Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
On Dardari/Raddawi again, all4syria has a couple of interesting articles: (thanks to Idaf for this)
Raddawi’s firing was a personal response from PM Otri for what he considered a direct personal attack by Raddawi.. it was Raddawi’s critical public lecture of the 10th 5-year plan, delivered 4 days after the PM presented a positive report on the outcome of the plan to the parliament that caused his dismissal.
PM Otri took it personally, it seems. It is not the first time Raddawi criticized the plan, but he is deliberately attacked the prime minister. The dispute did not reach the level of the president and he does not seem to have had a direct hand in the removal of Raddawi….. Ehsani should expect a less “painful” pace for reforms now. Dardari has one less excuse. Also read this English summary of Raddawi’s last lecture.
Milli Schmidt writes:
I wish to add a couple of points to the ‘economics’ discussion that have not been mentioned, but are important:
- as Ehsani points out, in the medium term, ‘liberalisation’ of the economy will lead to greater income disparity and poverty. It is likely that more people will seek to express their frustration publicly, this is of course one of the reasons the government is reluctant. More importantly however, in the Syrian context, the almost ‘default’ option for Syrians to express their frustration with the elite state and the way spoils are divided among elites (of all religions) is to fall back on their sectarian identity. This is incredibly dangerous. It is likely that growing popular frustration in Syria would lead to sectarian violence as this is the way people express discontent of all kinds (including economic discontent). Blame is nearly always placed on another group and confidence drawn from the fact that one belongs to the ‘right’ and good group. Ussama Makdisi in fact has provided a convincing analysis that class/economic discontent was a major reason for the militia politics of the Lebanese war (see his articles in MERIP) and I believe that a similar analysis can be made for Syria – ten, fifteen years down the line, when Jaramana has indeed become a slum, not a poor suburb. There is no national dialogue going in whatsoever about how to deal with the effects of economic ‘liberalisation’, there is no transparency, no explanation to the wider public about why the government is doing what, no calls even that everybody has to ‘tighten belts’ etc to improve the economy in the long term. In fact sectarian thinking is as strong as ever.
- The education sector remains a disaster with no real signs that the government is making it a priority to improve access to good, public, affordable education. The private unis have changed nothing about this. Positively, french and English are now being taught at primary level. The government faces a paradox here as it needs well educated, analytical minds – but people with minds like these can hardly thrive in the stifling, politicised working environment in Syria and even very patriotic people who possess such minds and education want to leave. The scramble for European/US visas also remains as strong as ever, perhaps more so than five years ago.
- the investment environment remains very unattractive for foreign investors, and there is no sign fo a concerted effort at all levels to change this. A friend of mine working at a JV between the Syrian gov and another Arab state confirmed that the non-Syria partners are getting very frustrated and are ready to pull the plug on the project, as, despite high level political support everything takes far too long. Foreigners cannot buy land in Syria, even long term leases are incredibly difficult to obtain. The government can intervene at any moment in surprising fashion: last month, all foreign banks, most of them are Lebanese, were informed that all employees, including the most senior management, have to be Syrian! all foreigners have to be replaced within nine months.there was no preview about it, no discussion, it was simply announced as a populist move. Disaster for the banks, and very bad sign for any other foreign bank wanting to invest in Syria.
- In conclusion, I believe that addressing the above are more important and should be tackled FIRST before lifting subsidies. Attract private investment first by strengthening judiciary, binding hands of ministries trying to interfere, gradually closing government factories, start cutting back interference of economic players close to the top. Then start cutting subsidies, or start, but very slowly. Otherwise the negative effects of liberalisation, unequal distribution of the increase in wealth, more corruption and displays of ostentatious wealth plus public discontent, will be much worse.
Signals of Change from Syria
Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow, The Dubai Initiative
Op-Ed, Agence Global
January 27, 2010
DAMASCUS — I have been traveling to Syria regularly for 40 years, and every time I visit Damascus I make time to go to the old city and the spectacular early 8th Century AD Umayyad Mosque. The timeless beauty and power of the place are always dazzling, no matter how many times you experience it.
