“Syria’s Economy Tsar Says the Middle Class is Reviving” by Ibrahim Hamidi

"Dardari Says the Syrian Middle Class is Reviving Due to Economic Reforms"
by Ibrahim Hamidi
2008-03-10 (Translation thanks to BBC Monitor)

Text of report by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat website on 8 March

[Report by Ibrahim Humaydi from Damascus: "Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Confirms Gap Among Classes, Increase in Number of Rich, but Denies Poverty Is Increasing. Al-Dardari: Syria Needs To Liberalize its Economy]

In an interview with Al-Hayat, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-Dardari declared that his country's economy is facing new challenges represented by a growing demand on energy supplies, the need to find 1bn euros annually for electric power, and the rising prices of agricultural products and their connection with "food security" resulting from rising oil prices. He asserted that Syria has no choice but "to work harder on structural economic reform and liberalizing more economic sectors from their current restrictions."

He pointed out that the rich in Syria "are growing richer but the incomes of the poor are also improving." He said that "the gap between classes is more conspicuous now" but without meaning that "the middle class is disappearing." He added that poverty is "a harsh and profound reality" but the Syrian Government is working to provide "social security."

Noting that Syria's domestic challenges are connected with poverty and unemployment, he asserted that reform "is an intellectual, administrative, and executive challenge." He added that it is not an easy process that hinges on the adoption of a collection of laws but is a difficult subject that requires development of mentalities and administration.

He said: "If we compare the Syrian situation with other economic reform experiences, we will find that the briefest reform process lasted 17 years while the tenth Syrian five-year plan is only one and a half years old. If we remember that the intellectual beginnings of economic reform appeared during the Ba'th Party's 10th regional congress in June 2005, this means that reform has been going on for two and a half years. Therefore, historically we are in the early stages of reform."

He pointed out that the overall economic growth rate "reached 5.1 per cent in 2006, a percentage that is documented by the IMF." He noted, however, that new figures show that current growth is around 5.5 per cent while GNP growth reached 6.5 per cent in 2007."

Al-Dardari admitted that "there is no way that every person will benefit to the same degree," noting that this is impossible because people are at different levels of education, experience, skills, and ability to seize opportunities." He asked: "Is growth meant to be perpetual?" He said that "the questions are more numerous than the answers in the first stage of economic reform and no one can claim that he has the answers to all the questions."

He added: "Whenever I visit my home village, people ask: What does a growth rate of 9 per cent per cent mean when all we see are rising prices of gasoline, sugar, and rice. This is what the villagers see."

He said: "Today Syria is moving towards a more balanced and better situation with regard to what are termed economic basics. Growth is a necessary condition but alone it is not enough. What would be enough is for growth to include all the Syrian people."

Speaking about economic challenges and economic weak points, he said that the first challenge "consists of completing and expanding economic reform policies and liberalizing the Syrian economy of the many restrictions that hamper it."

He remarked: "It is true that we covered a lot of ground but we still have a very long way to go. If we assume that someone will say that we are not telling the truth and that the growth rate is only 3 per cent, what is the solution?

Syria needs to see results. We need to entrench and expedite structural economic reform. We need a greater push to liberalize the economic sectors. Does this country have any other options available?"

According to what Al-Dardari explained, the second challenge consists of "ensuring that the Syrian economy is competitive.

He said: "And what does competitiveness mean in its institutional, legislative, productive, and service aspects? It means the Syrian economy's ability to produce high quality products and services and to be able to attract local, Arab, and international investments. The important challenge is to reduce unemployment, create a secure job market, and develop effective job market policies."

The Syrian deputy prime minister explained that "in its narrow definition set by the International Labour Organization, every person who did one hour in the week preceding the survey is not regarded as unemployed. Unemployment in Syria went down from 12.5 per cent to 8.1 per cent of the overall labour force between 2004 and 2007. Can I then say that unemployment has dropped? No, because it is still high."

He pointed out that unemployment in the 16-24 age group exceeds 18.4 per cent. This, he said, poses a big challenge for Syria and for job market reforms, which must take into account the need to protect the rights of older working people while providing opportunities for the young to enter the job market. Al-Dardari announced that the overall labour force amounted to 4.879 million in 2006.

Asked about the energy challenge, he said it is represented by the fact that "the rate of energy consumption is growing faster than the level of local production." He explained that energy demand is growing by 10 or 11 per cent annually while the economy on the whole is growing by 5 or 6 per cent and will reach 7 per cent at the end of the current 10th five-year plan. This means that "no matter how fast you run, you will not be able to provide the country's energy needs."

He said: "The world is moving in the direction of relying on alternative energy sources but these require investments and their costs are still very high."

He announced that Syria "needs 1,000 MW of electricity annually that cost 1.5bn euros. Hence the energy issue should be handled in a comprehensive manner and from a strategic perspective. We need to work strategically on this issue."

He said that he believes "it is a tremendous challenge to overturn the equation until energy production is equal to or greater than the demand, and this requires 20 years of growth."

He noted that the "third challenge to the Syrian government consists of agriculture, especially as the balance of food security in the world has changed and a quarter of global wheat production goes to produce bio-fuels, which caused wheat prices and food prices in general to double in one year." He said that a ton of wheat, which used to cost $200, now costs $450 but there has no been no rise in the prices of barley, animal feed and milk. He remarked: "The economic issue is very complex today and is very difficult to manage."

He explained the effect that this has on food security and Syria's policy on agriculture, saying: "There are challenges resulting from the higher oil prices. This is the first time that food prices are so closely linked to the oil price. However, what interests us in our agricultural policy is to provide food security, that is, Syria's needs of basic foods without relying on other countries. This will continue."

He asserted that "there is no escape from agricultural subsidies." He pointed out that some technical experts are studying this issue "but we cannot say let us leave it as it was last year when a ton of wheat cost $200 while it costs $450 today."

He added: "Animal feed was plentiful but today supplies are not secure worldwide."

He described his understanding of the definition of a middle class by saying that "it is the segment of the population that is able to provide a dignified standard of life for itself, is educated, cultured, and broadminded and is able to take the initiative."

