Posted by Joshua on Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Ali Ferzat, Syria’s most loved cartoonist was beaten by mukhabarat and thrown out of a car. His most recent cartoon was of Qaddafi stopping in his Jeed to pick up Bashar al-Assad, who was hitching a ride. The cartoon and Ali’s site is no longer available on the internet….
Two opposing views of Syria’s economy. One claims Syria can tough out the economic hit for quite a bit longer. The other, by Carnegie, says no. Master Card in Syria is down. More top Syrians are sanctioned by the EU. Gulf Sands, the oil company partly owned by Rami Makhlouf is hit with more troubles and the West is chiseling away at the Syrian economy.
Gulf countries, in an apparent reversal of position, seem to be distancing themselves from the US effort to strangle Assad’s regime. Saudi arrested anti-Assad demonstrators and Qatar has backed away from its anti-Syria diplomacy as its leader heads for a visit to Iran.
Syria’s Opposition woes are cataloged by Reuters. Here is a photo of Ali Ferzat.
Russia hints at veto of UN sanctions on Syria – 2011-08-25 06:26 AM
The U.N. Security Council should use dialogue to persuade Syria to end its violent crackdown on protesters, Russia’s envoy said Wednesday, hinting he may veto a draft resolution being circulated to impose an arms embargo and other measures on President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters outside council chambers that instead of punishing Syria, the council should use dialogue and diplomacy to help end the violence.
Churkin said he had registered his country’s opposition on Wednesday to the sanctions proposed by Britain and supported by France, Germany, Portugal and the United States.
The proposal is expected to come up for a vote as early as this week and Russia is among five permanent council members empowered to veto it. Churkin said such sanctions could “encourage further confrontation” and “we need to instead encourage dialogue.”
Asked whether he would register a veto, Churkin said: “I think you can make your conclusion from my words.”
The resolution could also face possible opposition from other council members, including veto-wielding China.
US lawmaker: Aid to Egypt depends on peace with Israel, By HERB KEINON, 08/23/2011 00:47
Kay Granger tells ‘Post’ that level of Muslim Brotherhood involvement in new Egyptian government will impact US assistance. Washington’s $2 billion in annual aid to Egypt will be cut off if Cairo backs out of the peace treaty with Israel, Congresswoman Kay Granger – whose job as chairwoman of the US House appropriations foreign operations subcommittee means she literally writes America’s annual foreign aid bill – told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. more…
Mastercard blocked in Syria
20 Aug 2011
In response to these sanctions MasterCard will institute a block of all transactions originating in Syria as of 20 August 2011. This block will be in effect until further notice. A notification will be sent in the event that the block is removed.
Unified Syrian opposition council hit by delay
25/08/2011 AMMAN |
(Reuters) – Syrian opposition figures who met in Istanbul to form a broad-based council to represent the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that they needed more time to consult with activists inside Syria on its composition.
The delay indicates the difficulty in uniting an opposition decimated by decades of Assad family repression, and integrating a generation of younger activists playing a direct role on the ground in street protests facing the brunt of military assaults.
“We need two more weeks to coordinate with the opposition on the inside. All currents need to be represented,” Adib al-Shishakly, whose grandfather was an early president of Syria after independence from France in 1946.
Encouraged by international support for their cause, leading opposition figures held lengthy discussions in Istanbul this week to nominate a council that could help with a transition of power if Assad were to be toppled by the five-month uprising against his rule.
Most delegates had left but a core group remained to continue discussions with opposition figures inside Syria, Shishakly said by phone.
Attendees at the conference included Moulhem Droubi, a high-level member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood; Sheikh Muteih al-Butain, a leader of the street protests in Deraa that helped ignite the uprising; former political prisoner Khaled al-Haj Saleh, scion of a leftist political family; and writer Hazem Nahar, who was imprisoned during the uprising and managed to leave Syria.
Another delegate said more work was needed to convince skeptical activists inside Syria how the proposed council would further the cause of the uprising and bridge differences over the posts assigned to different groups and how different factions should be represented.
“I think a consensus is developing that a council is needed and its credibility will be boosted by as much support from the inside,” said the young delegate, who recently fled Syria and did not wish to be identified.
A statement by the participants said the proposed council was designed to “be part of a national safety net needed to guarantee civic peace and achieve broad consensus about the process of transition.”
“We affirm the principle of non-violent revolution. The absence of a unified political forum along the revolution … is a dangerous shortcoming of Syria’s march toward a civic democratic state,” the declaration said.
