Posted by Joshua on Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Syrian Statistics: A Guessing Game
Deputy Prime Minister Dardari informs us here that GDP is $60 billion. Gross Domestic Product is the most important economic indicator. This is 20% higher than what most have been led to believe and is more than double what it was in 2004. To have the country’s GDP more than double in 6 years is remarkable. This is faster growth than even China has experienced in the last six years.
Moreover, we are also told that inflation now is less than 3%. This is also substantially lower than what most have been led to believe. Both the budget as well as the trade deficit is also thought to be less than 3% of GDP. If these numbers are correct, Syrian government spending can afford to be much more expansionary than people thought. It is time for the economic team to allow the statistics office in charge of these numbers to make such data available to the public on a regularly. This would eliminate the guess works and the confusion that stems from analyzing the economy from the various speeches of members of the economic team.
Ehsani writes: If the Syrian government were to triple government salaries from $300 to $900 the cost to the government would be 14.4 BILLION Dollars or 28.8 % OF GDP – or less is we accept the new $60 billion figure.
Gen. Ray Odierno, told journalists that al-Qaeda in Iraq, which he blamed for Monday’s bombings, has “morphed into a covert terrorist organization.” Odierno said al-Qaeda in Iraq is currently controlled by five to 10 highly educated Iraqis with backgrounds in engineering and finance. Those leaders continue to take orders from Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian militant thought to head the group. No longer able to control large areas in Baghdad and northern Iraq, the group has set up small, well-trained cells, Odierno said.(Washington Post)
Facts about Eastern Syria, which borders Iraq and Turkey, comprises the provinces of Hasakah, Raqqah and Deir al-Zor.
— Population growth is 3 percent a year and the majority of the population are under 15 years old.
— The region contains 40 percent of Syria’s farmland and accounts for 56-58 percent of its wheat production.
— The region’s wheat output fell to 1.3 million tonnes in 2008, when the worst drought in four decades hit, compared with 2.4-2.9 million tonnes a year between 2003 and 2007.
— Around 59,000 families each owning 100 head of cattle or less lost half their animals.
— Poverty levels hover around 80 percent.
— The region has a water shortage of 2.5 billion cubic metres a year out of the 3.5 billion cubic metre shortage for the whole of Syria.
— Officials did not estimate the number of people displaced by the drought. Independent estimates give a range of 300,000 to one million.
— The East received 30 percent of its average rainfall in 2008. No figures were available for 2009, but the officials said rainfall has improved.
— The government has started charging market prices for fuel and fertilisers, but still buys wheat and cotton at higher than market prices.
“It is no exaggeration to say that people are dying from hunger here,” said an official of the ruling Baath party from a village in the Jazeera area. The local authorities have repeatedly told the central government of the gravity of the situation but to no avail, he added on condition of anonymity. “Food baskets are not enough especially because corruption is rife and some of the food gets stolen,” he said. In June 2009, the government started distributing food packages containing flour, sugar, oil and other commodities to crisis-stricken families.
Eastern Syria grapples with drought, poverty
27 Jan 2010, Reuters
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Syrian officials addressing a rare public forum have revealed the full impact of a drought that ravaged the 2008 wheat crop and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country.
The officials recommended diversifying the eastern Syrian economy and finding alternatives to subsidised cash crops, whose cultivation has severely depleted water resources, mainly in the eastern region along the River Euphrates.
The officials, speaking at a forum that is a rare reminder of the “Damascus Spring” democracy movement snuffed out in 2001, recognised they faced a huge challenge, tackling high levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, and low investment.
Rainfall in eastern Syria fell to 30 percent of the annual average in 2008 — the worst drought for 40 years — and al-Khabour, a main tributary of the River Euphrates, dried up, they told the meeting on Tuesday.
The region’s wheat crop fell by about half to 1.3 million tonnes that year, and the number of people displaced is estimated at between 300,000 and one million, though there are no official figures.
“We must plan an overhaul that includes an integrated economy, health and education, not just agricultural production,” said Hassan Katana, head of statistics and planning at the agriculture ministry.
Poverty levels stand at 80 percent and the region’s investment budget is only $17.4 million, according to Khader al-Muhaisen of the government-backed Peasants Union.
Infrastructure in the east, which accounts for the bulk of Syria’s grain and cotton output, has fallen into disrepair.
Illiteracy is rising because the education system has been neglected, and many of those displaced by the drought have moved to Damascus, Aleppo and Hamah where they live as squatters.
Syria was an important Middle East wheat exporter before the drought began in 2007, while the water table had already been depleted by the thousands of illegal wells sunk to irrigate subsidised wheat.
Official figures put national wheat output at 2.1 million tonnes in 2008 against 4.1 million in 2007, rising to 3.8 million last year.
The state controls the production and marketing of wheat and cotton, part of the command economy imposed by the Baath Party when it took power in 1963, banned all opposition and imposed emergency laws that are still in force.
Katana said the government had already reduced the area allocated for cotton production because of the lack of water, but he did not expect cash-strapped farmers to obey the order. “All our agricultural resources have been used up. The real challenge is to develop strategies and knowhow to provide for new economic activity in this region,” Katana said.
Poverty is widespread in the east, although it produces all of Syria’s 375,000 barrels per day of oil and contains some of the world’s most important sites of antiquity, such as the Greco -Roman city of Dura Europos, called the “Pompeii of the desert”.