He pointed out that statistics indicate "a significant increase in the past three years in the number of people who are self- employed in Syria" and added that the working middle class in the country is at a stable 28 per cent of the overall workforce but the rate of those who are self-employed is rising rapidly, at around 10 per cent in 2006- 2007, from 26 to 29 per cent of the total workforce." He said that this is one of the signs that the middle class is reviving.

On the condition of being poor, he said: This phenomenon "is not merely economic but also psychological. Discrepancies in income today do not indicate rising poverty. It is connected with the method of consumption. I mean formerly Syria's rich did not spend their money in Syria. They used to go to Beirut, Paris and London. Now there are opportunities for liberal consumption in Syria that has made the phenomenon of rich and poor more conspicuous. One must isolate the phenomena and determine where they stand within the economy. Are they results or causes? Are they a social phenomena or actual economic realities?"

He spoke about the results of measuring the rate of poverty in Syria:

"It has been determined that those who live on less than one dollar a day are 0.6 per cent of the population. How many Syrians live on 50 lire per day? They are very few. If they have no income, society will help. Do not forget that the Syrian social security system is excellent."

He said that the number of those who live on less than 2 dollars a day is "less than 10 per cent of the population" and that a large number of families "receive remittances from abroad." He declared: "Syrian society is balanced and possesses methods of absorption and balance."

Originally published by Al-Hayat website, London, in Arabic 8 Mar 08. (c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Middle East.

Compare with this article by Suad Jarous in al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 9, 2007: "Fears of the Collapse of the Middle Class in Syria and the Lifting of Subsidies"

Comments (68)


ausamaa said:

Ehsani 2

We are awaiting your comments on this. Why also the increased Arab Investment in such a “threatened” country?

March 10th, 2008, 5:38 pm

 

CWW said:

I wonder what the politburo said about the Soviet economy in the 80s.

March 10th, 2008, 5:55 pm

 

Majhool said:

So Mr. Dardari comes again with another Ingenious definition

self- employed = Middle Class

shoe shiners & Taxi drivers = middle class.

March 10th, 2008, 6:12 pm

 

wizart said:

Saudis Urged to Reform Mindset
By Raid Qusti, Arab News
01/23/2008

Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew delivers his keynote speech at the 2nd Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Saudis need to change their mindset and gradually change to a knowledge-based society in a way which would not affect the social structure of the country, Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said here yesterday.

“You have to move from a Bedouin culture into the modern world…you have to move to a knowledge society,” he said.

Lee said the Kingdom should seize the opportunity by transferring its oil wealth into a knowledge-based society. “You have this opportunity now. How do you transform this wealth into a knowledge-based people that would be able to sustain a very high level of life long after the oil age? That is your challenge.”

A humble leader whose vision helped reshape Singapore into a modern country today inspired crowds of locals and internationals at his keynote speech at the 2nd Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF).

He said the main challenge for his nation in the past was transforming less educated Singaporeans from the Malay origin, who were lesser educated among other ethnic groups, into modern people by intermingling them and also cementing the eagerness to learn and acquire knowledge. “Motivation was deeply engraved in the culture,” he stressed.

Making a comparison between his countrymen in the past and Saudis, he said Saudis living in villages would have to be intermingled with the mainstream to overcome this problem.

Asked by a local businesswoman in the female section how Saudis could learn from the Singaporean education experience, he emphasized the importance of quality education and the importance of thinking. He also said that parents should not suppress their children.

“It all starts through the inquiring mind ‘why?’,” he pointed out. “When your child asks you why, you should not tell him ‘because I said so’. But try to explain to him. And then he’ll ask the next question: ‘Why is that?’ That is human progress,” he said to the applause of the crowd.

The Singaporean education system is focus on the fact that not all people are meant to be Harvard, MIT, or Cambridge graduates, due to the differences in human capabilities and interests. A certain child might not be good in mathematics, but could have a certain talent in playing a musical instrument. The focus should be given on his ability to develop his talents. “The intellectual stimuli must be there… the social stimuli must be there,” he said.

Asked about whether the Kingdom should focus on developing industries that focus on oil and gases, or on other sectors during this stage, the minister said: “If I were born a Saudi. And I was given the question ‘What should I do?’ I would ask myself ‘What makes me relevant to the rest of the world?’ Not my sand. Not my camels. Not my dates. But my oil. And that’s a scarce resource. So let’s not waste it.”

He also stressed the importance of not wasting oil wealth, since scientific research has proven that it is a scarce resource. “There are certain things that you must require for oil: land transportation, air transportation, and new discoveries… I would pull away from industries which extract oil for cheap energy,” he said. “You have large reserves and those reserves can attract business to you. It’s how you manage those reserves. You’re not going to build new cities all the time. You will have to learn to invest them worldwide.”

Saudis, he said, should focus on industries which they would be willing to go into where locals could do things themselves.

He suggested that Saudis be sent abroad to learn and then return to take control of job positions where foreigners would be phased out.

[Any knowledge society would be enhanced if male and female students were given equal opportunities to thrive both educationally and vocationally.]

March 10th, 2008, 6:39 pm

 

wizart said:

Majhool,

Self employed is the fastest growing segment of employment in the world today not only in Syria but in many other countries like the U.S as well and to assume he only meant Taxi drivers and shoe shiners is perhaps indicative of limited imagination more than anything else (I hope I’m wrong!)considering you could also add many internet based professions and the fact that internet access is growing fast and probably now better than in tech savvy Lebanon.

Self employed is also the wave of the future and America was started by small business and entrepreneurs. The rise of the internet and outsourcing plays well for the highly educated Syrian population. Syrian high-school graduates score better than many in America and the country has little debt unlike Lebanon or the U.S.

Syria has no unlimited supply of oil like in Saudi Arabia, no millions of people on Prozac like in America and no Nukes like in Israel. Yet Syrians still proudly support millions of Arab refugees.

There are a lot of issues to be resolved by those who want to get things done. There will also be those who do nothing but complain.

March 10th, 2008, 7:07 pm

 

Norman said:

Syrians have a big heart.

March 10th, 2008, 7:21 pm

 

Naji said:

Oh well, I think I can now comfortably leave this blog that I visited briefly …for The Wiz seems to have things pretty much under control around here…!