But Ammar Qurabi, a member of a consultative committee that emerged from an earlier opposition conference in the Turkish city of Antalya, said in a statement the group had withdrawn from the Istanbul talks because the meeting did not build on earlier efforts to unite the opposition.
Western governments, which have stepped up sanctions on Assad in reaction to his crackdown on protesters, have privately expressed frustration with opposition’s lack of unity, diplomats say.
At a meeting with anti-Assad Syrian activists in Washington this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged them to work toward a “unified vision” for Syria.
The proposed council aims to speak for dissidents in exile, who are playing a key role in supporting the uprising financially, and activists on the ground.
A number of activists are wary about establishing a linear opposition structure, saying it would make it an easier target for assassinations and arrests by Assad’s forces.
Dissident writer Michel Kilo, a former political prisoner who belongs to an elder generation of dissidents said this week that a transitional council would be of little value before Assad actually falls from power.
Syrian opposition sidelining Turkmens, community leader says
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
İPEK YEZDANİ – email@example.com
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkmens in Syria have been sidelined by the opposition groups who recently formed a national council to represent the uprising in the Arab republic, community representatives have said while also criticizing Turkey for neglecting their plight.
Turkmens have been suppressed by the regime of President of Bashar al-Assad for many years, yet they were not invited to recent opposition meetings in Istanbul, said Ali Öztürkmen, a representative of the community, adding that he could only attend as an “observer” because they became aware of the meetings at the last minute.
Although official numbers indicate there are between 900,000 and 1.5 million Turkmens in Syria, Öztürkmen said there were actually close to 3 million Turkmens in Syria as many of them, like a large number of Syrian Kurds, had been deprived of citizenship by the Syrian regime.
“The Turkish government is also not showing any interest in Turkmens in Syria,” he said.
Refuting the claims, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said the Turkish government had always showed interest in all its kin and living outside Turkey.
The official said the government’s first priority was the integration of these groups in the society in which they live; in cases like Syria, however, the priority is to seek the rights of these groups if there is evidence that they have been treated unjustly, the official….
From Arab hero to zero – Sami Moubayed – Aug 26, 2011 – A great article about Qaddafi
Syria economy hit by demos but still standing: experts
August 25, 2011 01:24 AM
By Sammy Ketz
Agence France Presse
DAMASCUS: The Syrian economy, hit hard by five months of anti-government protests, could survive unrest and sanctions into next year but experts and officials warn of a sharp deterioration afterward.
The protests, which have rocked much of the country since mid-March, have dramatically slowed economic activity, with analysts predicting negative economic growth in 2011 as a result of a decline in tourism and investment.
“During the first three months of the revolt, everything stopped because consumers were stunned,” said Abdul Ghani Attar, vice president of Attar Group, a Syrian conglomerate with investments in hotels, finance, pharmaceuticals and office equipment.
“Since June, economic activity has resumed, but is down about 40 percent from a year ago.”
“For the moment, the private sector, which represents 70 percent of GDP, has survived, but if the situation does not improve next year, the economy will really suffer. There is a risk of layoffs,” the 32-year-old continued.
Even now, Syria’s economic indicators paint a grim picture.
The Washington-based International Institute of Finance predicts the country’s economy will contract by 3 percent, and tourism, which accounts for 12 percent of GDP and 11 percent of employment, is sharply down.
The overall number of investment projects, meanwhile, are down 47.84 percent in the first half of 2011 compared to the same period of 2010, according to official figures.
To make matters worse, the population is now only buying the bare necessities because of a fear of the unknown, according to Naji Shawi, who heads the Shawi Group.
The turnover of the Shawi Group, which is involved in food, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and finance, is down between five and 10 percent compared to last year, he said.
“Until now, the business sector is surviving, but if this crisis continues for more than six months, there will be problems,” he said.
Syria’s main stock market has plunged 40 percent since mid-March and consumption is markedly lower, with clothing and electrical stores in Damascus lying bare.
The country imported just 2,000 cars in May, against 20,000 in March, and overall imports have halved compared to last year, according to a European diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
By contrast, building materials are booming because, with police occupied with protests, unsupervised construction is on the rise. Street vendors are also doing well for similar reasons.
So far, the economic decline has not spread to the currency, as the Syrian pound is down just 8 percent against the U.S. dollar since March.
Syrian central bank Governor Adib Mayalheh last week took increased steps to limit foreign exchange transactions, and the country still has around $17 billion in reserves.
