“Has President Assad Stepped Up Economic Reform?” by Ehsani

Has President Assad Stepped Up Economic Reform?
By Ehsani 12 January 2010
For Syria Comment

 اتحاد وكالات الأنباء العربية منح جائزة أفضل صورة لعام 2007  لوكالة الأنباء السورية عن صورة تظهر طفلة في السابعة من عمرها منهمكة في إنجاز واجباتها المدرسية بموازاة بيعها الحلوى  علي أحد أرصفة شوارع دمشق .  ونجح المصور الشاب وسيم خير بيك 27 عاماً

اتحاد وكالات الأنباء العربية منح جائزة أفضل صورة لعام 2007 لوكالة الأنباء السورية عن صورة تظهر طفلة في السابعة من عمرها منهمكة في إنجاز واجباتها المدرسية بموازاة بيعها الحلوى علي أحد أرصفة شوارع دمشق . ونجح المصور الشاب وسيم خير بيك 27 عاماً

Syria’s economic reform continued at its deliberate and cautious pace in 2009. While one may argue with the speed and breadth of the process, there is no denying that the strategic decision to reform the country’s economy is irreversible today. Reforming a country’s economy after 40 years of socialism was never going to be easy or swift, especially in a country like Syria, where the leadership is characterized by caution and the desire to avoid mishaps. Patience and stability have been the hallmarks of the presidencies of both Assads. All the same, Syria’s economic transformation has been undeniable.

By and large, president Assad allowed his economic team to publicly argue over mostly tactical matters even if they agreed on the more strategic path towards reform. The president did not seem to favor a certain camp over another.

This was the case until yesterday when President Assad removed Tayseer al-Reddawi as head of the State Planning Commission (SPC), an office he has held since 2007. Prime Minister Otri promptly placed Abdullah al-Dardari in charge of the SPC on an acting basis. Mr. Dardari has effectively gotten his old job back as head of SPC, while he continues to serve as the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, a title he assumed in 2006.

The bad blood and policy disputes between al-Reddawi and Dardari had long since broken into the open. Reddawi was an outspoken critic of Deputy Premier Dardari and the economic policies he put into place as head of the SPC.  Dardari was the architect of the last 5-year economic plan. While Mr. al-Reddawi has launched a series of seminars on the economy lately, his attacks on Mr. Dardari were made public in October of 2009. Syria Comment translated and commented on al-Reddawi’s “51 point critique” of the liberalization process, which can be read here.  That post triggered a debate between Dr. Omar Dahi, an economics professor at Hampshire College, and me about the virtues and vices of “neoliberalism” and Syria’s economic reform, which can be read here.

So what is one to make of the firing of Mr. al-Reddawi? Why did the President himself dip down into the midst of his scrimmaging ministers in order to act as referee?

Most recently, Mr. al-Reddawi has argued that the development of the Syrian economy has suffered from weakness of investment and from to much consumption. Consumption had become the main growth area, he complained, and its benefits had accrued disproportionately to a small minority whose consumption patterns tended to drive up imports and whose savings preferences served capital flight and not local investment. He promised to change consumption patterns and limit the growing income gap in Syria by having the next 5-year plan include previously marginalized groups in such a way that would narrow disparities of income. Other highlights of his plan included improving education to better equip Syrians for the rigors and demands of the modern job market. He also promised to broaden the tax base.

Because of Reddawi’s criticism of free markets and the wealth that has accrued in the hands of a few, some analysts have concluded that his dismissal comes as retribution from Syria’s well connected business elite and serves as a blow to the economic reform process as a whole.

The Economist Intelligence Unit wrote the following analysis on January 11.

The move to dismiss Mr. al-Reddawi, “combined with the government’s recent decision to spurn an EU invitation to Syria to sign a much-delayed Association Agreement, raises question about the depth of Mr. Assad’s professed commitment to economic reform”.

I beg to differ with the EIU’s conclusions.

While one cannot dismiss the probability that Mr. al-Reddawi was punished for his attack on the business elite, it seems more probable that the President has finally decided to weigh in on policy disputes that have hobbled the reform process. By throwing his weight behind Mr. Dardari and his allies who espouse greater free trade and less government intervention, President Assad is setting the direction of macro economic policy and ensuring that the new 5-year plan will reflect the direction that Dardari set out on years ago, when he began pruning subsidies, reforming tax and business laws, and moving toward a social market economy.

If the President’s main motive was to punish Mr. al-Reddawi for attacking the business elite, he did not have to give his job to Mr. Dardari. In order to keep the status quo, he could have given the post to another individual that represented Mr. al-Reddawi’s camp but was more supine, hence keeping the balance that has dominated the economic team.

In a recent article in the WSJ titled, “Syria woos Wall Street,” the author quoted one member of a group of prominent money managers who spent a week in Syria and Lebanon to say that some presentations by government officials were “pretty pathetic.” The group came away with “the opposite impression of Syria’s President, Bashar Assad, and its deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah Dardari.”

Mr. Assad provided direct and open answers to their questions, the investors said, and talked about the need to raise incomes, build infrastructure, and ease the government’s grip on the economy.

This was “a fairly cynical group,” Mr. Biggs says. But “he [the president] blew them away.”

Perhaps these impressions made it back to the President’s ears in time to convince him that he needs to elevate the status of Mr. Dardari. After all, if Syria wants to woo foreign investors, and it must, the economic leadership team has to speak the language that foreign investors want to hear.

The 51-point economic critique made by Mr. al-Reddawi in October of 2008 does not make the cut. Attacking the reform process while offering precious little in terms of solutions is not the answer.

To be fair, sounding the alarm about growing income inequality has merit. But, while Mr. al-Reddawi places the blame on the reforms, his attention should be elsewhere. More specifically, he should have been advising the President on how to achieve faster economic growth rather than greater equality. It is only when the economy can consistently grow by 6 to 8% a year that Syria’s growing numbers of unemployed and undereployed with begin to find the opportunities they need and deserve. The pie must grow and grow fast for Syria to begin to tackle its serious economic woes.

Syria’s economic reforms are unlikely to slow down or be derailed. Just this morning, forty prominent Syrian businessmen were informed that their taxes were no longer going to be paid on an “estimated basis”. Instead, starting this year they were required to file their income taxes based on actual earnings. This morning, when I asked one of the forty people who will have to pay higher taxes why this decision had been made now, his answer was immediate:

“I think that the Syrian Government is finally waking up.”

[End]

Economic Press Review

Syria economy: Off message

EIU Views Wire 11 Jan 2010
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has dismissed a senior economic policy official, in apparent retribution for him voicing criticism of aspects of the way in which the Syrian economy is run. This move, combined with the government’s recent decision to spurn an EU invitation to Syria to sign a much-delayed Association Agreement, raises questions about the depth of Mr Assad’s professed commitment to economic reform.

Mr Assad issued a decree on January 10th revoking a decision taken in March 2007 to appoint 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. No reason was given for Mr Reddawi’s dismissal, which took immediate effect—the Economist Intelligence Unit contacted his former office on January 11th and was told that his job had been terminated, without explanation. The prime minister, Naji al-Otari, issued an order placing Abdullah al-Dardari in charge of the SPC on an acting basis. Mr Dardari is a former head of the SPC, and was responsible for drafting the previous five-year plan. He was promoted to deputy prime minister for economic affairs in 2006, and handed over the SPC job to Mr Reddawi the following year.

Too frank

It seems that Mr Reddawi has paid the price for being too free with his opinions on economic policy. A few days before his dismissal he launched a series of seminars on the economy. In his opening remarks he said that the development of the Syrian economy had been held back by the weakness of investment, both public and private, and by a high propensity to consume. He was quoted as saying that consumption 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. He said that the new plan would aim to include previously marginalised groups in the productive process and would seek to narrow disparities of income. Other elements would include a focus on improving education so as to equip Syrians better for the requirements of the labour market, broadening the tax base and revamping labour legislation.

As such, his implied criticisms appear relatively mild. However, some of his remarks could have been taken as attacking Syria’s business elite, including the president’s close family circle, and this could offer an explanation for Mr Assad’s harsh action. It would not be the first time that an economist has paid for being too outspoken—in 2005 Mr Assad dismissed Nibras al-Fadhel from his job as economic policy adviser to the president after he had spoken about shortcomings in Syria’s governance in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper.

Talent pool

Mr Reddawi is one of a small group of Western-educated economists that Mr Assad has entrusted with senior policy positions, which previously were the preserve of Baath party officials—other examples include Mr Dardari and the central bank governor, Adib al-Mayaleh. He obtained a doctorate in economics from the Sorbonne in 1980, and has spent most of his career as an academic in Syria and the Gulf. To judge by comments on websites reporting his dismissal he was held in high regard by his former students. As head of the SPC he was one of the main points of contact with international development agencies—in the week preceding his dismissal, for example, he was discussing the prospect of raising €600m in finance from France and the European Investment Bank for the Damascus metro project.