To the Wiz’s last comment though, I would add that for the past many years I have been advocating that, if the Syrian government is going to subsidize anything, it should subsidize universal access to computors and BROADBAND… I bitterly pointed out the contrast when our “designated enemy” started providing free wireless broadband all over Jerusalem a couple of years ago… and how amazing and revealing it was to personally see how see the Indian government was busy laying down fiber-optic cable to the remotest jungle villages in south India (where Syrians roam since almost 2000 years, by the way!)… and how amazing to see what the Syrian kids have been able to do with NO resources at all…, but…!!?? In all fairness though, some of our problem has also been the American embargo and the exclusivity of American technology in this field…!

March 10th, 2008, 8:20 pm

 

Majhool said:

WIZART,

Rest assured, there is no lack in imagination. I live in the US and know exactly what you are refereeing to. In fact, that is exactly what is flawed in Mr. Dardari’s statements.

Growth in the Self-employed segment should be put in perspective (Syria) and to borrow indicators that applies in the silicon valley and impose it on Syria’s case is flawed.

I tend to agree with the definition of Middle class as Dardari put it (able to provide a dignified standard of life for itself, is educated, cultured, and broadminded and is able to take the initiative).

Those who fit the mold are the ones forced to work in the gulf and the west. What is growing in the segment of self-employed is street smarts, traders, shoe shiners and Taxi drivers, etc. with due respect to all of them of course.

to claim the sustainability of the middle class one should be able to “imagine” a fresh graduate (cultured and educated) with no inheritance being able to achieve the standards Dardari himself laid out (rent+ food+ health+ sending kids to school, etc).

“The rise of the internet and outsourcing plays well for the highly educated Syrian population”

That’s wishful thinking as of the present. Knowledge based society is non existent in Syria. Traders of rice, Hummus, and bananaa is what we have.

March 10th, 2008, 8:42 pm

 

idaf said:

Majhool,

I only have 10 seconds on my hands, so I’ll make it short..

YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.

March 10th, 2008, 9:47 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The guy is basically admitting that there will not be enough electricity in Syria over the next 20 years. Also that there is at least 18.4% unemployment for young people and that does not include people that work part time even as little as one hour. As for the poverty rate, he is just not willing to measure it in any real sense. We have heard plenty evidence that on average Syrians consume less because of inflation and cutting of subsidies.

Assuming that he was trying to put a positive spin on things, it doesn’t look pretty.

March 10th, 2008, 9:54 pm

 

Majhool said:

IDAF,

Brilliant investment of your time.

After all you are the brilliant fellow who came with those stupid theories on why the government blocked Facebook.

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=493

and you are also the one who uttered the following stupidity on the Israeli strike:

“The Israeli army badly needed a PR stunt. My hunch is that there was no strike. Only a brief infiltration of airspace and all parties (Israel, US and Arab allies) are trying to milk this to the absolute last drop. It is a media strike rather than an actual military one. In short this was a publicity stunt that won’t cost Israel much but would have great impact on moral and image”

March 10th, 2008, 9:54 pm

 

idaf said:

Majhool,

Not sure what your point is in digging some of my earlier comments (which happen to be totally irrelevant here)! I still have not much time on my hands to respond, but here’s a very quick response:

FYI, Since a month or so now, Facebook is not blocked anymore in Syria.. and the Israeli spammers on the “Syria Network” on Facebook are gone for good (for now) or have been blocked by Facebook administrators. My theory might have some ground after all. Check for yourself.

My early “hunch” on the strike on the box in the Syrian desert is still under debate by many. However, what is sure now is that the strike WAS a publicity stunt for local and regional consumption by Israel. What else came out of it other than IDF soldiers feeling macho again after their humiliation in Lebanon in 2006?!

However, let’s not change the subject.. on the Syrian economy (and many other issues on Syria), it still seems to me that you are making less and less sense.

March 10th, 2008, 10:21 pm

 

Majhool said:

IDAF,

Unlike you, I do not jump into theories and don’t rely much on hunches.

It’s simple, I believe it’s erroneous to link the growing self employed (in the case of Syria) to a growth in middle class.

I am sure your ultra accurate “hunch” would whisper to you otherwise

March 10th, 2008, 10:33 pm

 

Wassim said:

On the condition of being poor, he said: This phenomenon “is not merely economic but also psychological. Discrepancies in income today do not indicate rising poverty. It is connected with the method of consumption. I mean formerly Syria’s rich did not spend their money in Syria. They used to go to Beirut, Paris and London. Now there are opportunities for liberal consumption in Syria that has made the phenomenon of rich and poor more conspicuous. One must isolate the phenomena and determine where they stand within the economy. Are they results or causes? Are they a social phenomena or actual economic realities?”

Smoke and mirrors from the geniuses of financial reform and a wonderful excuse for why “the rich getting richer” is a lot more obvious a phenomenon now than before. Apparently it’s just because we can now see them doing it whereas before it was all abroad, presumably because it’s too expensive for the poor to fly abroad and see for themselves I take it. What does he mean that the condition of being poor is also psychological? Is he saying people afflicted this way are delusional? Why does he also not mention how these people are getting rich, rather than just where they spend their money? Typical technocrat also has to drop in his “village” story, perhaps to show everyone that he’s still one of the people.

March 10th, 2008, 11:04 pm

 

Enlightened said:

I Find a few contradictions in this article, and while I am not reaching for my University Economics 101, or Macro Or Micro Economic Books, this article does not really shed light on the true state of the Syrian Economy.

examples:

“The Syrian deputy prime minister explained that “in its narrow definition set by the International Labour Organization, every person who did one hour in the week preceding the survey is not regarded as unemployed. Unemployment in Syria went down from 12.5 per cent to 8.1 per cent of the overall labour force between 2004 and 2007.”

Clearly, and someone can correct me if I am wrong, I was under the impression that a 20 hour week would qualify a worker as being employed, and that classification would only be deemed as a “part time worker” If The Syrian government is using these figures to determine the true nature of unemployment in Syria , then the percentages given are clearly wrong, the correct term would be “Hidden Unemployment” . I don’t buy these figures of 8.1%, this is clearly wrong.

“He pointed out that the overall economic growth rate “reached 5.1 per cent in 2006, a percentage that is documented by the IMF.” He noted, however, that new figures show that current growth is around 5.5 per cent while GNP growth reached 6.5 per cent in 2007.”