“They are probably lower now but in all cases we have no clear data on that,” said Jihad Yazigi, editor of the Syria Report economic newsletter.
“Also, at least half of the budget goes to investment expenses, so the government could very well decide to skip most investment expenses [actually it has already partly done so] and use that for current expenses, i.e. salaries, running overhead,” he added in an emailed response to questions.
Syria’s 2011 budget amounted to $16.7 billion, 43.4 percent of which was dedicated to investment.
According to Shawi, Mayalheh told him that “during the good times, it [the central bank] held $5 billion to manage the fluctuation of the Syrian pound, and until now, it has injected $2 billion to support the currency.”
The European diplomat, meanwhile, claimed that Iran had recently provided $6 billion to help Damascus manage the currency, but could provide no proof.
“The situation has deteriorated, but it is not desperate,” said Lahcen Achy, a Syria specialist at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The regime can survive this for a long time.”
Achy added: “The economy will not bring down the regime and if it did, it would take a long time. Experience shows that regimes can survive embargos because they can smuggle in goods and money via Turkey and Lebanon.”
“In any case, if he has to make a choice, the security forces will be the last to experience any cuts.”
Shawi concurred, noting that “the West relies on the economic weapon, but one can always adapt. Look at Iraq in the past. Sanctions are good for headlines, but they hurt the people, especially the poor, never the regime.”
A potential European oil embargo could have an impact, however, as 95 percent of Syria’s oil exports go to Europe, amounting to a third of the country’s revenue.
In the absence of a U.N.-backed ban, however, Damascus could still sell its crude to non-European countries.
In any case, according to an economic expert based in Damascus who did not want to be identified, “the 11th five-year plan which called for investment of $100 billion, half of which was to come from the private sector, is now out the window.”
The Economic Consequences of Syria’s Social Unrest
Lahcen Achy Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2011
Popular protests in Syria over the last five months have caused a notable decline in the country’s economic indicators. Gross domestic product is expected to contract by 5% for the current year, after International Monetary Fund estimates had originally predicted 3% growth before the protests erupted.
The budget deficit has increased due to expanded social expenditure and shrinking tax revenues. The economic and security situation is expected to deteriorate further as the unrest continues to grow. The international community may resort to additional sanctions affecting the private companies and government institutions that form the backbone of the Syrian economy. This could throw the country into an unprecedented economic and fiscal crisis.
Tourism, which accounts for about 12% of Syria’s GDP and directly contributes more than 10% of total employment, is one of the economic sectors most damaged since the protests began. Over the last three years, Syria has spent huge sums to increase its ability to receive Arab and foreign tourists and improve the quality of services provided to them. Tourist numbers rose from 6 million visitors in 2008 to 8.5 million in 2010, an increase of more than 40%. This activity supplied Syria with about $8 billion of hard currency over the same period.
Although little detailed data exist on the effect of the current social unrest on tourist numbers, most hotels are almost empty now that international tourism trip organizers have stopped proposing Syria as a destination, and most Arab embassies have issued statements urging their citizens to refrain from visiting Syria until further notice.
Recurrent unrest in various Syrian provinces has also driven a number of foreign investors to review their investment programs. Several Persian Gulf and foreign companies have announced plans to stop or cancel huge projects due to the uncertainty that overshadows Syria’s economic future. Some reports indicate that investments are being redirected — probably to Jordan, especially now that it may soon join the Gulf Cooperation Council.
This drop in tourism and the stoppage of large investment projects is worsening the living conditions of many Syrian families. Some of them will see their incomes fall, while others will join the unemployment lines.
To soften the hardship of this crisis and contain popular anger, the Syrian government has increased government salaries and fuel subsidies and reduced taxes on food. In the first few days after the protests started, Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, issued a decree increasing monthly salaries and wages by 1,500 Syrian lira ($30), in addition to a 30% increase for monthly salaries under 10,000 lira ($200) and a 20% increase for salaries at or above 10,000 lira. The government also reduced fuel prices by 25% to aid citizens’ purchasing power and counter negative effects of the inflationary pressures accompanying the protest wave.
The cost of these measures, which were not anticipated in this year’s fiscal law, is estimated at more than 2% of GDP. This means the budget deficit will expand and could surpass 8% of GDP unless tax revenues — and economic activity — rise.