His departure not only deprives the Syrian government of an authoritative and capable economic strategist, but also risks souring relations with Western development agencies, whose support is vital to sustaining public investment projects.

Syria’s Deir Azzour Oil Output to Drop in 2010, Al Watan Says
2010-01-12 05:33:47.231 GMT

By Nadim Issa
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Deir Azzour Oil Company, a Syrian oil producer, said production this year may drop to no more than 8.5 million barrels from 10 million in 2009 after more than a dozen wells were depleted, Al Watan reported. Of the company’s 38 wells, 14 were depleted recently, the newspaper said, citing Firas Qaddour, general manager. Deir Azzour plans five new wells to increase output, Al Watan reported.

SYRIA TO ALLOW FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF BANKS

Foreign investors set to be given the right to hold majority stakes in Syrian banks.

Syria has opened up its banking sector to foreign speculators in an effort to attract more investment in the country. According to reports by local Syrian media, the government has moved to allow foreign investors to own more than 50% of Syrian banks sector in an attempt to revitalize the country’s economy. “This is part of the reformation of the banking sector which has been going since 2003,” Justin Alexander, an editor and economist with Economist Intelligence Unit, told The Media Line. “Formerly, all of Syria’s banks were state run.”

“Back in 2003 private banks could be established and foreign investment was allowed up to 49%,” he said. “Ten conventional and Islamic private banks have opened over that period, and they now manage one fifth of the assets of the banking sector.”

“They have grown quite quickly,” Alexander added. “But most banks that started have been regional ones – either branches of Lebanese bank or other regional banks and local Syrian owned ones.” “Governments have been keen to increase the availability of credit to expand the private sector,” he continued. “Syria needs to develop other sectors of the economy to make up for the losses in revenue from oil.”

“[The government] is particularly interested in attracting international banks,” Alexander said, suggesting names such as HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank. “There is also a political element,” he added. “Syria is increasingly challenging its international isolation and it made considerable progress over the last couple of years in terms of improving ties both in the region and with Europe and the U.S.”

Referring to United States President Barack Obama’s plans to appoint a U.S. ambassador to Syria, Alexander said that the Syrian government’s plans to open up its banking sector were part of a broader foreign policy strategy. “It is economic but nothing is just economic, particularly in Syria,” he said. “There are political benefits to Syria if they can be seen to host major international companies in the banking sector or indeed in other sectors. There are plenty of good growth prospects, particularly if [Syria] signs an Association Agreement with the E.U. [European Union].”

An Association Agreement is a treaty between the E.U. and a non-member country to establish a framework to develop economic, political and cultural relations between the two parties.

“This could well happen in the next couple of months,” Alexander said. “That would make Syria a more convenient base for exporting to Europe as well as the Middle East.”…

Since American aircraft manufacturer Boeing was banned from selling spare parts to Syrian Air, the steady deterioration of its airplanes has often been cited as the most visible evidence of the embargo’s effects.

By Adam Gonn on Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Comments (47)


1. norman said:

It looks like president Assad was watching and reading Syria comment , he learned from the exchange between Ehsani and Dr Omar Dahi that most Syrians abroad agree with Ehsani on the road that Syria should follow ,

Ehsani , do you really think that Syria needs a SPC , i don’t , Syria would be better off leaving her people to find their way ,

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January 13th, 2010, 3:49 am

 

2. love you alex said:

excellent analysis ehasani, spot on!

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January 13th, 2010, 4:08 am

 

3. norman said:

Hey, (( love you Alex )),

It looks to me that you are cheating on Alex , You are in love more with Ehsani than Alex ,

So how do you explain your overt admiration of Ehsani ?, i am starting to wonder .

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January 13th, 2010, 4:14 am

 

4. Averroes said:

Ehsani,

Thank you for writing this article. I was hoping that you would write something on the sacking of Dr. al-Reddawi.

As far as I have read, Dr. Reddawi’s list did include the outline of a plan, and not just criticism. (http://all4syria.info/content/view/19542/69/). It does have a socialist and strategic tones, which foreign investors probably don’t like to hear.

I’m concerned that some of Dardari’s methods are looking increasingly similar to those of the late Hariri in Lebanon. Hariri focused on sexing up Beirut to attract investments that he thought would bring in quick cash (tourism, services, retail). I don’t think that Syria should take that direction. Five star hotels and shopping malls are not what the country should be reforming toward.

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January 13th, 2010, 4:17 am

 

5. jad said:

Dear Ehsani,
I share Averroes views and concerns, I think going full speed on open market as Mr. Dardari doing is very risky and to concentrate on tourism, services and retail forgetting about Infrastructure, Industry, Energy, Water and Agriculture is wrong.
Another major issue is silencing of the opposition voice of Mr Raddawi, in my humble opinion it will have a negative impact on the democratic system we all call for, especially in the economy reform.
You always need some opposition to balance any decision. From now on we will have a mini dictator (Mr. Dardari) with his carte blanche to do whatever he thinks is right without any veto or any opposition from anybody, I really have bad feeling about that.

The good news is the TAX one, I hope they do it right this time.
——————————————————–

This news if for Alex, I’m sure that he will be very happy of the Syrian great investment. What a shame 🙁

قريبا : المالبورو صناعة سورية
http://all4syria.info/content/view/19906/96/

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January 13th, 2010, 7:36 am

 

6. milli schmidt said:

Hello,

thank you for another interesting post on economic matters. I am currently spending six months in Syria conducting research – I spent six months here in 2005 and have visited yearly since then.

Economic changes are clearly taking place, but all that can be said at the moment is that the social and economic situation of Syria is dire. I have just moved to Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, and am getting a full blow of ridiculously high rents for awful accomodation, incredibly badly qualified workmen and a severe lack of infrastructure. Jaramana is considered a mixed neighourhood, roughly lower middle class. I am paying USD 400 for a furnished, 2bed flat (ca 100 sq meters) in a highrise building near the main street. Counting that I’m a foreigner, this is, at a max, USD 80 over the local price. Which means that by Western standards this is cheap compared to prices in capital cities – but considering the extremely poor building quality, this is not really the case. And the two jokers that came round yesterday night to repair the washing machine – at one point asking ME for a flashlight, as the cigarette lighter, which they were using to peer inside the motor, had run out, are unfortuately a typical example of the level of skill and education in Syria’s building sector.

In my opinion, this country is heading downward rather than upward. While a few square kilometers of central Damascus are glitzier than ever and economic liberalisation has been accompanied by a cultural shift that makes it more acceptable to ostentatiously display your wealth in the street, the rest is dire and nothing is changing. The quality of education is horrific – and I cannot see this changing anytime soon, freeing up education spells and immediate threat to the government. Personality cult and culture of fear is alive and kicking.

And by the way, practically everyone wants to leave this place – taxidriver to doctor, everyone.

THIS is the real crime of this self-serving government of mediocrity that has bred a system in which no one dares to take responsibility and initiative is more likely going to be punished than rewarded. Haram aleihum.

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January 13th, 2010, 9:34 am

 

7. EIU said:

Thank you Ehsani for your comments. You present the dismissal of Reddawi as a new twist in the Dardari-Mohammed Hussein battle, and suggest that the president has moved to put economic liberalisation back on track after it has been obstructed by advocates of a more public sector oriented approach. I think there may be more to it than this. Reddawi’s critique was focused on the poor implenentation of the current five-year plan, not so much on the targets set out in the plan itself. It seems to me that he was interested in promoting debate about policy issues, which necessarily would include asking questions about the distribution of economic power and about governance. I have a high regard for what Dardari has achieved, but he has been careful to avoid direct criticism of rent-seeking business elites.

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January 13th, 2010, 10:32 am

 

8. Ghat Albird said:

The photo of the young girl ( as part of the title of the above comments in The Economist, etc,.) sitting on the sidewalk ostensibly doing her homework while at the same time selling baked goods captures the essence of a people discriminated against when compared next to a people that receive according to US experts between $13/16 million dollars everyday of the year and can afford to as Haaretz wrote on Janurary 10, 2010. Build a $1.5 billion fence.

” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered to construct a fence at a cost of $1.5 billion along two segments of Israel’s border with Egypt, in an attempt to stem the infiltration of migrant workers as well as of terrorist elements into Israel.

Netanyahu told officials gathered at the Prime Minister’s Office that the goal of the project “was to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel.”

“We shall remain open to war refugees, but we will not allow thousands of illegal migrant workers to flood the country,” Netanyahu added.

Is it possible that one of these days “The Economist” [ Intelligence Unit?] will do an Israel expose with one or two photos?

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January 13th, 2010, 1:07 pm

 

9. EHSANI2 said:

AVERROES/JAD,

You make it sound like Syria is littered with 5-star hotels, shopping malls and sexy touristic destinations.