The region is also home to a substantial Kurdish minority, tens of thousands of whom have been effectively shut out of mainstream society since the 1960s when they were excluded from a national census.
Atieh al-Hindi, head of the National Agriculture Policy Centre, said the government subsidies policy had helped to improve living standards in the east but had contributed to its water shortage. Several speakers said part of the problem was that qualified experts such as Katana and Hindi were not consulted by the government when it set economic policy.
Meetings of the forum, organised by the Syrian Economics Society, were packed and lively events until 2001 when the ruling apparatus crushed a democracy movement that later became known as the “Damascus Spring”.
The event has since lost its lustre. Most of the seats in the auditorium where the debate was held were empty on Tuesday. Most of the Damascus Spring figures were jailed, including economist Aref Dalila, a regular speaker at the forum who was imprisoned for seven years and released in 2008.
Two tall sky scrappers and an intercontinental hotel to tower over downtown Damascus. The huge shortage of commercial retail space in Damascus is about to be addressed. Al Khrafi from Kuwait is financing these towers; it is in a joint venture with Syria Holdings (the holding company associated with the Joud family and not Rami Makhlouf).
26/ 01/ 2010
أخيراً برجان عملاقان في قلب العاصمة دمشق، بل أكثر من ذلك سيكونان الأكبر على مستوى بلاد الشام.
في الخبر الكثير من الشد والجذب، والأهم أنّ فيه «قهراً» لتحدٍّ مزعج طالما طالعنا على شكل تهمة تقول أننا لم نحظ عمرانياً بما يواكب نهضتنا في كافة مجالات الحياة، إنْ في السياسة أو في الاقتصاد، أو في التربية والتعليم، وبالفعل ليس في عاصمتنا أو مدننا الكبرى ولا الصغرى نقاط علام عمرانية- إنشائية يمكن الإشارة إليها كخصوصية سورية.
على جانب آخر مادي إجرائي، أي بعيداً عن الاعتبار المعنوي و«شوفة الحال» التي نستحقها فيما لو كان البرجان فعلاً الأكبر على مستوى بلاد الشام، بعيداً عن ذلك ثمة مؤشر هنا يجب الوقوف عنده، فإقامة هكذا برجين تعني أنه ليس لدينا ما يمنع جيولوجياً من إقامة الأبراج، فلمَ الإصرار على «السقوف الواطية» في أنظمتنا العمرانية وضوابط دوائر الإدارة المحلية والمحافظات أي /5/ طوابق أو /4/ وغير ذلك يعني التجاوز.؟!
Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine
By Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, January 25, 2010
A lot of ink has been spilled since 9/11 trying to argue that bin Laden doesn’t really care about Palestine. But that’s always been silly — nobody knows what he “really” cares about, and it doesn’t especially matter since he talks about it a lot and presents it as a major part of his case against the United States. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics. Marc Lynch (via Andrew)
One of the reasons there has been a consistent effort to deny that Bin Laden has any “real” interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that such an interest, sincere or not, suggests jihadist groups are fueled by U.S. and allied policies, or at least that they successfully exploit U.S. and allied policies for propaganda purposes. Washington would then be faced with at least one of two unpalatable truths. Either our policies are correct and necessary, but strategically disastrous in their effects on Arab and Muslim public opinion and jihadist recruiting, or they are and incorrect and unnecessary while also being strategically disastrous. Washington would then have to decide if it wants to live with perpetual, low-level conflict occasionally exploding into major military campaigns every decade, or if it wants to make enough policy changes (and push our allies to make similar changes) to reduce that conflict to a bare minimum…..
Israel plans to repatriate ‘lost Jewish tribe’ in India
Jonathan Cook, January 26. 2010
A member of the Bnei Menashe community paints Israeli flags on childrenís faces for the Israeli Independence Day in 2009. Michal Fattal / Getty Images
Nazareth, Israel // The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India.
Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.
A previous attempt to bring the Bnei Menashe to Israel was halted in 2003 by Avraham Poraz, the interior minister at the time, after it became clear that most of the 1,500 who had arrived were being sent to extremist settlements, including in the Gaza Strip and next to Hebron, the large Palestinian city in the West Bank.
Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that some of the new Bnei Menashe would end up in the settlements, too.
“There is a mutual interest being exploited here,” he said. “The Bnei Menashe get help to make aliyah [immigration] while the settlements get lots of new arrivals to bolster their numbers, including in settlements close to Palestinian areas where most Israelis would not want to venture.”
The government’s decision, leaked this month to Ynet, Israel’s biggest news website, was made possible by a ruling in 2005 by Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, that the Bnei Menashe are one of 10 lost Jewish tribes, supposedly exiled from the Middle East 2,700 years ago.
He ordered a team of rabbis to go to north-east India to begin preparing Bnei Menashe who identified themselves as Jews for conversion to the strictest stream of Judaism, Orthodoxy, so they would qualify to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
The Bnei Menashe belong to an ethnic group called the Shinlung, who number more than one million and live mainly in the states of Manipur and Mizoram, close to the border with Myanmar. They were converted from animism to Christianity by British missionaries a century ago, but a small number claim to have kept an ancient connection to Judaism…..