The most common approach to measuring and understanding GDP is the expenditure method:

GDP = consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports − imports), or,
GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

Now GNP ( Gross National product) using the income method (too complex for me to remember Ehsani might get into this)

GNP = C + I + G + (X – M) + NR

(NR = + or – Net income from assets abroad (net income receipts)

Now if the minister can state that GNP is 1% higher, because of NET INCOME receipts from abroad why does he not state where these sectors in the economy are performing? ( I find this strange as these he would want to boast about in the article)

“We need to entrench and expedite structural economic reform. We need a greater push to liberalize the economic sectors.”

How do Government Subsidies affect the economy in terms of liberalization? The bloated government sector? Administrative laws for doing business etc etc etc. The article is too limited in not addressing these questions.

The middle class, maybe someone like Nour can tell us about this

The economy is being reformed slowlyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, but it has a long way to go.

March 10th, 2008, 11:16 pm

 

Bashmann said:

Majhool,

You will need to excuse IDAF, he is suffering from BWS (Ba’athist Withdrawal Symptoms); they are going through an extinction phase in Syria and abroad. His fame stems from those ingenious comments of his (you don’t know what you are talking about) with little to show to the contrary.

I totally agree with you, Mr. Dardary statement regarding the self-employed segment is not only erroneous but also misleading. What struck me as an audacious declaration is the percentage of the populations that live on less than 2 dollars a day, his 10% is certainly questionable.

Cheers

March 10th, 2008, 11:40 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

US envoy: Lebanon Tribunal is ready for action
Tuesday, 11 March, 2008 @ 12:22 AM

New York – US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said the International organization has completed all the arrangements for the International Tribunal, which will prosecute those involved in the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.

He disclosed that the Canadian Daniel Bellemare (who was appointed bu the UN to repllace the Belgian chief investigator Serge Brammertz ) “has been chosen as the prosecutor and the Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki -Moon has chosen 11 judges and the court registrars.”

He added, ” The initial financing of the court is complete. The United Nations has received twenty-nine million, four hundred thousand US dollars and this amount is more than is needed to cover the cost of the court”

March 11th, 2008, 12:39 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

The way to exit from Lebanon’s morass
By Paul Salem

The Daily Star
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clouds of war hover over Lebanon. The country is adrift without a president and with a contested government as well as a Parliament whose doors have been closed since late 2006. Tensions between rival groups spill over regularly into street clashes amid news that they are arming and training. The tense calm between Hizbullah and Israel may be broken as Hizbullah vows to retaliate for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, its head of operations. Israeli actions in Gaza are adding fuel to the fire. Syria is increasingly nervous as the establishment of the Hariri tribunal nears; and the United States and Saudi Arabia are raising the pressure on Damascus through political, financial and, recently, naval means.

Is there a safe passage through this morass? Domestically, the steps that we Lebanese should take are clear. Open-ended bargaining should end in favor of a constitutionally sound approach. This begins by electing a president – and luckily there is a consensus candidate – enabling the president to fulfill his function as empowered patron of the political negotiation process. This process should lead to the formation of a government – especially one of national unity that includes all major groups and that can rebuild, under the president’s aegis, Lebanon’s shattered internal unity. This would help shield the country from the gathering regional storms.

Among this government’s first goals would be to attend to Lebanon’s defense and security framework. First it must strengthen the army. It is scandalous that after four years in which the Lebanese Army has kept the peace under very difficult conditions and won a critical battle against the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group, and at a time when the army is tasked with bolstering the sovereignty and independence of the state, it has received very little in terms of regional and international support. While Hizbullah has fully rearmed and while international fleets sail up and down the Lebanese coast, the Lebanese Army has received little more than partial logistical support and used Humvees to accomplish its gargantuan tasks.

Furthermore, with Hizbullah inside the new government, the government must develop a “national defense strategy” that incorporates Hizbullah’s proven force and fighting capacity into the strengthened national army. This can come in the form of a border defense force or other such arrangements that exist in other countries. Ultimate war and peace decision-making, however, must be in the hands of the state, and ultimate command over military means must be in the hands of the army. The state and reconstructed army, however, must provide very credible answers to the recurring threat of Israeli attacks against the South and must include a realistic mechanism to finally control the Lebanese-Syrian border.

On the political front, the new government’s most urgent task is to adopt an electoral law. The current Parliament’s term ends in June 2009 and the way things are going today we are likely to arrive at that date without having been able to hold elections, thus entering into a period of even more complete institutional bankruptcy than today. To hold the elections we must draft an electoral law by the fall of 2008 at the latest. The government should at long last open and read the proposed draft law prepared by the government-appointed National Election Commission in June 2006, which I participated in drafting. That should be the starting point for debating electoral reform, not backroom deals by political bosses.

That law proposes lowering the voting age, creating an independent electoral management body, enabling expatriate voting, strictly controlling the abuse of money in campaigns, strictly controlling the abuse of private television stations, preventing vote-rigging, introducing measures to protect voting secrecy and to combat vote buying, and boosting women’s representation. These measures would have a revolutionary effect on politics in Lebanon – measures that most political bosses from both camps today would probably not favor.

The law also introduces proportional representation, which would allow diverse groups and parties to enter Parliament so that each community is not represented merely by its communal bosses. Elections are the basis of any republic; and a truly reformed electoral law is the most important step to help rebuild our ruined political culture.

At the regional level, there is continuing need for international attention. Israel must be pressured to avert an onslaught on Gaza, which risks once again drawing Lebanon and other players into conflict. Iran, Syria and Hizbullah must be dissuaded from overreacting to Mughniyeh’s assassination. Pressure must continue on Syria to reverse its policies in Lebanon – both with the aim of ending the threat of assassination against anti-Syrian politicians and pushing Damascus to compel its Lebanese allies to rejoin the constitutional process. Syria must be convinced of a two-state solution: Syria and Lebanon, sovereign states, living side by side.

As for the Hariri tribunal, its creation should be advanced quickly. The institution has hung over Lebanon and Syria for three years, and it is time that the truth comes out, that justice be done, and that Syria and Lebanon deal with the serious political repercussions that might follow from its conclusions. Only after facing those truths and overcoming them can the two countries look forward to a post-tribunal relationship.