Let us recap:

Damascus has one decent hotel up to international standards. Aleppo’s first mall opened just last year. The entire Syrian coast has one acceptable luxury destination. The Syrian tourism industry is so backward that it will take at least 10 years of investments to give the country anything resembling Lebanon. Projects like this must be encouraged and not criticized. Syria has energy shortages that hamper the country’s aspirations to become a manufacturing hub. Tourism is an industry that the country can compete on. Investments in this sector are still woefully inadequate. Much more is needed.

As for the need to invest in Infrastructure, Industry, Energy, Water and Agriculture, you wonder if the government is forgetting these sectors at the expense of tourism. Please remember that such investments are very capital intensive. The government lacks the funds to make such investments out of the budget. As a result, it has been promoting and encouraging private and foreign capital to invest in these sectors. I detect no signs that the government is forgetting these sectors. To the contrary, they have been very public that they need investments in them. The reason that it has been a harder sell is because the numbers are much bigger and the subsidized price of electricity makes it harder to justify the returns on private capital.

Finally, a word on the need to have opposition to Mr. Dardari rather than offering him a carte-blanche to do whatever he thinks is right as you put it:

Since the reform process has started, there have been too many opposing views and interests that have slowed down the pace and ensured that the move towards reform is patient and deliberate (for me it has been painfully slow). I doubt that the removal of Mr. al-Reddawi will now allow Mr. Dardari to run the show all by himself. There are still many powerful voices within the party that will oppose Mr. Dardari and ensure that he goes nice and slow. Frankly, I see no harm in giving someone some free reign to operate from a camp that has been dormant for the past 40 years. It will take a lot of charges on that carte-blanche card to do much damage.

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January 13th, 2010, 1:34 pm

 

10. love you alex said:

Dear ehsani

you have become a bright beacon to guide the economy and a clear persuasive voice for the direction the country should take

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January 13th, 2010, 1:47 pm

 

11. Akbar Palace said:

Ghat wants to Eat his Cake too

Ghat Albird said:

The photo of the young girl ( as part of the title of the above comments in The Economist, etc,.) sitting on the sidewalk ostensibly doing her homework while at the same time selling baked goods captures the essence of a people discriminated against when compared next to a people that receive according to US experts between $13/16 million dollars everyday of the year and can afford to as Haaretz wrote on Janurary 10, 2010. Build a $1.5 billion fence.

Ghat Albird,

Would you feel better if the little girl was Egyptian or Iraqi and the dollar amount was $10 -20 million/day?

Because that’s the foreign aide we give Egypt and Iraq.

This issue isn’t “discrimination”, because the US doesn’t have to give foreign aide to anyone. Syria isn’t the only country that doesn’t get foreign aide from the US.

And you can REST ASSURED, a country that supports terrorists who are war with the US will not get much foreign aide. Surprised?

http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/foreign_commerce_aid/foreign_aid.html

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January 13th, 2010, 1:56 pm

 

12. love you alex said:

Norman, you are probaly right it is time to move on from now on i will re-appear as love you Ehsani.

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January 13th, 2010, 4:02 pm

 

13. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Ghat Albird,

Here is your Economist – Israeli “expose”.

2005
http://www.economist.com/markets/rankings/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11318927

2006
http://www.economist.com/markets/rankings/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12758865

This is a thread about Syrian economy.
No need to bring Israel to divert attention. It’s a well known Arab trick
(to divert attention), and it’s about time to end with it.
.

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January 13th, 2010, 4:06 pm

 

14. norman said:

love you alex ,

you can call yourself ,

LOVE YOU A & E, (( Alex and Ehsani ))

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January 13th, 2010, 4:35 pm

 

15. idaf said:

Ehsani,

Excellent analysis as usual. I had the same thoughts when I read the EIU report. I am disappointed by the shallow analysis by the EIU on Raddawi’s dismissal. It was not the first time he made such criticism. I think it’s Mr. Bigg’s statement that caused this!

If you do a quick online news Arabic search in the Syrian press over the past 5 years on the statements (any statements) made by the “reformists” (Dardari’s group) and those made by the “conservative” opposing group (until recently headed by Raddawi), you’ll notice that the number of statements made by the latter were probably 4 times that of the reformists (my subjective estimate). Most of these were also critical of the reforms carried out by Dardari or critical of Dardari personally. While on the other had I can’t remember any statements made by Dardari and his team attacking the “conservatives” or the socialist policies.

I like Dardari’s style. The investors seem to like it too, and this is the real target audience. He’s working hard and achieving results without wasting energy on responding to critics and proving his legitimacy. Of course it helps if you have the support from the top. However, he did take the critics point of view into consideration if you go back to certain U-turns on the reforms over the years (this is what Ehsani is referring to as “painfully slow”). Most of the “conservatives” rhetoric was too populist and politically motivated more than anything else.

Personally, I have met people who worked with Dardari and others who worked with Raddawi. According to these people, both guys are smart, nice and passionate in their work. Results is what one should look for.

If big investors are an indicator in the economic arena, then we know what they think of Mr. Dardari and Mr. Asad. One should ask Mr. Bigg: What was the government department he found its presentations “pretty pathetic”? I am guessing that it is Raddawi’s State Planning Commission (SPC). If so then getting sacked because of this severe incompetence (in marketing and external relations at least) is only fair.

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January 13th, 2010, 4:48 pm

 

16. Ghat Albird said:

AMIR IN TEL AVAIV
said “No need to bring Israel to divert attention. It’s a well known Arab trick
(to divert attention), and it’s about time to end with it.

While the Arabs may be good at tricks; The following is what Harry Truman noted in his dairy in 1947.

“The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D(isplaced) P(ersons) as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I’ve found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.”

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January 13th, 2010, 5:24 pm

 

17. joshua Landis said:

Dear EIU, Good to hear from you again.

It seems to me that the best way to frame the debate here is equity versus growth.

Redawwi tried to frame the debate as greedy elite versus the people.

Of course there is an important corruption problem in Syria. Everyone would be happier if Law and equity ruled in both opportunity and process. We know that is not the case.

The worry of some of us is that the universal anxiety about law and equity will be exploited by those who favor the status quo in order to attack the elite, which is actually trying to grow the economy and get rich.

In the 1960s, these same arguments about equity and corruption were used to carry out a revolution against Syria’s landed and merchant elite in favor of people from the countryside. Many in Syria hear them and suspect there is a political agenda afoot and not merely an economic agenda.

In some respects the Baathist revolution is slowly being reversed by the reforms now being carried out. A new business elite is emerging that will catapult itself above the great mass of Syrians. They are the ones who will benefit most from the take-off that Syria is beginning to experience – at least at the upper echelons of society.

All countries that have experience this sort of move toward capitalism have also experienced a deepening of the income gap, retched conditions for the working classes, a gilded elite that lives in great mansions, etc. No country lived through this transformation more dramatically than your own, Great Britain, in the 19th century. Dickens described the iniquities and indignities of the lower classes better than anyone.

The point I am trying to make is that growing inequality will be necessary and is a natural part of capitalist take off. Syria, of course, must try to alleviate it as much as possible – and I believe Dardari often speaks to this concern.

All the same, the clarion call of equity should not be used to throw up road blocks before the elite which will emerge and before the reforms which will destroy an old system that is failing the country. It will be a painful transition.

In some respects, Ehsani is worried that it has not been painful enough so far. He wants the state sector dismantled faster – which is what Dardari advocates. This will cause more pain in the short term as many salaried, but unproductive, civil servants lose their jobs. Ehsani and his ilk listen to someone like Reddawi and hear entrenched socialist interests trying to protect their turf.

People who like Reddawi’s message hear someone who is attacking the new elite that is growing up around the state and benefiting from the reforms – an elite, they argue, that is corrupt and ruining the country by monopolizing its wealth and opportunity.

Ehsani is arguing that if you kill that “golden goose,” there is not alternative for the country. The government has no revenues to develop the country on its own. In some respects, one can only hope that the barons of Syria will build it out of the desperate straights that it finds itself in today. One has to pick between imperfect options.

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January 13th, 2010, 5:29 pm

 

18. Joshua said:

Dear Milli Schmidt,

Many thanks for your very interesting observations. I have had many similar moments of despair when surveying the extra-ordinary challenges Syria has to overcome in order to lift itself out of poverty and under development.

Keep them coming. We would love to hear what life is like in Jaramana. Have many of the Iraqis left? Best, Joshua

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January 13th, 2010, 5:49 pm

 

19. love you ehsani said:

Dear milli

Jaramana is a slum of Damascus in the classic definition of the word it is an unplanned community. So I am not surprised of your impressions. But your views of the country might have been colored by your experience. It is estimated that as much as 40% of Damascus and other major cities in Syria are unplanned development. The current government is very much aware of the situation and there are many plans to address these developments. The rest of the city is actually very nice the buildings are much higher quality that we encounter in major western countries with the exception of the most recent development of the past 10-15 years. The education is lacking but descent. There is a solid core of old established schools in the major cities and some excellent new private schools. Most Syrian expats find that the he education they received in Syria allows them to compete for good graduate school in the west and excel in professional position in these countries as well.