Equally constant are the nature and direction of modern political rule in Syria, which has been under Baath Party guardianship since the early 1960s. Whether you like it or dislike it, Syrian policy under President Bashar Assad — as under his late father Hafez Assad — has been very consistent, changing only in response to intense internal or external pressures (such as its departure from Lebanon in 2005, or its gradual economic reforms in the past decade).
Today, we may be witnessing signs of a new strand of change in a society that does not change very often, this time in the civil society sector. At a conference here in Damascus I attended last weekend, organized by the Syria Trust for Development, Syria witnessed several simultaneous phenomena. It held an international conference on “the emerging role of civil society in development” that was based on an open call for papers, with participation by dozens of scholars from around the world. The few Syrians who presented papers were more analytical than propagandistic. Two keynote speakers were from the United States and the United Kingdom – hardly the sort of thing one expects from a country that defines itself as the throbbing heart of Arabism.
First Lady Asma Assad opened the conference by declaring that the state wanted to open more space for civil society to work, develop and partner with the government in designing and implementing development-oriented policies. We will learn from our mistakes, she said, and a law will be passed soon — after consultations with civil society — to provide non-governmental organizations the safeguards they need to operate effectively. She challenged them, for their part, to rise to the occasion and achieve higher levels of efficacy and professionalism. Her overall theme of partnership reflected a realization that the government alone could not provide all the expertise or services needed to develop the country at the pace that its citizens expect.
The same message was delivered more explicitly by the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Dr. Abdullah Dardari, who noted the weaknesses or limits of both the state and the market economy in achieving national developmental goals. Civil society and citizen participation through non-governmental organizations are critical for moving on Syria’s goals, ……
….The best hope now is that Syrians themselves will test the sincerity of their government’s call for a deeper, stronger civil society. If the state is sincere, this is a moment of some hope for Syria and its neighbors. If it is bluffing, this is the moment to call its bluff and find out.
Protected timeless treasures are great for tourism and a sense of historical identity; a prosperous modern state, on the other hand, needs dynamism, pluralism, citizen participation, a free flow of ideas, and the protective framework of the rule of law. We shall soon find out if Syria can master both sides of the national equation, as its new rhetoric suggests it seeks to do.
Syria to Introduce New NGOs Law, Establish a new Sector besides Public and Private Sectors
25 January 2010, Syria Report
A new framework law for Syrian NGOs is in the making and will alter significantly the way they work, Asma Al-Assad, Syria’s First Lady said.
Mrs Al-Assad was talking during the opening session of a two-day conference organized in Damascus by the Syria Trust for Development, a foundation chaired by the First Lady.
“The new law will represent a fundamental change in the way the sector is regulated and as such pave the way for a new and more enabling environment for these organisations. More significantly, it will be complemented by guidelines to ensure that its implementation is in line with the enabling spirit to help the sector achieve its objectives,” Mrs Al-Assad said.
The First Lady announced that a system of accreditation and governance will be introduced. “This [the system] will enable potential partners, donors and supporters to seek out organizations, which demonstrably meet clear standards of performance. In turn this will also encourage organizations towards greater transparency and better results,” she added.
Syria has among the lowest number of NGOs in the Middle East. Compared with some 3,500 and 2,000 NGOs in Lebanon and Jordan respectively, Syria has only some 1,500, the vast majority of them being charities. The number of NGOs has, however, increased by some 300 percent in the last 5 years, according to Mrs Al-Assad.
Dubai Helps Iran Evade Sanctions as Smugglers Ignore U.S. Laws
By Kambiz Foroohar
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) — On a sweltering mid-October evening, horns blare as pickup trucks at Dubai Creek wharf jockey to deliver cargo bound for Iran. Televisions, cartons of toothpaste, car parts, refrigerators and DVD players stretch for about a mile on the dock along the murky waterway that snakes to the Persian Gulf.
“We’ll take anything as long as you pay us,” says Ali, a 24-year-old Iranian deck hand in an oil-stained T-shirt, as he pulls down a blue tarpaulin covering air conditioners, tires and tea bags headed for the port of Bandar Abbas, 100 miles (160 kilometers) across the Gulf. “We’ve taken American stuff — printers, computers, everything.”
Years before the world turned its attention to Dubai’s financial crisis, the second largest of the seven states in the United Arab Emirates was amassing clout — and money — as Iran’s back door to the West, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported in its March issue.