The deteriorating budget situation raises questions about the government’s ability to cover the deficit gap without resorting to foreign loans. Bank deposits have dropped due to an increase in withdrawals after the protests began. To remedy this situation, the central bank has raised interest rates on lira deposits by two points to stimulate savings and stop the depletion of bank deposits. Although this measure may help improve liquidity in the banking sector, it is causing an increase in the cost of funding, especially for the governmental sector, which receives nearly 55% of bank loans.
The Syrian lira has also recorded a drop in its value versus the dollar, falling up to 15% at times. There has also been an increase in currency trading in the unregulated (black) market. The Syrian central bank announced the insurance of foreign currency for individuals and companies as needed in an effort to stop the lira’s devaluation and black market activity.
It is possible that the monetary authorities’ intervention to reduce pressures on the lira could exhaust a significant portion of the central bank’s hard currency reserve. Such fears are reinforced by the drop in tourism revenues and foreign investment, and they may have been the motive behind the central bank’s imposition of a 0.7% charge on dollar cash withdrawals from personal accounts. At the beginning of 2011, foreign exchange reserves were estimated at $17 billion. Under normal conditions, this would be enough to fund seven months of imports.
Implementing credible political and economic reforms was a genuine option in the hands of the regime. Harsh repression and excessive use of force against people killed that option. Today, Syria is facing critical socioeconomic challenges that could lead to an increase in the unrest’s human and financial costs, worsening living conditions for broad sections of the population. This will only further fuel popular anger and likely lead to the regime’s collapse.
Iraq Adopts Iran’s Backing of Assad
August 24, 2011 | 9:37am
* What impact will the call by the United States and major European powers for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down–followed by heightened U.S. and EU sanctions–have on Syria-Iran relations?
They will push Syria even more into the arms of Iran. Syria is being gradually cut off from Western finances and relationships. So if the regime is going to survive, it will want to look east to Iran and perhaps China. Syria seems to also be improving its relationship with Iraq.
* Why has Iraq opted to align with Syria and Iran in backing Assad?
It is not entirely clear. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki does not state motivations. But it appears that two things are going on. There is a domestic reason; Maliki is worried about Bashar al Assad being overthrown. Assad belongs to the minority Shiite sect of Alawites. Many of Assad’s opponents are Sunnis- some of whom are Sunni fundamentalists. And some of those are the sort of people who were supporting the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Maliki does not want them to come to power in Damascus and become his neighbors.
Another consideration that has been suggested is that Maliki owes his position as prime minister in this round [of elections held in 2010] to the support of Iran for coalition building of the Iraq Shiites. So he may be paying back a debt.
* Is this a new de facto alliance?
There seems to be a growing Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis for certain purposes. Iraq is a very complex place and it still is, in odd ways, an American ally. Though in this particular instance, Baghdad is siding with Iran and Syria against the stated U.S. position. The alliance appears to be over sectarianism and regional politics. There is nothing that Syria can do for Iraq, economically. Syria is potentially a trading partner but there is no economic carrot that Syria can offer Iraq. It is actually the other way around. According to one report-that Maliki has denied-the Iranians had pressured the Iraqi government to donate $ 10 billion to Syria to help Damascus get through its current crisis. The alliance is very much about who you will like to have in the capital of your neighbor.
* What are the factors behind the support of Iran and Iraq for Syria?
…. Iraq is not similarly isolated but it is in some ways being pushed into a Shiite set of alliances, both by the sectarian undertones to the uprising in Syria and by events in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority demanded the Sunni monarchy become a constitutional monarchy. [But the Shiites] were crushed with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who were essentially acting as Sunni powers in the Gulf. This crushing of Bahrain’s democracy movement by Sunni powers provoked large demonstrations in Iraq and angered a lot of Iraqi Shiites. Of course, Maliki is both the prime minister of Iraq and the main political leader of the Iraqi Shiites. .
Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria in ’07 – August 24, 2011
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a diplomatic approach after other advisers — still stinging over “the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction” — expressed misgivings.
“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,” Mr. Cheney wrote about a meeting on the issue. “But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”….
Saudi security forces have arrested 164 Syrian expatriates who staged a rally in Riyadh in support of the five-month uprising in their homeland against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, a Syrian human rights organisation said.
Syrians were surprised by Qatar’s stance calling for Assad to reform and stop the violence, a drawback from their previous positions. This announcement precedes the prince of Qatar’s visit to Iran, to include extensive talks covering Iran’s relationship with the GCC.
BAGHDAD — The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Sunday that the U.S. maintains stronger relations with Iraq than does Iran, despite recent media reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s statements about the unrest in Syria were soft and indicated a philosophical shift toward Iran.