You need to compare apples to apples> New York City suffers from a similar inequality in housing and education between the city center and the rest of the city and other boroughs.

And the slums of Syria are safer cleaner and much better off than similar slums in Latin America.

But in general you are correct and a lot more needs done to lift people out of poverty that is the challenge of many of the countries in the world.

Ehsani offers a good recipe for Syria.

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January 13th, 2010, 6:01 pm

 

20. jad said:

Dear Ehsani,
Please don’t think of my comments as personal criticism to your debate, it isn’t the case at all, besides, I’m not an economist, I’m an observer.
My comments are only a reflection of what I see in the real life we have now in Syria, saying that, I have couple notes on your answer because honestly, I don’t buy ‘Dardari’ trademark anymore.

Tourism:
“Tourism is an industry that the country can compete on. Investments in this sector are still woefully inadequate. Much more is needed.”
In that case what did this government along Mr. Dardari did/do for tourism, what is their biggest achievement? How many Hotels are built since Dardari was appointed?
How many European/International airlines did open direct flights to Syria recently? ZERO
BMI just cut their service to Aleppo; many European airlines don’t even bother come to Damascus anymore; Lufthansa, KLM, BA, SAS etc. Why? And why not trying to bring them back?
I wont ‘dare’ to go to the service sector because most of it is monopolized by only couple men, isn’t that another failure to the ‘plan’ of Mr. Dardari, so why I have to trust anything he does?

Infrastructure:
“The reason that it has been a harder sell is because the numbers are much bigger and the subsidized price of electricity makes it harder to justify the returns on private capital.”
Don’t you think that electricity price in Syria regarding what people are getting and the service is over priced already and very expensive? How high electricity should go before we get a decent service that doesn’t get cut off every day for hours and we have to use candles to study?
Are this government so incompetent or that stupid to fix this issue? They could if they want, but they are not doing a thing, with or without Mr. Dardari.

Caret-Blanche:
“It will take a lot of charges on that carte-blanche card to do much damage.”
I respectfully disagree on this note, you only need one wrong decision to make the damage. One law 40 years ago was enough for Syria to be in this situation we are in right now, so the Caret-Blanche shouldn’t be permitted to anybody at all.

One last related note: How about radicalism getting slowly into our society without anybody in this government trying to challenge it for the sake of getting investments, doesn’t that count under building the right infrastructure for tourism and service sector to flourish? Where is the economic group in that? Where is this key point along the crazy high birth rate in the ‘plan’? Don’t they need to put that in their coming 5years plan?

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January 13th, 2010, 6:16 pm

 

21. Alex said:

Norman, I hope you realize what you have done!

Baseeta.

Ehsani, Jad, Averroes

I can’t say that I have an opinion on the decision to remove Tayseer al-Reddawi from his position as head of the State Planning Commission. I’ll wait to hear the reasoning behind this decision from the President. I am sure someone somewhere will ask him to make a comment.

The Syrian leadership does not always communicate its decisions and its opinions.

But in general, I would point out that Mr. Reddawi’s sharp differences with the policies of Dardari made him an opposition figure, not a member of government. If he differed on tactics, it would have been great to keep him, but differences regarding basic strategy is not something that an economics team can live with for long.

If I were him, I would have resigned to draw more attention to my position.

And finally, I trust President Assad’s decision making … he won’t place Syria squarely in the hands of “Capitalism”. He is not the reckless risk taker that needs to be constrained by conservative opposition. Similarly, I doubt he removed Reddawi simply because Mr. Bigg found his presentation “Pretty Pathetic”

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January 13th, 2010, 8:54 pm

 

22. jad said:

Ahleen Alex, Wen hal ghebe?

Another theory to add to the speculation:

الدردري : ما أحلى الرجوع إليها .. !!!

علي عبود – كلنا شركاء
13/ 01/ 2010

“هذا التحليل بنظر عطري لم يكن سوى رد سلبي جدا على المشهد المشرق لنتائج الخطة التي عرضها في مجلس الشعب !
وكان يجب أن يرد بسرعة وهذا مافعله كي لايكررها أحد من المسؤولين بعد الرداوي على مبدأ : من يريد التغريد منفردا فليفعل .. ولكن خارج السرب الحكومي !”

http://all4syria.info/content/view/19981/161/

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January 13th, 2010, 9:11 pm

 

23. Love you ehsani said:

Alex, it is not you, it’s me:)

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January 13th, 2010, 11:54 pm

 

24. norman said:

Alex,

I am sorry , but as they say out of sight out of mind , we need you to show up here , i am sure if you do (( Love you Alex )) will be back and will see how much he loves you as we all do ,

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January 14th, 2010, 3:31 am

 

25. norman said:

Love you A&E,(( Alex and Ehsani ))

I agree with your respond to Milli ,

DR Landis , you made things clearer ,

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January 14th, 2010, 3:37 am

 

26. Love You Alex said:

Dear Ms. Love You Ehsani,

For years I have been envying you for the highly coveted “Love You Alex” name that you used to own.

Now that you expressed your love to Ehsani, I am claiming ownership (on this blog) of the “Love You Alex” name.

Thanks Norman.

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January 14th, 2010, 3:40 am

 

27. norman said:

To all of you ,

can anybody tell me why it has to be all or nothing , either complete government planing or complete free market , why can’t the government take care of the industries that it think is needed for national security and doing and building the infrastructure that the economy needs , these things come to mind that government should be responsible for and working on ,

1) roads that connect all Syrian cities with high speed roads from the Turkish border to the Jordanian border and from Latakia to the Iraqi border , they could be also responsible for the Authority to maintain these vital roads ,
2) Rail roads connecting Syria with Turkey Iraq Jordon and passing through all Syrian cities to transport people and goods ,
3) Airliner and airports in every city
if the private sector wants to have an airliner , good for them but Syria should have an airliner that is supported by the government to secure transportation ,
4) public university with branches in every city as they have now , i would like that all degrees carry the Name of Damascus university and Aleppo university with different branches to give credibility to these degrees from Homs , Hama , Deer al zour and others ,
Private universities are welcomed but should be affiliated with universities that are recognized , their affiliation and the future of their graduate should be known to the prospected students and should meet a standard that is set by the government and it’s public university for their degrees to be recognized in Syria ,
5 ) the government should be responsible for clean water to every Syria city and town
6 ) the government should be responsible to provide uninterrupted inexpensive electricity to every town , city and village
7) the oil industry should be manged by the Government ,and the revenue allocated to counties depends on their population .

8 ) the government should not have monopoly on anything except the Army and the weapon industry , the private sector should be able to compete in the weapon industries with supervision and encouragement from the government by buying weapon systems from the private sector ,

9) the government should be responsible to have good communication systems with land lines and be sure that wireless systems are affordable ,

10 ) the government does not have to dismantle the factories that it manages now but allow the private sector to compete in all feilds and make the managers of these factory responsible for their performance ,

inequality can be managed by taxation and redistribution of wealth which is important for the poor as much as it should be important for the rich as a way to prevent the revolution that will be cumming if the gap widen,

Finally the government should make it easy for people to start businesses by providing equity ,
and there can not be a free economy without a contract law and property rights .

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January 14th, 2010, 4:33 am

 

28. Averroes said:

Ehsani,

Thanks for your reply.

I always say that most of us expats did not depart because we can’t stand the traffic, the hot weather, the water shortage, or the power cuts. We can take all of that, and more, if things are fair, and if the rule of law reaches everyone. Many of us truly want to contribute to building the country, however, we can’t place our investments there because there just seems to be too many uncertainties.

Clearly, as Dr. Landis mentioned, the rule of law still has a long way to go in Syria. I am still faced by many many situations that spell corruption at several layers of society and government.

The mall you mentioned in Aleppo, the tourist attractions on the coast, the airport road projects in Damascus, I know (and probably you do as well) of outrageous corruption cases involving many of those projects.

I think if we really want to attract investment, then we really need to tackle corruption.

It’s not easy at all, and my own theory is that we should target the next generation with the most attention. No money in the world can make people change you if they don’t believe you. And if they don’t believe in the system, then no policing will be able to tackle that.

When people believe, miracles happen. When they don’t, nothing does.

Having said that, I too trust the president. He’s earned that trust, I believe.

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January 14th, 2010, 4:43 am

 

29. Majhool said:

In principal, nothing is wrong with keeping an excutive team cohesive.

Opposition should be in the Media and in the Parliment. But as we know both are weak.

It’s very important that someone gets it right (in economics) sometime soon. Otherwise we (syrians) will be screwed

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January 14th, 2010, 4:52 am

 

30. idaf said:

A couple of interesting articles on the reemergence of the Turkish “Damascus Province” (wilayat Dimashq), or as Erdogan reportedly called it: “Şamgen area”, resembling a Turkish-Arab Schengen area (“Şam” is Cham in Turkish, which historically in Arabic/Turkish refer to both Damascus and ‘Greater Syria’):

Turkish-Israeli tension on the axis of the ‘Damascus Province’
Hurriyet
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=turkish-israeli-tension-on-the-axis-of-8216damascus-province8217-2010-01-13

During an unexpected spring atmosphere in Istanbul in the middle of January, at the garden of Four Seasons Hotel in Bosphorus, Lebanese ministers and I, together with my colleagues, are having a conversation.