Paul Salem is director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

March 11th, 2008, 12:45 am

 

trustquest said:

I’m not optimistic by nature, however I thin the Syrian economy is not in a good hands. The reading between the lines you read that Mr. Dardari still struggling to implement the removal of subsidies and the political authority still resisting scaring from reaction and from shock might cause the public. The figure always grey because there are no measurement tools yet and when there is in some cases it is in the hands of the government and it is not independent. What caught my attention was when he said that the government is working on social security system to protect the poor. Later when he talked about the less than a dollar income, he said : ” Do not forget that the Syrian social security system is excellent.”
For me, I know there is no social security system in the country, my brother who was working for the one of the ministries, was making 7000 two years ago, when he left, they did not pay him retirement they paid him cash sum of 35000 sp, to avoid paying him retirement and he is now on his own, under the support of his brothers who work in the WESTERN WORLD. Shouldn’t be at least some acknowledgment from government regarding this fact?.
The question is, what he means that Syrian social security system is excellent.
I think he means that our social security system is built on the 17 millions humans working outside the country and giving the life support to the country.
Please, no one get me wrong, I know Mr. Dardari is a bright light in the dark situation of the economic gangmire since the change from social to open economy, which needed a lot standard and base laws which till now is lacking. I hope for better to the country.

March 11th, 2008, 12:57 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Where are Zenobia and Honest Patriot?

(I know the latter said he would not return, but I never believed him.) Halloooooo out there?

March 11th, 2008, 1:04 am

 

Enlightened said:

QN:

Anything on the statement BY M14? Sarcasm aside I know that it will be no Magna Carter or as significant as the Emancipation Declaration, has it been released, and if so what are the implications?

(Note I am not wearing a Tarboosh)

March 11th, 2008, 1:21 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Having a serious discussion on the Syrian economy is a futile exercise. During a recent trip to the country, I was told that Government officials have no idea what the country’s true growth rate is. This is a fact.

Mr. Dardari can claim that GDP is 22% for all one cares. How are we to argue? He never mentions if it is real (net of inflation) or nominal (including inflation) for example.

The same goes for unemployment and inflation. It is simply impossible to get a true picture of where the country stands on these metrics.

What we do know however is not good.

The subsidies are a drag on the treasury budget. There is no solution in sight. The Baath created this monster. It does not have the political courage to tackle it and embark on a credible privatization. With a tax system in shambles and a population explosion in the horizon the costs of these subsidies will wreck havoc on the fiscal front.

The issue of energy supply that the minister alluded to is another problem. Where is the country going to finance over a billion euro from?

With all due respect to the minister, there is no way for this economy to perform well unless the state decides to get out of the business of running businesses. To my knowledge, more than 250 different businesses are run by a government enterprise. These range from making biscuits, tires and batteries to packaging food and tomatoes. This nonsense must stop.

State assets must be sold on the start of a securities exchange. Even Botswana has a stock exchange. It is time we do too. Selling off state enterprises by listing them on the stock exchange will be the first sign that this country has turned the corner when it comes to running a credible economic policy. Till then, arguing whether the Syrian economy is healthy or not is indeed a futile exercise.

March 11th, 2008, 1:22 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Enlightened,

Which statement? Do you mean the conference for Friday?

They’ve released the agenda for the conference… it’s quite expansive, although I’m pessimistic about its likelihood for success. As Paul Salem says, as long as people keep trying to bargain, there will be no way out of the crisis. We need to return to the constitution, otherwise dangerous precedents will be set.

Here’s the agenda for Friday.

March 11th, 2008, 1:24 am

 

Syrian said:

Majhool, Bashmann:

What would Mr. Dardari have to say to get your agreement?

March 11th, 2008, 1:28 am

 

Syrian said:

Ehsani2,

What I find interesting about this article is the argument that Syria must guarantee food security and the energy needs bit.

They want to guarantee food security at the heavily subsidized rates, which undoubtedly implies over-consumption of food by the population. The same for energy needs. The billion euros financing is required probably at the current level of subsidies. If they ever find the courage to scrap (or at least severely limit) the subsidy system, I think Syria could be in a fairly comfortable place.

March 11th, 2008, 1:36 am

 

Enlightened said:

QN: Thats the one! Remember someone mentioning it a few days ago!

Anyway on a side note I received a text message from my brother in law last night after he watched the LBC channel and he was feeling depressed it went like this;

“I was feeling depressed so I called a help line. They put me through to a call center in Lebanon. I told them I was feeling suicidal. They got all excited and asked If I could drive a truck!

Pessimism is invading all types, and there is no optimism even if you are half way across the world!

March 11th, 2008, 1:42 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Nice one 🙂

I heard a good joke the other day about Lebanese paranoia:

Five Syrians apply for Lebanese citizenship after working in Lebanon for several years. Eventually they are granted citizenship and they decide to throw a party that weekend, and invite all of their friends.

The party is going wonderfully well, the booze is flowing, the music is loud, the shish tawouk is delicious, the women are beautiful, and everyone is having the time of their life… except one of the five Syrians, who is sitting in the corner, sulking.

His four friends go up to him and say: “Ya Sami! What’s the matter? Why are you upset? You should be celebrating. We’re Lebanese now!”

Sami replies: “What do you mean celebrate? How do you expect me to celebrate when the Syrian regime is trying to dominate my country?!”

March 11th, 2008, 1:49 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Surprise, surprise: it looks as if the terror-supporting Iranian theocrat, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really did say, “Israel must be wiped off the map”, despite the chorus that said it was “misquoted”.

Imagine that! And here, all along, I trusted the nice people on Professor Josh’s (Director, Center for “Peace Studies”) website;)

http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/slideshow/photo//080310/photos_wl_afp/f1d8157b6d45aa4b03d9b99c4a24affc/

March 11th, 2008, 1:52 am

 

norman said:

Ehsani,
Selling Government companies is interesting , at that time these companies will be owned by the people for real ,
encouraging small business is very important as we all know that the only way to get rich in the US is to own our own business,
Small business is the engine of the American economy and could be the engine of the Syrian economy , small business owners employ most people in the US and can do the same for Syria if the Syrian government will do what Ehsani suggested ( GET OUT OF THE WAY )and let people make as much money as they can as long as they pay fair taxes like 15 % ,

The subsidies will be going soon , all the talk about them meant to prepare the people so they will not be shocked ,
Syria needs to replace the subsidies of products to subsidies for the poor like food stamps electricity allowance , do things that will directly support the poor while the people who can afford the prices pay market rate.