Iran’s biggest non-oil trading partner provides a stream of household items — from diapers and mobile phones to laptops and washing machines — as well as illicit items such as aircraft parts and computer chips that the U.S. says have nuclear and military uses.
The U.S. forbids American companies from sending anything to Iran, with limited exceptions, such as medical supplies, and has pressed other nations to stop doing business with the country. The Justice Department has prosecuted foreign companies that sell American goods with military uses to Iran.
‘Offshore Business Center’
The U.A.E. was the biggest importer of U.S. products in the Middle East and North Africa, the Government Accountability Office said in December 2007. It ships out as much as 80 percent of the material — and as much as a quarter of that heads to Iran, says Jean-Francois Seznec, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Washington. From 2005 to 2009, trade between Dubai and Iran tripled to $12 billion, according to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. Iran’s main exports to Dubai are nuts, carpets and petrochemicals.
“Dubai is Iran’s offshore business center,” says Afshin Molavi, a fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation, which analyzes public policy. “Dubai plays a huge role in Iran’s economy.”
Dubai’s porous borders enable Iran to snub the West. The Islamic Republic has disregarded United Nations Security Council demands that it cease work on its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is geared to giving Iran nuclear weapons. The U.S. State Department charges that Iran’s regime backs terrorist groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
Oxford researcher revisits landmark social research and finds 150 remains the limit for real relationships…
Syria: Gear change
1 February 2010
Economist Intelligence Unit – Business Middle East
Will Syria’s new economy minister apply lessons from her stint as ambassador to Malaysia, or does her appointment mark a shift back to conservatism?
The appointment of Lamiya Meri Assi as economy and trade minister marks a further advancement for the role of women in the Syrian government—she will bring the number of female cabinet ministers to three—and her experience in one of the most dynamic Asian economies seems to suggest that she could bring some innovative ideas to Syria’s economic policy discussions. However, her promotion has come amid ructions among policymakers about the direction and the implementation of economic reforms that have been described as involving a shift to a “social market” model from a predominantly state socialist system. Her antecedents indicate that her economic approach lies on the more statist and conservative end of the spectrum—she worked as a deputy to the finance minister, Mohammed al-Hussein, a Baath party stalwart, prior to her diplomatic appointment in 2004.
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, announced the appointment of Ms Assi on January 18th, a week after he had terminated the contract of Tayseer al-Reddawi as head of the State Planning Commission (SPC), a body that has been the driving force behind the reorientation of the Syrian economy towards a market-based system and which is currently drafting a new five-year plan to run from 2011. The decision was thought to reflect the growing animosity between Mr Reddawi and the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari, who headed the SPC until 2007 and was the architect of the current plan. Mr Dardari has been a forthright advocate of economic liberalisation, which has frequently put him at odds with more economically conservative figures, including Mr Hussein, the powerful finance minister. Mr Reddawi has made a number of sharp criticisms of the state of the Syrian economy, most recently stating at a seminar in Damascus that consumption, rather than investment, had become the main engine of growth, and that the benefits of that growth had accrued disproportionately to a small minority whose consumption patterns tended to drive up imports and whose savings preferences accentuated capital flight. These remarks were taken by some as an attack on Mr Dardari’s record, although they could also be interpreted as being directed at the privileges enjoyed by Syria’s business elite by virtue of their close ties to the president. It has also been suggested that Mr Assad and Mr Dardari had developed misgivings about how effective Mr Reddawi was in persuading foreign investors, financiers and aid donors of the potential of the Syrian economy.
Following Mr Reddawi’s dismissal the prime minister, Naji al-Otari, put Mr Dardari in charge of the SPC on an acting basis. This arrangement did not last long, as Mr Assad has now appointed Amer Lotfi, the outgoing minister of economy and trade, to head the SPC. Mr Lotfi had been in his post since 2004, and previously taught economics at Aleppo university as well as being in charge of Baath party activities there. He did not make a great impact as a minister, as most of the key policy initiatives over the past five years were taken by Mr Hussein, Mr Dardari or by Adib Mayaleh, the governor of the Central Bank of Syria—these have included cuts to tax rates, the introduction of a new investment law, the launch of a stockmarket, cuts in energy subsidies, and pegging the exchange rate to the SDR.