“You have arrived to cause a war between Turkey and Israel,” I joked. Lebanese officials are in laughter. They are happy, especially Prime Minister Saad Hariri who tells me that he had a multi-purpose visit and it was quite successful.

The pleased Lebanese guests are discussing the importance of Hariri’s visit to Turkey, which is the extremely critical first visit of the prime minister. Some are excited to be in Istanbul for the first time. The Lebanese agriculture minister, representing Hezbollah in the Cabinet, is asking “Which side of Istanbul are we on right now?”

I answered, “On the European side.”

He says: “The other side is Asia,” as tear drops appear in his eyes. “That side is the East,” the minister adds while staring at the district of Üsküdar. And I point my finger and say: “Yes. But Lebanon is across from it.”

I jokingly say to the Lebanese ministers: “Considering the point Turkey and Lebanon have reached; a kind of a triple-axis is emerging in the region.”

One of them adds, “Don’t forget to add Jordan,” in a way to approve my remarks. Jordan is another regional country which Turkey has recently lifted visa applications.

Yet another one is jumping into the conversation, “As Turkey has lifted visas, the Damascus Province has come out again.”

The Druze Transportation Minister Gazi Aridi, a member of Walid Janbulat’s party, is warning that the Lebanese media have not completely grasped the importance and value of the prime minister’s visit to Turkey. The Lebanese press today will be aware of the “situation,” just like the Turkish press, which also skipped Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on Israel during a joint press conference he held with Hariri two days ago. So, the “arrogant reaction” Israel showed the other day will wake up Turkish media inevitably.

The Israeli press is already aware of the situation. On the front pages yesterday, Israeli newspapers fully concentrated on the tension that recently emerged with Turkey.

Following Erdoğan’s statement, the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv, Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol, was called back to the Foreign Ministry. Israeli Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon didn’t get the chance for a handshake with the Turkish ambassador, let him sit on a lower chair than his own and told the cameramen in Hebrew: “Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair … that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling.”

I tried to explain in my article the other day that the “situation” that has emerged between Israel and Turkey is the result of the steps Turkey is taking beyond the “Middle East status quo.” The latest developments taking place in the last 24 hours, therefore, have confirmed my piece.

***

The rapprochement policy Turkey followed toward Syria has born the fruit of a lifting of visa restrictions. A total of 51 agreements were signed. Turkey also lifted visas against Jordan. As Hariri was visiting Turkey this time, relevant agreements were signed too.

One of the Lebanese ministers told me the other day that free entry will be enforced as of Thursday. He also stressed that the training and equipment of the Lebanese Army will be provided by Turkey and that electric and gas deals, which all are critically important for Lebanon, were signed.

All these confirm Turkey’s leadership in the Middle East and can be read that the country is taking a geopolitical position against Israel. All of the above countries, along with the Palestinian land today, were called the “Damascus Province” under the Ottoman dominion.

In fact, Erdoğan, in a private conversation with the Lebanese officials, made an irony and referred to the Schengen area in the European Union. I’ve learned that he said “We have the created Şamgen area;” “Şam” means Damascus in Turkish.

As Turkish-Israeli relations turn sour, Turkey has lifted the visas to all Arab countries neighboring Israel and a political-economic integration is being pursued.

This means being a “center of power” in the region.

But if you pay attention to Erdoğan’s remark on Israel the other day in the press conference with Hariri, you realize that Turkish Prime Minister said: “Israel says ‘I am the power of the region’ because there is an imbalance of opportunities. We never approve of this picture. We will continue to be with the aggrieved.”

Against a state that declares itself to be the power of the region just because of having more opportunities than the others, Turkey gathers the “aggrieved” around it, lifts visas, engages in serious economic ties and does all these by applying “soft power” only.

We should expect more reactions to come because Turkey and its prime minister have made serious moves against Israel and have caused debates both at in the region and outside it.

***

Discussions have already started in Israel. We see two tendencies in the Israeli government toward Turkey: The “anti-Turkey” camp is led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, famous for his racist approach toward the Palestinians. According to the Jewish daily Haaretz, Lieberman is looking for ways to dynamite the Likud Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s visit to Turkey next week.

Making an attempt to insult Turkey via its ambassador is interpreted as Lieberman’s plot to cause tension with Turkey.

The rightist Jerusalem Post backed up Lieberman and revealed the said “plot” the other day:

“The government removed the gloves on Monday in response to provocative actions and comments coming from Ankara, with the Foreign Ministry slamming Turkey as the last country that can preach morality, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon calling in Turkey’s envoy for a dressing down in front of the cameras.”

“Israel’s message to Turkey is clear,” one diplomatic official said. “If you want a fight, we’ll fight.”

As Lieberman tries to block Barack Obama and Bejamin Ben-Elizer, both who are in favor of protecting relations with Turkey, President Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently trying to create a “problem” between Turkey and U.S. out of Turkish-Israeli tension.

Who is to lose in this Turkey-Israel row?

Whichever losing power in the region and in international arena, weakening and being isolated, it will lose.

Whichever keeps “internal balances” tight will win.

Turkey embraces role as Arab ‘big brother’
By Sami Moubayed
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LA14Ak01.html

DAMASCUS – After the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara, many in the West referred to a new Turkish foreign policy called “neo-Ottomanism”, suggesting a revival of the intellectual, political and social influence of the Ottoman Empire, which departed the scene 92 years ago.

That policy was attributed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his advisor, now foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Quickly, however, the term “Ottomanism” began to fade, given that it was difficult to market in countries formerly controlled by

the Ottoman Empire due to continued indoctrination against Ottomanism by the Arabs over nine decades.

Some, however, continued to stand by the term, including Cuneyt Zapsu, an advisor to the Turkish prime minister, who said: “A new, positive role for Turkey in the world requires a reconciliation with its own past, the overcoming of societal taboos, and a positive new concept of Turkish identity. We are the Ottomans’ successors and should not be ashamed of this.”

Decision-makers in Turkey had once tried to hide their Ottoman past, ashamed of it during the heyday of Kemal Ataturk because it looked backward and was too Islamic for the secular state that was being carefully erected in Turkey. That is now a thing of the past thanks to the steady policy of the AKP, which has been opening up to countries such as Syria and, more recently, Lebanon.

Many wrongly interpreted Erdogan’s policy towards the Arab world, now entering its seventh year, as purely a Syrian-Turkish alliance. By nature of his new orientation, Erdogan is striving to restore Turkey to its rightful place amongst Arab and Muslim nations, and that by no means stops at the gates of Damascus. It is a policy that embraces Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

During the past few years, Turkey has sponsored indirect talks between Syria and Israel, tried to hammer out solutions between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and worked on mending broken fences between Damascus and Baghdad after relations soured last August.

Turkey has permanently stood as a mediator between Iran and the Arab world and has worked hard to help embrace non-state players like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas, whose leadership it received in Ankara in 2004, despite public outcry from the United States.

Additionally, it has tried to flex its muscle within the complex world of Iraqi politics, calling on Sunni leaders to take part in the political process that was started after the 2003 downfall of Saddam Hussein. Big brother Turkey, after all, had mediated in similar waters at the turn of the 20th century and apparently still knows the region, its people and their plight only too well, and still feels best suited to solve existing conflict within it.

This week, Erdogan received Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in a groundbreaking visit to Turkey, adding yet another link to the long chain of alliances that Erdogan is carefully creating for the Turkish republic.

Among other things, the two countries agreed to increase technical and scientific cooperation in military affairs and lift visa requirements between Lebanon and Turkey. At first glance, this will boost tourism and people-to-people contact between Beirut and Ankara.

According to official numbers, 50,794 Lebanese tourists went to Turkey in 2008 – an increase of 18,000 from 2007 and large when compared with the number, not more than a few hundred, of Turkish tourists who streamed into Beirut.

It will certainly affect bilateral trade, which stood at US$225 million in 2002 and now stands at $900 million. It also means that Turkey has now lifted visa requirements with six Arab countries, the others being Libya, Morocco, Tunis, Jordan and Syria.

Erdogan best explained it by saying that a “regional Schengen” system, similar to the agreement signed between European countries in Luxemburg in 1985, has now gone into effect in the region, removing systematic border control between these countries – making them closer to how they had been under the Ottoman Empire. When Iraq normalizes, he added, it, too, could join the regional “Schengen” system.