TQ, I do not know the age of your brother when he retired and do not know if he elected to get a lump sum or not , what i can tell you that my mother still gets SS from may father’s work in Syria now for 22 years after his passing ,
We should also know that the practice of giving lump sump is wide spread in the US ,

Syria still has a long way to go but MR Daradri seems to have his heart in making Syria economy a free one while avoiding a revolution , That might be too slow for some but I think it is done with good intention.

March 11th, 2008, 1:59 am

 

Majhool said:

SYRIAN,

According to Ehsani there is no solid data to back any claim. But to answer your question, I suggest that Mr. Dardari would review with us performance numbers for key (troubled/ corrupted/needs to be improved) sectors of the economy.

For example, he can take “ports revenues, customs, Taxation, and subsidies”

If he can show numbers have positively doubled/tripled in the past year then I would lean to accept his estimates.

Alex,

Every time I talk to you, you tell me magical stories on how Ehsani was impressed with the state of the Economy. Well, I could not deduce that from his comments today. I say, let’s turn the page on this issue and let’s not sight how Ehsani was impressed etc..

Norman,

How about “Rule of Law” as an incentive for growth in the economy? I mean I cannot imagine small business ever thriving in a police state.

March 11th, 2008, 2:06 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AP,

The original statement by Ahmadinejad in 2005 was:

اين رژيم اشغالگر قدس بايد از صفحه روزگار محو شود

It literally means: “This regime occupying Jerusalem must be erased (or vanish) from the page of time.”

Apologists have said that he was referring to the Zionist regime, and not to the state of Israel per se, whatever that means. (Note that he was quoting Khomeini when he made this statement, but he was quoting him favorably).

The poster that appears in the picture that you referenced however, replaces the words “This regime occupying Jerusalem” with the word “Israel”, so the English translation on the poster is correct, but it doesn’t match the original quote.

Apples and apples if you ask me.

March 11th, 2008, 2:15 am

 

norman said:

There should be an algorithm for starting businesses which are the same for all , The government should provide capital and incentive to reinvest money in Syria ,
I just thought of a way to encourage businesses , how about only 10% tax on all products made in Syria and sold out side the country.

March 11th, 2008, 2:29 am

 

Majhool said:

Norman,

You are so out of touch with reality. Successful small business does not come cheap and please stop comparing us with the US. Fist there are no financial structure to support borrowing, let alone no judicial system to support it (in case of dispute). Small business involves high risk and collateral in Syria.

As for taxes, dream on, those who make lots of money in Syria don’t pay their full share, not even close. Alex says taxation reform is too risky for the regime.

March 11th, 2008, 2:43 am

 

trustquest said:

Norman, I don’t know what your father rank was, but it worth to mention how much SS your mother is receiving so we can make sense out our numbers. As I mentioned my brother after 20 years working in Europe, went back and could hardly find a work, then he worked with the government for 15 years to leave at 7000 sp level. The sum he got was not enough for 3 months spending, and then he is on his own. What I mean from that is that there is no SS system in country, and making one going to be the hardest thing of all.
Thanks Ehsani for your feed back it fitted what I have known all the times, the change will be costly and if Dardari really smart, he should concentrate on social fabric and move investment away from cities. They should concentrate on production and agriculture products and what they need is help from Europeans to do what is not there: PLANINIG. They have to get rid of there management and bring new one, and start new style of planning and governing.
If you want more pessimism, today the president of the country issued a decree to protect the consumers, in the law, the government would be responsible in protecting and guaranteeing his basic needs. Instead of giving way for organize public NGO they still think that they can do the job and add more government employees.
According to Dardari and Ehsani, there is urgent need for big agriculture corporations to provide the basic food security needs and to move away from the small production and government associations, which will require solving the land acquisition laws and leading the way for foreign investment, the real big guys not the Iranians.

March 11th, 2008, 2:45 am

 

Enlightened said:

AKBAR PALACE:

Good work, you simply cant trust these people here on SC, thank you for exposing them. We will now give you the Honorary “Sherlock Holmes” detective award for exposing them for the frauds that they are!

Keep up the good work your efforts are being noticed here.

“Imagine that! And here, all along, I trusted the nice people on Professor Josh’s (Director, Center for “Peace Studies”) website;)”

Your work is not frivolous, these “nice” “people ” only want your destruction, I will do everything in my power to prevent this and will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in battle.

Yours enthusiastically

Enlightened

March 11th, 2008, 2:45 am

 

norman said:

TQ,
My Dad was an electrician , he never worked for the Government or the Army ,he retired when he was eligible to get SS after 30 years of work.
Working for a company for 15 years does not entitle anybody to life long income , that is if we do not want Syria to be the soviet Union.
Majhool ,
you do not seem to honor your word , you promised not writing any more if Alex does not ban me and Nour from this site.
You might want to reconsider.

March 11th, 2008, 3:03 am

 

Majhool said:

Norman,

Don’t raise your hopes. I was against banning AIG for things that you get away with. Well AIG is still around. so its fair enough.

And plus, the opressed majority needs a voice in SC you know to remind regime apologists about “rule of law”, power sharing, etc.., don’t you think?

March 11th, 2008, 3:06 am

 

trustquest said:

Norman
You still did not tell me how much your mother SS, so we can make sense of the numbers.
My brother worked for the government not for a company. I know that there is no base for decent living and retirement even for minister to live and retire in Syria nowadays; he needs to collect his social security on his own to cover cost of living and inflation.

March 11th, 2008, 3:20 am

 

Syrian said:

Majhool,

Let me get this straight. If he was to come out and say that the port revenues have increased by 20%, tax collections are up 24% and customs revenues increased by 33% then you would take his estimates of economic growth more seriously? (not really sure what you want him to say about subsidies. He said agricultural subsidies are going to be there which is a big mistake IMHO)

March 11th, 2008, 3:21 am

 

Majhool said:

SYRIAN,

You did get it straight.your thoughts?

March 11th, 2008, 3:25 am

 

Enlightened said:

This is Interesting: ” Here comes DICK” !!!

Cheney on Middle East peace mission

* Units not in spirit of peace, Israel told

US president George Bush, dispatching Vice-President Dick Cheney to the Middle East, said the goal was to get Israelis and Palestinians to hold firm to the promises they have made toward peace.

