Posted by Joshua on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Syria: A decade on
Syria, Volume 185 Oxford Business Group
21.07.2010 This month marks the tenth year of Bashar Al Assad’s presidency of Syria, a decade of steady reform which has seen greater economic freedoms extended to several sectors – notably banking and financial services – as part of a transformation from a socialist to a “social market” economy.
Al Assad was sworn in on July 17, 2000 at the age of 34, just over a month after the death of his father, Hafez Al Assad. While the younger Al Assad has presided over a reform process that has delivered sustained growth, recent developments have created new national challenges and exposed older ones that still need to be addressed.
A three-year drought has strained the agricultural sector in the east, and major industries in the north such as textiles were hit hard by the global downturn. Longer-term issues hampering growth are a slow decline in oil production, a delayed reform of state enterprises and high levels of corruption.
Syria’s measures to tackle graft, such as the high-profile arrest last year of Hassan Makhlouf, the former Customs chief, have improved the country’s image, and it climbed 21 places to 126th of the 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
However, improving the overall competitiveness of the Syrian economy will take time, and it was ranked 94th out of 133 in the World Economic Forum’s 2009-10 “Global Competitiveness Report”, tying for last place among Arab states with Mauritania. Decades of underinvestment in infrastructure need to be addressed, as do outdated business practices and attitudes.
However, the Syrian government has been working hard over the past decade to attract foreign investment, particularly through major laws introduced in 2007 that dealt specifically with the rights and obligations of overseas companies. The laws provided assurances in repatriation of earnings and capital, as well as the import of capital goods, which are seen as prerequisites to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
Since the implementation of the laws Syria has jumped to the top of its regional list for FDI, according to a September 2009 report by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, with net flows rising by 43% in 2008 to $1.3bn.
The government has also worked to use Al Assad’s growing international stature to attract investment from Syria’s large expatriate community. A recent tour of Latin America saw the signing of a $100m trade and development fund agreement with Venezuela, which is home to a large Syrian diaspora. Al Assad’s first tour of Latin America also included visits to Cuba, Argentina and Brazil, the latter of which is home to a population of Syrians numbering between 2m and 3m.
During Al Assad’s two-day visit to the country in late June, five agreements and memos of understanding were signed between Syria and Brazil in various areas of cooperation. Brazil has also expressed its support in establishing a free trade zone between the Southern Common Market and Syria, which would help Latin American countries reach markets in the Middle East. Al Assad also made a stopover in Argentina, where the two countries traded support for Argentina’s claim to the UK’s Falkland Islands and Syria’s claim to the Golan Heights.
In addition, Al Assad’s government hopes to generate investments worth $77bn from the private sector over the next five years, and business practices in Syria have begun to evolve, partly due to support from international partners such as the EU and the UN. Firms have meanwhile benefitted from greater institutional support and backing. Civil society has also started to play an economic role, under the sponsorship of Asma Al Assad, the first lady, with Syria now a regional leader in areas such as microfinance.
Is Israel an asset or a liability? Satloff vs. Freeman
For the full version read here. For a highlights click above on the FP article by
By Josh Rogin Wednesday, July 21, 2010 – Foreign Policy
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Robert Satloff and the Middle East Policy Council’s Chas W. Freeman, Jr., squared off Tuesday at the Nixon Center to debate whether Israel is really a strategic asset or a strategic liability for the United States. Here are some excerpts.
On the overall question of whether America’s relationship with Israel is worth it:
Robert Satloff: My job today is to make the case why Israel and that relationship is a strategic asset. I will go even further. I will argue that Israel and the US-Israel relationship is — both in objective terms and compared to any other relationship we have in the ME — a strategic bonanza for the U.S.: not just an asset, but a downright bargain … I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who would disagree with the contention that there is no country in the Middle East whose people and government are so closely aligned with the U.S. … We share a way of governing, ways of ordering society, ways of viewing the role of liberty in individual rights and ways to defend those ideals. Now, some realists tend to dismiss this as soft stuff with no strategic value. I disagree. The commonality of culture and values is at the heart of national interests.