Clearly from all the optimism shown by Erdogan for the Hariri visit, cooperation between Turkey and Lebanon will not end there. The Turkish premier, after all, has visited Beirut twice, in 2007 and in 2008, and was the most senior foreign guest attending the inauguration of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

During the Israeli war of 2006, he firmly stood by the Lebanese, and in its immediate aftermath, sent 600 Turkish troops to take part in peacekeeping on the Lebanese-Israeli border by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Erdogan saw to it that $50 million worth of aid was given to reconstruct southern Lebanon, along with building 41 schools, five parks and a rehabilitation center worth $20 million.

Politically, Lebanon and Turkey are now colleagues in rotating positions at the UN Security Council, and this is where real political cooperation will materialize in the months to come. Turkey’s heavyweight influence will come in handy as Lebanon tries to waiver Security Council resolution 1559, which called on the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon and stipulates the disarmament of non-state players, including Hezbollah.

In as much as the Hariri team once called for implementing 1559 in 2005-2009, they would now prefer that it disappears, given that, far from being an adversary, Hezbollah is now a Hariri ally, strongly represented in both parliament and the Hariri cabinet.

The Lebanese government recently claimed that the resolution should be canceled, saying that all of its clauses had been fulfilled, noting that Hezbollah was a part of the Lebanese state and defense system and not merely a non-state player or a militia, as many in the West claim it to be.

That argument, which saves both Hezbollah and Hariri the burden of having to deal with 1559, was put forth last December by Hariri’s new Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami, an appointee of the Hezbollah-led team in the Hariri cabinet.

When speaking at a press conference with Erdogan, Hariri noted that not a single day passed where the Israeli Defense Forces did not infringe on Lebanese waters or airspace, claiming that this was a legal breach of UN resolution 1701, which was passed after the war of 2006.

Erdogan nodded, saying that Israel had breached “no less than 100” resolutions in recent years, adding: “This requires serious reforms at the United Nations. We do not support Israel’s position and will not remain silent.”

Having Turkey on Lebanon’s side will be a great boost for Hezbollah, which is preparing for a possible new round of confrontation with Israel in summer this year. From Ankara, Hariri came to Hezbollah’s defense, telling reporters, “Terrorism is not when one defends one’s land – the opposite is correct,” thus supporting Hezbollah’s war against Israel until the Sheba Farms are liberated from Israeli occupation.

This fits in nicely with the barrage of criticism that Erdogan has been firing against Israel for the past year, started in January 2009 when, speaking at Davos right after the Gaza war, he told Israeli President Shimon Peres: “President Peres, you are old, and your voice is loud out of a guilty conscience. When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches.”

Erdogan, in the weeks to come, will help further normalize Syrian-Lebanese relations, saying that he advised his “friend” President Bashar al-Assad to reciprocate Hariri’s visit by paying a visit of his own to Beirut. He will further work with Syria and Lebanon to see to it that Hezbollah is sheltered from another Israeli war, and try to pressure Israel to return to the negotiating table to lift the siege on Gaza and restore the occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

Best mirroring Erdogan’s new policy is that, despite the new and firm relationship with the Arabs, he has not wasted his country’s historical relationship with Israel. Although critical, his embassy remains open in Tel Aviv, and he is preparing to receive Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Ankara in late January.

Only by being able to talk to all parties will the Turks achieve the security and normalcy they aspire to in the Middle East. While Israel is not pleased with Erdogan’s new policy, claiming that he has clearly taken sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arabs are thrilled that the Turkish giant has emerged and, unlike the case since 1918, is now clearly on their side in the battlefront.

He has reminded the Arabs that despite a very rough period in bilateral relations during World War I, the Ottoman legacy in the Arab world was not all bad, and not all autocratic. Why? Because by defending Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, Erdogan feels that he is also defending Turkey, seeing all four countries as one, given their geographic, historical, social, religious and cultural proximity.

Many of the finest buildings in Damascus and Beirut, after all, were constructed during the Ottoman era. So were many of the codes, laws of commerce and aspects of civil administration, which lasted well into the 20th century. The Ottoman influence on Arab language, heritage, music, heritage and cuisine, cannot be ignored, despite years of trying to write off anything Ottoman as being destructive to Arab culture.

Although the Ottomans struck with an iron fist at the Arabs working with Great Britain against them during the Great War, they also – very symbolically – refused to sell land in Ottoman Palestine to the Zionists during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. It is that part of Ottoman history that Erdogan wants the Arabs to remember, not the hangman’s noose that was erected by the Ottoman governor of Syria, Jamal Pasha, in the central squares in Beirut and Damascus in 1915-1916.

When the republics were young in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, Turkish and Arab nationalism stood in the way of a clear appreciation of history, leading to nothing but bad blood between Arabs and Turks. That era is now hopefully gone – never to return – thanks to the efforts of Erdogan, referred to, very symbolically, by Hariri as “Big Brother” during his Ankara visit.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

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January 14th, 2010, 9:00 am

 

31. Tarek Ammourah said:

What about the government’s decision to limit the number of foreign managers working at these banks? Do Syrian bankers have the know how to take over the reins of the banking industry?
What about the decision to increase capital requirements at banks, after only 5 or 6 years of establishing the private banking industry?
Shouldnt these steps be impemented in a more cautious manner?
The entire banking industry is at stake for god’s sake…So while reform has been good…its spinning out of control at the moment

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January 14th, 2010, 9:51 am

 

32. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

You miss the ottoman empire?
Read those 2 books, from the middle of the 19th century, written by 2
Christians who visited the land, and who had no agenda.

Find out how it was living in the land of the Sultans.
I read them both, and recommend you read Mary Eliza Rogers’s, ‘Domestic life in Palestine’. Fascinating stuff !!

http://books.google.com/books?id=KG09qepFmJAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=domestic+palestine&ei=t-9OS6WME5S-ywTG6anwCw&hl=iw&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

And mark twain’s, ‘The Innocents Abroad’ (on the “Damascus province” from around page 350).

http://books.google.com/books?id=fFjyA7FJorUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=twain+innocent&ei=QfFOS7_QJZKOygTcudzpCw&hl=iw&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false
.

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January 14th, 2010, 10:41 am

 

33. Ghat Albird said:

Another example of Arab myths according to those in the know!.

In 2010 the US military plans to expand its stockpiles of weapons in Israel under a recent bilateral agreement, according to a report in Monday’s issue of the U.S.WEEKLY “DEFENSE NEWS”.

The US military aid package for Israel already amounts to some 2.5 billion dollars annually. The US weaponry and ammunition to which Israel will have free access in case of need will now attain an additional value of 800 million dollars.

The US have four arsenals in Israel, to which must be added their air stations and navy bases.

Technically, the US bases and stockpiles on Israeli soil come under the purview of the European Command (EuCom) rather than the Central Command (CentCom), since Israel is considered to be a European colony in the Middle East and not a State forming part of that region. The European Command is directed by Admiral James Stavidris, who is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

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January 14th, 2010, 1:10 pm

 

34. Akbar Palace said:

Another example of Arab myths according to those in the know!.

Ghat,

Which “Arab Myth” are you referring to?

BTW, here’s a link to Defence News, showing LOTS of military exports to Egypt, Morocco, and the UAE.

http://www.defensenews.com/channel.php?c=MID&s=TOP

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January 14th, 2010, 1:20 pm

 

35. idaf said:

On Dardari/Raddawi again, all4syria has a couple of interesting articles:

It is explained here (http://all4syria.info/content/view/19981/161/) that it is a personal response from PM Otri on what he considered direct personal attack from Raddawi.. it was Raddawi’s critical public lecture of the 10th 5-year plan, delivered 4 days after PM presented a positive report on the outcome of the plan to the parliment, what caused his dismissal.

PM Otri took it personally it seems. It is not the first time Raddawi criticizes the plan. But this time it seemed that he is deliberately attacking the prime minister. This does not seem to have reached the president’s level, and it is doubted he had any direct hand in removal of Raddawi.

Government or corporate, Syria or US, you cannot expect to loudly undermine your direct manager publicly and not get in trouble! If Raddawi wanted to make a louder statement regarding his opposition he should have resigned and continued his criticism. But a continued conflict between the highest level planning entity in the country and the executive branch supposedly responsible for putting these plans into action will lead nowhere. Ehsani should expect a less “painful” pace for reforms now. Dardari has one less excuse.