Mr Bush said yesterday at the White House that Mr Cheney would “reassure people that the United States is committed to a vision of peace in the Middle East”.

As Mr Cheney tries to help hold together fragile negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Mr Bush says he is still optimistic that a peace deal can happen before he leaves office in January.

Mr Cheney leaves on Sunday for a trip to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey. Oil is also on his agenda, as the White House – coping with high energy prices that have hit American consumers – continues to push for greater oil production in the Middle East.

The vice president’s visit comes on the heels of a brief troubleshooting mission to the Middle East by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She was able to pressure the moderate Palestinian leadership to resume peace talks with Israel, which broke off after a deadly Israeli military incursion into Gaza.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to achieve a vision that shows a way forward, and I’m optimistic leaders will step forward and do the hard things necessary so people don’t have to live in deprivation and fear,” Mr Bush said, addressing reporters after a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

In his final year in office, Mr Bush has turned a Middle East peace deal into a signature foreign policy goal. But violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel has hampered the peace talks between Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Mr Cheney will meet with both men.

Palestinians have also condemned Israeli plans to build more housing in disputed east Jerusalem – an area the Palestinians hope to make the capital of a future independent state. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Israel’s announcement on Sunday of the settlement expansion was “not helpful to the process.”

Mr Bush made clear he expects Mr Cheney to prod the leaders to stick to their obligations under the US-backed “road map” for peace, which calls on the Palestinians to disarm militants and for Israel to halt settlement construction. “Those obligations are clear,” Mr Bush said.

The US blames recent violence on Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in July and is deemed by the US to be a terrorist organisation.

Without naming Hamas, Mr Bush said: “There’s one force in the Middle East – and some suspect that they’re funded from outside governments and outside movements, all aiming to destabilise democracy, all aiming to prevent the vision where people can live side-by-side in peace, all wanting to destroy Israel.”

Mr Bush said the key question was whether enough will exists to reject those extremist forces.

“Our mission is exactly along those lines, and I’m optimistic,” he said.

Mr Olmert yesterday instructed his army to halt airstrikes and raids into the Gaza Strip in response to a serious drop in rocket fire from the territory, allowing Egypt to proceed in its role as a mediator. Israeli defence officials and the Hamas rulers of Gaza said there was no formal truce in place.

Mr Cheney will meet with Saudi King Abdullah at a time when oil prices are hitting record highs of above $US108 ($118) a barrel.

He was expected to reinforce the message from Bush, who had urged OPEC to increase production during his visit to Saudi Arabia in January. The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided not to boost output.

“Obviously we want to see an increase in production,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “Our message remains the same.”

Mr Cheney will also continue US efforts to persuade allies to help curb Iran’s growing influence in the region.

“When the president travelled there in January at every stop Iran was of interest and concern. And so I don’t expect that that changed in the last two months since Iran hasn’t changed its behaviour at all,” Ms Perino said.

AP, Reuters

March 11th, 2008, 3:59 am

 

Syrian said:

Majhool,

First,

If you think he’s making up the numbers regarding growth rates and size of the middle class then why would you think he could not make up numbers regarding port, tax and customs revenues??

I think the guy was not painting a rosy picture of the Syrian economy. He cited the numbers that have been going around for the last couple of years regarding economic growth and acknowledged that not everyone has benefited equally and some people have not benefited at all. He admits to the great number of challenges that are still ahead and he acknowledged the super high unemployment rate among the youths (over 18% cannot be good)

I think you can cut the guy some slack for saying that the middle class is not shrinking. The number of self-employed was interpreted by you to mean an increase in the number of shoe shiners and taxi drivers. You could not bring yourself to imagining the possibility that the those people were actually employed and saw an opportunity in following his/her own instinct and ability in order to improve themselves.

When a the rich start demanding services such as shoe-shining and taxi-driving and someone figures out how to deliver these services to them effectively, then that someone is an entrepreneur and there is not a hell of a lot of qualitative difference between that guy and the guy who is a high-tech consultant who sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it.

We can all agree that the Baathist experiment has failed. The relevant question now is how do you fix it. Eliminating subsidies, with all the popular opposition, is difficult for any regime be it the current one or any other so I wish we would stop fooling ourselves into thinking that the population will do better under a different government. Any regime is going to have to cater to those with power in order to rule effectively (high level corruption) and will have to keep popular sentiment under control by not taking measures that are too drastic such as eliminating subsidies or reducing the size of the labor force employed by the government (low level corruption).

your turn.

March 11th, 2008, 4:00 am

 

Majhool said:

Syrian,

Thank you for taking the time to articulate your thoughts.

“If you think he’s making up the numbers regarding growth rates and size of the middle class then why would you think he could not make up numbers regarding port, tax and customs revenues??”

I never said he was making up numbers. I am arguing that throwing these estimates does not give a clear picture on the state of the economy. unlike growth rates estimate, hard and readily available numbers on things such as taxation, customs, judicial systems, etc. will paint a better picture on how fast and how serious the reform is.

“I think the guy was not painting a rosy picture of the Syrian economy. He cited the numbers that have been going around for the last couple of years regarding economic growth and acknowledged that not everyone has benefited equally and some people have not benefited at all. He admits to the great number of challenges that are still ahead and he acknowledged the super high unemployment rate among the youths (over 18% cannot be good)”

I don’t dispute that. You are right.

“I think you can cut the guy some slack for saying that the middle class is not shrinking. The number of self-employed was interpreted by you to mean an increase in the number of shoe shiners and taxi drivers. You could not bring yourself to imagining the possibility that the those people were actually employed and saw an opportunity in following his/her own instinct and ability in order to improve themselves.”

“When a the rich start demanding services such as shoe-shining and taxi-driving and someone figures out how to deliver these services to them effectively, then that someone is an entrepreneur and there is not a hell of a lot of qualitative difference between that guy and the guy who is a high-tech consultant who sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it.”

You misinterpreted what I was trying to say. I was questioning linking the increase in self employed to the growth in middle class. especially if you consider Dardari’s definition of the middle class. Shoe shiners are self employed that’s true bust I don’t think they would count as middle class.