Chas Freeman: Clearly Israel gets a great deal from us. It’s pretty much taboo in the U.S. to ask what’s in it for Americans; I can’t imagine why. What’s in it and what’s not in it for us to do all these things for Israel? I think we need to begin by recognizing that our relationship with Israel had never been driven by strategic reasoning. It began with President Truman overruling his strategic and military advisors, in deference to political expediency … There’s no reason to doubt the consistent testimony of the architects of major acts of anti-American terrorism on what motivates them to attack us … Some substantial portion of the many lives and the trillions of dollars that have we so far spent in our escalating conflict with the Islamic world must be [measured against] the costs of our relationship with Israel……
On the effect of the peace process:
RS: First, I would argue that a strong Israel with a strong U.S.-Israel relationship at its core has been central to what we now know as the peace process and second, in historical terms, the peace process has been one of the most successful U.S. diplomatic initiatives in the last half century. In the words of one knowledgeable observer, “The peace process has been a vehicle for American influence throughout the broader Middle East region, and has provided an excuse for Arab declarations of friendship with the U.S. even as Americans remain devoted to Israel. In other words, it has helped to eliminate what otherwise might be a zero-sum game.” … Oh, I forgot to mention that observer I mentioned earlier as praising the peace process for eliminating the zero-sum game in the Middle East: Chas Freeman. Thank you, Chas.”
CF: There’s all the time we put into the perpetually ineffectual and basically defunct peace process … I think one of the reasons that there is no support of any kind from the Arab world for George Mitchell’s efforts to recreate or revive a dead peace process is that there’s no confidence in the ability of the U.S. to play a mediating role. We are, in the famous words of one member of the previous peace-making exercise, Israel’s lawyer…..
by Aluf Benn, Haaretz, July 21, 2010
President Barack Obama’s campaign of wooing Israel reflects a fundamental about-face in U.S. policy in the Middle East. U.S. priorities have changed: At the top are the intensifying problem of Iran and concerns about the change of leadership in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Under such circumstances, Israel is perceived as a “vital ally,” in the words of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, and not an obstacle to warmer ties between the United States and the Muslim world, as was the view at the start of Obama’s tenure.
The Americans have a supreme interest in the Middle East; it’s an available and inexpensive supply of oil that powers the economies of the United States and its allies. Protecting it depends on preserving “stability,” which relies on totalitarian regimes whose survival depends on the United States. In turn, defending these regimes provides important markets for the U.S. defense industry.
Since taking responsibility for the defense of the Middle East from Britain, and with the announcement of the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957 following the Suez Crisis, the United States has fought off every element that sought to undermine regional order and threatened the oil supply – from Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Soviet patrons to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Israel has played a varying role in American strategy……
Westerners stage brief animal rights protest in Syria
DAMASCUS, July 22 (Reuters) – Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS July 22 (Reuters) – Pedestrians at a busy thoroughfare in the Syrian capital were stunned on Thursday when two Westerners appeared inside a coop in front of a KFC restaurant to protest the U.S. chain’s treatment of chickens.
The two activists, members of the international People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) were swiftly rounded up and deported.
Non government-sponsored demonstrations are virtually unheard of in Syria, which has been controlled by the Baath Party since 1963.
A placard on the cage urged a boycott KFC because it said its chickens were “confined, tortured, scalded”.
“We got our message across. KFC has to implement an animal welfare policy in Syria. The way the chickens are bred and transported is very cruel,” said Ashley Fruno, a U.S. national.
“Protests have helped KFC change its policies in Canada, but not elsewhere. Our effort is worldwide,” said Jason Baker, who is from Vancouver.
The two staged similar protests in Cairo and Beirut and Peta is planning one next in Jordan.
The KFC manager at the site declined to comment but one employee confirmed that the chickens are sourced from a local supplier.
The regional KFC franchise is owned by the Kuwaiti conglomerate Al-Kharafi.
Ibrahim Hamidi in al-Hayat (Thanks to mideastwire.com):
“A prominent Syrian source told Al-Hayat that the very important day that Damascus has witnessed and the meetings that were held in it, have clearly shown that the region must draw up its own destiny and build its future with its own hands. The source was quoted as saying: “Things in the region cannot be finalized in one session or overnight. This takes time but the important thing is that the whole process be put on the right track. Syria believes that the situation are working and progressing in an efficient way and in the best interest of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the whole region…”
“Al-Hayat has learned that a private meeting took place between Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Hariri and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Damascus in addition to the business lunch that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad held in their honor. The Turkish foreign minister also met with Iyad Allawi in the Turkish embassy in Damascus and visited Al-Sadr in his place of residence in one of Damascus’ hotels. Palestinian sources told Al-Hayat that the Turkish minister had also met in the Syrian capital with Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mish’al….
Michael Young in the National via FLC
“… little has changed in the way Syria views Lebanon from the days when the Syrian army was in the country. For President Bashar Assad, Lebanon is there primarily to serve Damascus’s regional interests, regardless of whether this undermines its sovereignty.
…..Hariri’s recent announcement that Damascus would pursue border demarcation was a red herring. The Syrians will delay all progress in defining the Shebaa boundaries, and have little incentive to clarify borders elsewhere because, as the stronger party, they have imposed a status quo that is generally in their favour.