لقد سبق وانتقد الرداوي الخطة الخمسية العاشرة مرات كثيرة في عام 2009 .. ولم يطلب منه رئيس الحكومة السكوت عن الكلام غير المباح .. فلماذا هذه المرة جاء الرد سريعا وحاسما وقاضيا ؟
ربما كان رئيس الحكومة المهندس عطري يعتبر إنتقادات الرداوي شأنا خاصا بينه وبين الدردري لذا لم يقف عندها كثيرا .. ولكن حصل مالم يكن في حسبان عطري !
لقد أتت انتقادات الرداوي الأخيرة للخطة الخمسية العاشرة بعد أربعة أيام فقط من العرض الذي قدمه المهندس عطري لأعضاء مجلس الشعب حول إنجازات هذه الخطة .. وهذا الأمر بالنسبة لرئيس الحكومة غير جائز على الإطلاق وبالتالي لابد أن يدفع صاحبه الثمن غاليا وسريعا .. وهذا ماكان !
..
..
لاأدري إذا كان الرجل قرأ عرض عطري أم لا .. لكنه قطعا لم يكن الأمر من حسن طالعه أن ينتقد الخطة الخمسية العاشرة بعد أربعة أيام فقط من المديح الذي كاله عطري لهذه الخطة !
وقد سبق وقلنا ان تحليل الرداوي لن يسر الحكومة وخاصة من يسمي نفسه الفريق الإقتصادي !
قال الرداوي _ فيما يشبه الرد على عطري – ( أن حجم الإستثمار العام والخاص لايزال متواضعا إذ لايتجاوز 35 % من الناتج الإجمالي خلال السنوات 2006 – 2008 .. والسبب يعود إلى ضآلة موارد الحكومة التي تأتي من ضعف الموارد الضريبية .. وتدني واردات القطاع العام الذي يتطلب سياسة فعالة لإصلاحه .. وبأن النمو في سنوات الخطة الخمسية العاشرة كانت محابية للطبقات الهشة حيث تمركزت عائدات التنمية في أيدي فئات قليلة من السكان أعاقت بممارساتها الاستهلاكية والبذخيّة عملية النمو .. وبأن الخطة الخمسية الجديدة هدفها خلق البيئة التي تساعد على إحداث نمو كبير .. وبأنها ستعمل على إشراك كافة الفئات بما في ذلك المهمشة في العملية الإنتاجية من أجل تقليص مساحة الفقر وتقليل التفاوت بين المواطنين .. الخ ) !
هذا التحليل بنظر عطري لم يكن سوى رد سلبي جدا على المشهد المشرق لنتائج الخطة التي عرضها في مجلس الشعب !
وكان يجب أن يرد بسرعة وهذا مافعله كي لايكررها أحد من المسؤولين بعد الرداوي على مبدأ : من يريد التغريد منفردا فليفعل .. ولكن خارج السرب الحكومي !
http://all4syria.info/content/view/19981/161/

Also an English summary of Raddawi’s last lecture:
http://all4syria.info/content/view/19986/75/

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January 14th, 2010, 2:22 pm

 

36. idaf said:

On Dardari/Raddawi again, all4syria has a couple of interesting articles:

It is explained here (http://all4syria.info/content/view/19981/161/) that it is a personal response from PM Otri on what he considered direct personal attack from Raddawi.. it was Raddawi’s critical public lecture of the 10th 5-year plan, delivered 4 days after PM presented a positive report on the outcome of the plan to the parliment, what caused his dismissal.

PM Otri took it personally it seems. It is not the first time Raddawi criticizes the plan. But this time it seemed that he is deliberately attacking the prime minister. This does not seem to have reached the president’s level, and it is doubted he had any direct hand in removal of Raddawi.

Government or corporate, Syria or US, you cannot expect to loudly undermine your direct manager publicly and not get in trouble! If Raddawi wanted to make a louder statement regarding his opposition he should have resigned and continued his criticism. But a continued conflict between the highest level planning entity in the country and the executive branch supposedly responsible for putting these plans into action will lead nowhere. Ehsani should expect a less “painful” pace for reforms now. Dardari has one less excuse.

here’s a quote from teh link above:
لقد سبق وانتقد الرداوي الخطة الخمسية العاشرة مرات كثيرة في عام 2009 .. ولم يطلب منه رئيس الحكومة السكوت عن الكلام غير المباح .. فلماذا هذه المرة جاء الرد سريعا وحاسما وقاضيا ؟
ربما كان رئيس الحكومة المهندس عطري يعتبر إنتقادات الرداوي شأنا خاصا بينه وبين الدردري لذا لم يقف عندها كثيرا .. ولكن حصل مالم يكن في حسبان عطري !
لقد أتت انتقادات الرداوي الأخيرة للخطة الخمسية العاشرة بعد أربعة أيام فقط من العرض الذي قدمه المهندس عطري لأعضاء مجلس الشعب حول إنجازات هذه الخطة .. وهذا الأمر بالنسبة لرئيس الحكومة غير جائز على الإطلاق وبالتالي لابد أن يدفع صاحبه الثمن غاليا وسريعا .. وهذا ماكان !
..
..
لاأدري إذا كان الرجل قرأ عرض عطري أم لا .. لكنه قطعا لم يكن الأمر من حسن طالعه أن ينتقد الخطة الخمسية العاشرة بعد أربعة أيام فقط من المديح الذي كاله عطري لهذه الخطة !
وقد سبق وقلنا ان تحليل الرداوي لن يسر الحكومة وخاصة من يسمي نفسه الفريق الإقتصادي !
قال الرداوي _ فيما يشبه الرد على عطري – ( أن حجم الإستثمار العام والخاص لايزال متواضعا إذ لايتجاوز 35 % من الناتج الإجمالي خلال السنوات 2006 – 2008 .. والسبب يعود إلى ضآلة موارد الحكومة التي تأتي من ضعف الموارد الضريبية .. وتدني واردات القطاع العام الذي يتطلب سياسة فعالة لإصلاحه .. وبأن النمو في سنوات الخطة الخمسية العاشرة كانت محابية للطبقات الهشة حيث تمركزت عائدات التنمية في أيدي فئات قليلة من السكان أعاقت بممارساتها الاستهلاكية والبذخيّة عملية النمو .. وبأن الخطة الخمسية الجديدة هدفها خلق البيئة التي تساعد على إحداث نمو كبير .. وبأنها ستعمل على إشراك كافة الفئات بما في ذلك المهمشة في العملية الإنتاجية من أجل تقليص مساحة الفقر وتقليل التفاوت بين المواطنين .. الخ ) !
هذا التحليل بنظر عطري لم يكن سوى رد سلبي جدا على المشهد المشرق لنتائج الخطة التي عرضها في مجلس الشعب !
وكان يجب أن يرد بسرعة وهذا مافعله كي لايكررها أحد من المسؤولين بعد الرداوي على مبدأ : من يريد التغريد منفردا فليفعل .. ولكن خارج السرب الحكومي !

Also an English summary of Raddawi’s last lecture:
http://all4syria.info/content/view/19986/75/

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January 14th, 2010, 2:23 pm

 

37. love you ehsani said:

Ok great we are all happy now, With all the love and swapping going on, this is getting to be a hot site.

Again Alex please understands it is not you, it’s me.

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January 14th, 2010, 3:25 pm

 

38. s. farah said:

Dear EIU, I am not sure how you could conclude that President Assad might be putting the breaks on economic reform and liberalization from his firing of Mr. Al Raddawi? The dismissal of Al Raddawi was coupled with putting SPC under the direction of Mr. Dardari. Most recently, Mr. Barton Biggs was most impressed with Mr. Dardari and the plans he and President Assad had for the Syrian economy. http://www.newsweek.com/id/222630?from=rss

Most western journalists are highly suspicious of “oppressive regimes” and can easily fall into the trap of established narrative. It is a “safe write up” and less controversial to stick to these established narratives. Similar trends in Journalism are often found when writing about china.

I tried to explore this issue in my post on SC http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=1626 .

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January 14th, 2010, 8:21 pm

 

39. norman said:

Syrian Haven for Christian Spirituality Stephen Starr (Common Ground)

15 January 2010 A top a mountain in the Syrian heartland lies a monastery where the message of Christian-Muslim unity is alive and well. Cooled by eastern-blowing winds from the mountains dividing Lebanon and Syria, Deir Mar Musa is perhaps an unlikely place to find the seed of intercultural and inter-religious understanding. Yet the monastery has been a bedrock of local and national movements for years.

Deir Mar Musa’s reputation and physical restoration is due much to the efforts, determination and belief of a single man. After completing a doctorate in comparative religion and Islamic studies at the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio single-handedly restored the site, setting the first stone in cement in 1982. Father Paolo displays a nuanced knowledge of contemporary currents in social and political affairs. “I came here as a student of Arabic and lived in Lebanon and Syria beginning from the 1970s. I asked a priest in Damascus if he knew of a place where I could go to study and pray. He suggested I come up here, and here I am today,” explained the priest who was awarded the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean award for interfaith dialogue on behalf of Deir Mar Musa in 2006.

A Jesuit priest, Father Paolo does not see Christianity as being a superior religion. “I think globalisation has set in motion a series of events and established a new mindset. People are on the move, as you can see right here in this monastery every day. Ideas have new venues from where they can be exchanged and people are getting to see everything through the Internet. So we have had an explosion of information and as a result everyone in this region knows about the Danish cartoon episode and Iraq, etc.,” he said.

A physical presence lumbering around the monastery’s dining area, Father Paolo walks the mountains with a cane alone at night after mass and dinner. He makes himself known to all visitors and can mingle with foreigners and locals alike, in fluent Arabic.

