 2010, 7:50 am

 

9. Doc said:

In the resistance alternative, I don’t see how Syria will attract enought capital, free up it’s markets enough to allow for entrepreneurism and thus more job-creation (badly needed) necessary to keep the regime in power? Syria just doesn’t have enough friends, and the sanctions from the US are still in place. It needs a more sound economy in the middle run, and relying on friends might just not do the trick. So the resistance alternative might not be the one they will follow, knowing how badly the economy needs stimulating. They lose the economy, they might lose power.

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January 24th, 2010, 11:25 am

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

Weird Statements by Pro-Baathist American Professors

If Syria is to get back the Golan and continue to resist Israeli occupation, as it claims it has a right to do under international law…

Professor Josh,

Was your comment above a typo? How exactly will Syria “get back the Golan and continue to ‘resist’ Israeli occupation”?

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January 24th, 2010, 3:34 pm

 

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