A defence agreement also has yet to be completed between Lebanon and Syria. That’s not surprising. Mr Assad’s regime continues to send weapons to Hizbollah, defying UN resolutions, and any credible defence agreement would have to address that in a serious way. We shouldn’t hold our breath…..
Syria will also will try to gain politically from possible indictments that may be issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon set up to punish those responsible for Rafiq Hariri’s murder. Syrian mouthpieces in Beirut have urged Saad Hariri to torpedo the tribunal by declaring it politicised……..
The notion that Syria has reconciled itself with a sovereign Lebanon is an illusion. Mr Assad doesn’t have his army in the country anymore, but a Syrian military return could not be ruled out in the aftermath of a devastating war between Hizbollah and Israel.
Such a war, it if occurs and lasts longer than the 2006 conflict, would have repercussions to Syria’s advantage. The damage wrought would discredit the Lebanese state; a conflict would wreck the UN security architecture in south Lebanon; Hizbollah, if it is not defeated outright, and it cannot be, would fight on and come to be viewed in the Arab world, Israel and the West as a major nuisance needing to be brought to heel. Mr Assad could be tempted to use all of this to engineer a Syrian military comeback, arguing that Syria alone can stabilise Lebanon.
Mr Assad lost Lebanon in 2005, and it never went down well with the Syrian leader that he squandered a valuable inheritance his late father had spent years fighting to earn. The Syrians are systematic. In the past year they have co-opted or isolated their Lebanese foes……. Hariri, encouraged by his Saudi Arabian sponsors, has gone along with this, mainly to counterbalance Tehran’s influence. The Lebanese prime minister knows that this complex game may have dire consequences. He is under no illusion about Mr Assad’s intentions, but has swallowed the bitter pill of reconciliation with Damascus to defend himself against his most immediate worry, Hizbollah.”
“Political observers can only admire the way in which Damascus is bringing together its regional political cards, and its proficiency in dealing with the contradictions and conflicting forces [in the region], as well as its ability to overcome crises that seem grave and capable of toppling any regime. The best example of this can be seen in what happened over the past few days. At the same time that dozens of cooperation agreements were being signed during Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit [to Damascus] following years of tense relations with Lebanon and the March 14 Alliance, Syria was also holding meetings between Iraqi rivals Iyad Allawi and Muqtada al-Sadr, in what appeared to be western-backed Syrian mediation to help solve the deadlock with regards to the formation of the new government of Iraq, which is a process that has been stalled for months.
Egyptian authorities say smugglers have cut through the underground steel wall meant to prevent entry into Gaza.
“It’s a big failure,” he said of the undertaking. A second Egyptian official also said the wall had been breached in hundreds of places….”
Why Jordan is Occupied by Palestinians
July 22, 2010 The Independent
A powerful group of ex-army leaders say their country is being overrun – and they blame King Abdullah
They moan that 86,000 Palestinians have received Jordanian passports unconstitutionally since 2005, that too many Palestinians are now in the Jordanian government, that corruption and a rigid adherence to American-Israeli policies are laying the groundwork for Israel to expel the West Bank Palestinians across the Jordan River. They have no time for the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement.
Former General Ali Habashneh, Colonel Beni Sahar and Major General Mohamed Jamal Majalli interrupt their beef and chicken and “humous lahme” with expressions of fear and anger about the future of Jordan. Habashneh runs the Jordanian army’s pensions committee and has 140,000 ex-army personnel and their families on his books; his voice is not to be taken lightly by King Abdullah of Jordan and his government. These are the king’s men. But they are fierce nationalists. And they are patriotic enough to have sent an open letter to King Abdullah, expressing their fears that Israeli plans for the West Bank and “a fifth column of collaborators” within Jordan who support US policy in the region – their identity is left dangerously unspecified – may destroy their country.
The Jordanian government, appointed by the king, has shown “extreme weakness”, the letter says, towards Israel and America. “Recent [Jordanian] cabinets… have already begun to implement a covert… political quota system by placing Palestinians – including some who have yet to complete the full legal requirements of citizenship – in key positions at the pinnacle of the state apparatus.” This is the first serious opposition to emerge against King Abdullah since he succeeded his father, Hussein, who died in 1999….The ex-army officers see a “silent transfer” of Palestinians across the Jordan river….“We think the people around the king are not bringing up these issues,” one of the men at the table says. “After the Rifai government was established, the head of the senate became Palestinian, the head of the judicial system became Palestinian. There were changes in the army command. The Palestinian head of the Aqaba special economic zone did not have citizenship 10 years ago. Our letter said that personnel in government should have received their jobs through parliament.”….We are trying to get all our forces together to hold a national conference by the beginning of the new year, to decide on a strategic movement which will protect this country and remove the influence of the Israelis and Americans.”….
Americans organizing ship for Gaza flotilla
July 21, 2010