The monastery was founded by Mar Musa al-Habashi, or Saint Moses of Abyssinia, who, as legend has it, was the son of an Ethiopian king. Refusing to accept his future as laid out before him, Saint Moses decided to become a Christian monk and later travelled to Syria where he founded the monastery. Although the monastery itself has been reconstructed over the last 25 years, with funding sourced locally and from Rome, its church is said to date back to the 6th century. Almost entirely self-sufficient, the monastery’s community is comprised of 15 permanent staff, but can rise to more than 40, all of whom cater to the hundreds of pilgrims arriving during summer from Damascus and the central Syrian valleys, coming to cool off from the 40 centigrade-plus heat.

Embracing the need to move with the times, the monastery employs a solar-powered water heating system and boasts wireless Internet in its three-room library. Today, the monastery stands as an important local and national vehicle for interfaith initiatives, in addition to supporting environmental and other projects.

On its busiest days, with such an eclectic mix of backpackers, worshippers and teenagers, it is easy to forget that Deir Mar Musa is a religious site. Couples, even married, must sleep in separate quarters separated by more than a 200-meter mountainside walk.

As many headscarf-wearing Muslim women and girls come to the monastery for day trips as local Christians and western travellers. “Muslims in the Levant consider Deir Mar Musa a place of their own,” said Father Paolo. In Syria, religiosity is also cultural. Christians in Syria say “Allah” to refer to God but in the West “Allah” is only associated with Islam. Christians in Syria go to church on Fridays as it is a holiday, in addition to Sundays. Christians and Muslims are equally as religious and have managed to live alongside one another without issue. It is this kind of respect Father Paolo and the others living in the 
monastery have seen flourish at Deir Mar Musa.

Stephen Starr is a freelance writer. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service with permission from Qantara.de. Print this story Send to a friend ShareThis

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January 14th, 2010, 9:06 pm

 

40. norman said:

this is about Turkey position in the Mideast it might be the thing that will force Israel to change ,

Columnists
SUAT KINIKLIOĞLU

Turkey and Israel: Quo vadis?

Despite some Israeli and American efforts to paint Turkey’s objections to Israeli policies as “anti-Semitic,” people in the business understand very well where Turkey is coming from. They equally recognize that disagreements between Turkey and Israel are likely to continue provided there is no recognizable change in issues such as improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the complete and immediate freezing of settlements and the overall posture of Israel toward the peace process — if one can still talk about such a process.

I remember vividly the days when the US was criticizing Turkey for engaging with Syria at a time when Washington and the Europeans were trying to isolate Syria. Today we see a full reversal of US and European policies on Syria. These actors now recognize that engaging with Syria is the right course of action. Then, Turkey’s views on the Middle East were shunned and disregarded — in my view, primarily due to the inability to make the mental shift about Turkey and its new posture. The Americans began to revise their position in 2007 and recognized that Turkey is a regional power and no longer the satellite state of the Cold War years. They understood that Turkey needed to be treated accordingly. It took quite a bit of time and effort to facilitate that mental shift, but US President Barack Obama’s early visit to Turkey was a confirmation of that perception vis-à-vis Turkey.

The Europeans still have a hard time making the mental shift concerning Turkey, which is why our relations remain fragile. Israel appears to be in the same position. They also do not seem to have fully accepted that Turkey has changed — as Americans came to notice on March 1, 2003 — and that Turkey’s re-entry into the Middle East is permanent. Israel appears to be yearning for the golden 1990s, which were the product of a very specific structural situation in the region. Those days are over and are unlikely to come back even if the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ends up no longer being in government. The natural uniting and bonding in Turkey over the Ayalon affair should be an eye-opener for those who believe that all would be dandy if only the AK Party would fall from power. Friends and foes better treat our ambassadors accordingly. Clumsy efforts to humiliate a Turkish ambassador should never be part of Israeli domestic political calculations.

Our neighborhood policy seeks to reintegrate Turkey into its immediate neighborhood, including the Middle East. Turkey is a member of the G-20, a member of the UN Security Council, negotiating with the European Union and increasingly influential in various regions. Turkey will continue to advocate a new inclusive order in the region and will seek diplomatic means to further this agenda. As is confirmed consistently by public opinion polls, our people and government have great sensitivity to the plight of the Palestinians. Unless there is visible change addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and a more constructive position is adopted in relation to making peace with Syria, it is highly unlikely that the quality of the bilateral relationship will improve. The first step to take in the right direction is to recognize the new regional setting and Turkey’s interests in the region. For that to happen, it is necessary to make the necessary mental shift about Turkey.

15.01.2010

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January 15th, 2010, 1:18 am

 

41. Ghat Albird said:

NORMAN said:

“this is about Turkey position in the Mideast it might be the thing that will force Israel to change,”

Wishful thinking in my opinion. Israel will only change when the US officially and finally does the right thing. And that is stop meandering on the “socalled road” and specifically force Israel to remove its troops and control over the areas initially allocated to the Palestenians in the initial Resolutions creating both states.

Until such an event takes place it will be more “talking than the doing whats right”. Until then it will continue to be more of the same.

The question that no one seems interested in addressing is : why does the US not, or for that matter the other Security Council members, bring up the matter “of forcing Israel” to comply with UN Security Council initial Resolutions?

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January 15th, 2010, 3:31 pm

 

42. norman said:

Ghat Albird ,

i see Israel accepting peace by 3 means ,

1) Force , I do not see things moving that way

2) legal force by war crimes accusation , something going on there

3) Isolation , that where Turkey is one , the EU is probably next and the US might join in as it did with South Africa , later

Economic sanction could cripple Israel .and force to do the right thing ,

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January 15th, 2010, 4:20 pm

 

43. majedkhaldoun said:

Ghat is right
we Arab american in the distant future,more than 20 years, will make a difference, by increasing our number and getting wealthier.

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January 15th, 2010, 6:12 pm

 

44. Henry said:

Reporters Sans Frontières
Middle East & North Africa Syria
Published on 11 January 2010

Authorities say nothing as arbitrary arrests continue
Reporters Without Borders is worried about the detention of reporter Ali Taha and cameraman Ali Ahmed by the Department of Internal Security since 2 January. The authorities have not said why they were arrested or where they are being held.

“The continuing arbitrary arrests of journalists in Syria are disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities provide no information about the legal grounds for these arrests and or the subsequent place of detention. This complete lack of transparency does not bode well.”

According to the information available, the security forces arrested Ahmed, who has worked for the TV station Rotana for the past 10 years, while he was filming near the Mausoleum to Sayda Zainab (granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and daughter of the Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb), located 10 km south of Damascus.

Taha, who also works for Rotana, was arrested later the same day after responding to a summons. An experienced and respected reporter, Taha has worked for years for both Rotana and the magazine Saidati.

Meanwhile, it is still not known why journalist Maan Aqil of the government daily Al-Thawra was arrested on 22 November or where he is being held. Reporters Without Borders issued a release about his arrest on 1 December.

The only positive development has been the 6 January release of Kareem Arbaji, a blogger who was arrested on 6 July 2007 and was sentenced last September to three years in prison under article 286 of the criminal code for “publishing mendacious reports liable to weaken the nation’s spirit.”

He was freed five months before completing his sentence after Christian representatives in Syria addressed a request to the president’s office for his early release on the grounds that his father was in very poor health.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

© Reporters Without Borders – 47, rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris – France

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January 16th, 2010, 1:33 am

 

45. Jas said:

Averroes:
I completely agree with your sentiment about expats. As a child of Syrian expats, who has seen her parents invest in Syria, and heard about the corruption and lack of implementation of the rule of law, i truly understand why removing corruption is important to attracting foreign investment. Having spent 3 months in Syria in 2008, i realise the importance of changing the attitude of young syrians towards corruption… corruption is accepted and seen as a way of life… and only a fool does not participate in such “business”.
I know very little about economics, but i agree with removing the incumbent and resource wasting government employment. Many young syrians understand and would rather a salary government job as they are seen as easy and requiring very little effort. This only promotes the poverty cycle and lack of enthusiasm among many young Syrians towards a capitalist system. Why work hard when you can rely on government subsidies government job that puts little back into the economy.
The biggest change that Syria needs is a change in attitude of ordinary syrians, otherwise the income gap and inequality that Joshua spoke about will be wider than expected, as a few enlightened people jump on the free market band wagon, and the mass of government employee subsidy loving majority cry foul.

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January 16th, 2010, 9:12 am

 

46. EHSANI2 said:

JAS,

This was a very good comment. A culture of dependency on the state is evident. Getting rid of corruption is tied to the low official salaries of government employees. Making it on $300 a month is not easy if you have a family of 4 kids.

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January 17th, 2010, 4:01 am

 

47. Syria: A Way Forward said:

[…] complain, however.  Those middle-class city dwellers who have managed to benefit from the few reforms Assad did enact (e.g. internet access, private universities, foreign banks, a nascent stock market) and the […]

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July 3rd, 2011, 12:47 am

 

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