The government has enacted reforms to the financial structure of public-sector enterprises—aimed at giving their management more autonomy—but has so far eschewed privatisation. Other aspects of policy that have been marking time include plans to introduce value-added tax (VAT) and the award of a licence to a third mobile-phone operator. Mr Dardari had identified VAT as a critical element in the current five-year plan, in light of the chronic decline in Syria’s oil production, and had set 2008 as the year in which it was to be introduced. However, implementation is in the hands of the finance minister, who has not shown any great sense of urgency on the VAT question. Further development of the telecoms and technology sector has been awaiting the passage of a new sector law that would allow for the current system of build-operate-transfer (BOT) contracts to be superseded by a licence-based system, with an independent regulator. This would require a restructuring of the existing BOT contracts—one of which is held by a business controlled by the president’s cousin—which have proved to be highly advantageous to their holders, while delivering important revenue into the finance ministry’s coffers.
On balance, the changes that have been made since the removal of Mr Reddawi indicate that Mr Assad is content to continue with a cautious approach to economic reform, with public debate about policy options kept to a minimum.
Raad: The guilty conscious almost surrendered itself – As-Safir, 22/01/2010
Riad Raad made the following statement: Jeffrey Feltman says that in 2004, there was an Agreement between the U.S. and France for the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and therefore the Security Council issued resolution 1559. Feltman also said that the two countries benefited from the assassination of Rafik Hariri in their implementation of the Agreement…..
The homes of former Syrian presidents – What has happened to them? See this wonderful site, which explores the homes of Syria’s presidents. Abid’s home became a shoe storehouse in Old Damascus, while Atasi’s has been transformed into a hospital! (Thanks Sami M.)
Gulfsands Jumps After Winning Rights for Syrian Yousefieh Field
2010-01-26, By Morwenna Coniam
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) — Gulfsands Petroleum Plc, a U.K explorer operating in the Middle East and the U.S., rose to a four-year high in London trading after winning approval from Syrian authorities to develop the Yousefieh oilfield. Gulfsands advanced as much as 9.5 pence, or 3.4 percent, to 289.75 pence, the highest price since at least April 2005. The stock traded at 284.5 pence as of 9:40 a.m. local time, valuing the London-based company at 342.1 million pounds ($552 million). The explorer was granted a 25-year production license, with the possibility to extend it for a further 10 years, Gulfsands said today in a statement. The company expects to pump an initial 1,000 barrels of oil a day from the Yousefieh-1 and Yousefieh-3 wells combined, starting in early April, and targets about 6,000 barrels a day from the field by 2012. Gulfsands reported a first-half profit for the first time in five years in September after a jump in output at its Khurbet East field, which is in the same Syrian block as Yousefieh. Khurbet East is now pumping an average of 17,300 barrels a day gross, Gulfsands said in today’s statement, adding that Yousefieh probably has “lower reservoir energy.”
The Yousefieh field has gross proven and probable reserves of 11 million barrels of oil, according to a 2008 assessment, Gulfsands said. The company will provide an update on reserves at the start of the second quarter. It plans to install so-called down-hole artificial lift equipment in both Yousefieh wells, and will drill an additional development well this year. Gulfsands will start production at Yousefieh “as soon as practicable,” Chief Executive Officer Ric Malcolm said in the statement. “The early production data obtained will provide valuable information that will assist us in optimizing the development of the field.”
Rights group slams treatment of Mideast minorities
By PAUL SCHEMM
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; 10:05 AM
CAIRO — A New York-based human rights organization criticized the governments of five Middle Eastern countries Tuesday, including close U.S.-allies Jordan and Saudi Arabia, for their treatment of women and minorities.
Human Rights Watch released the chapters of its 2010 World Report that deal with Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, accusing them of poor treatment of women, minorities and refugees.
“Middle Eastern governments need to recognize that the rights of minorities, refugees, and stateless persons need greater protections,” the group’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement.
The release of these latest chapters of the annual report follows Sunday’s description of the post-election crackdown in Iran and the mistreatment of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates.
The chapters described a pattern of discrimination against minorities in the region, including Saudi Arabia’s treatment of its 2 million-strong Shiite population and Syria’s repression of its Kurds.