“We can all agree that the Baathist experiment has failed. The relevant question now is how you fix it. Eliminating subsidies with all the popular opposition, is difficult for any regime be it the current one or any other”

I Agree, in fact I am not that enthusiastic about eliminating subsidies. I believe the fix is political. lift emergency law, reform the judicial system, improve taxation (a political decision), ease or better eliminate restrictions on expats and attract them to come back, let the best and the brightest manage the place, adopt regional and international policies that would attract the big investment, eliminate the mafias running the ports, etc… the sad thing is that they are ignoring all the above and running after subsidies to cut.

“so I wish we would stop fooling ourselves into thinking that the population will do better under a different government. Any regime is going to have to cater to those with power in order to rule effectively (high level corruption) and will have to keep popular sentiment under control by not taking measures that are too drastic such as eliminating subsidies or reducing the size of the labor force employed by the government (low level corruption)”

I disagree, I think a popular goverment with sound representation and legitimacy can do much more much faster.

March 11th, 2008, 4:26 am

 

Syrian said:

Majhool,

I had a long response written and accidentally closed my browser before I hit the submit button.

The quick version:

Dardari said that the rise in the number of self-employed can be taken as one of the indicators of the revival of the middle class. He was careful to state that the size of the middle class remains constant at 28% (low by any standard). he simply argued that the number of self employed is increasing. If you reflect on the logic of a constant middle class and a rising number of self-employed you would arrive at the same conclusion as he did (the middle class is reviving means more people will be in the middle class in the future.

But like Ehsani said, who knows what the real numbers are.

March 11th, 2008, 4:58 am

 

Bashmann said:

Syrian,

You are missing the whole point. When Mr. Dardari claims ” the incomes of the poor are also improving.” I would like to see the data behind such a statement. The whole interview seems to me to be nothing more than a hog-wash. Statements like the “the gap between classes is more conspicuous now” or poverty is “a harsh and profound reality” are only an attempt at acknowledging the problems facing the economy in general without any real substantial plans being offered by the government to eliminate them.
He contradicts himself by claiming that the Syrian government is working to provide “Social Security” and by the end of the interview he is claiming “Do not forget that the Syrian social security system is excellent.”!!!!

Another interesting point which illustrates the barren state at which the economy has been suffering from is his indirect confession of Syria’s reliance on food subsidies and imports.
His exact phrasing was “food security”. When a country ceases to be able to feed itself it is already in trouble and without serious infusion of western technical methods and expertise into the country to develop the agricultural infrastructure, Syria will be in a heap of trouble in the next decade or so.
A friend of mine who works for one of the largest agricultural equipments company in the US have been to Syria in the past decade to help on limited projects, his description of the archaic and ineffectual methods being applied by the government to help farmers produce the maximum output of crops from the land is depressing.

As Ehsani elequantely put it, Mr. Dardari can say what he wants, it does not change the facts that the die hard Ba’atheists have created a monster and must accept the consequnces of their ill-informed and pathetic 10th 5 year plan for the economy of Syria.

Cheers

March 11th, 2008, 5:05 am

 

Majhool said:

SYRIAN,

the points you present are valid. however, I still believe the fix is political, and that numbers of “taxation” “ports revenue”… are better indications on how serious and successful the refrom is.

March 11th, 2008, 5:09 am

 

Bashmann said:

Majhool,

Well said.

Cheers

March 11th, 2008, 5:10 am

 

Syrian said:

Bashmann,

I beg to differ. I think you missed the entire point of this being an interview with a journalist and not a working paper published in a professional Journal.

You also missed the point that, as a politician, the minister was amazingly frank. I would have expected a much more optimistic outlook from a government official; so when he come and says things are not great but we are working to get them better, I tend to think the guy means what he’s saying (notwithstanding the obstacles that he might be facing in the implementation phase of his intentions)

Majhool,

I don’t really know how to respond to the assertion that the fix is political. Of course it is.

The Achilles heel of the Syrian economy is the mammoth system of subsidies and price controls that has to be dismantled. The subsidies and controls lead to massive overproduction in some areas and sucks up the limited resources the government has to initiate infrastructure projects. I doubt the Dr. Dardari is unaware of the need to implement a more equitable legal system, to implement a more equitable (whatever that may mean) taxation system and to enhance the infrastructure of Syria, the challenge is, where will the resources come from?

Even if Syria was to transform into an oasis of democratic principles overnight, the problems facing the government will stay the same. As a matter of fact, It will be even more difficult to reform the economy since the politicians in a democratic system would not want to undertake any project that pisses off the constituency and jeopardizes the chances of being re-elected.

why does the us have these Import Quotas
and Tarrifs

March 11th, 2008, 5:34 am

 

offended said:

Last time I checked, the electricity in Syria was not subsidized, so why Mr. Dardari needs money to finance the increase in power demand? Isn’t he already back-charging it on the customers?

March 11th, 2008, 5:36 am

 

Alex said:

Majhool said,

“Alex,

Every time I talk to you, you tell me magical stories on how Ehsani was impressed with the state of the Economy. Well, I could not deduce that from his comments today. I say, let’s turn the page on this issue and let’s not sight how Ehsani was impressed etc..

Well, Majhool, I know what I was saying. I said Ehsani is impressed with many things … Ehsani realizes there are many potential opportunities for investing in Syria … Ehsani is seriously considering investing there himself some large amount of money … Ehsani was told by many reputable businesspeople that he knows about the considerably reduced corruption at the government ministerial level.

I did tell you that we have a mess in Syria and the reason things are not improving faster is that it is very difficult to solve all the problems at once.

The reason I did not write about Ehsani’s mention of the fact that they don’t know any exact economic numbers in Syria is that Ehsani himself asked me to not tell anyone about it because he heard it from a very senior Syrian official in a private conversation.

But he decided to mention it now.

If you are not capable of noticing that Ehsani changed a lot of his opinions about the regime’s regional policies (which is what I was talking about mostly) then this is YOUR problem. Others here remember when he wrote: We have to admit that Bashar scored a decisive victory. He defeated all his enemies combined and for that he deserves to be called a lion …

I do not like your insinuations. If you and your friends are used to catch each other’s lies and laugh about it … I am not in your league.

March 11th, 2008, 5:40 am

 

offended said:

One more thing: Dardari claims that economic reform has only started on 2005 (two and a half years ago), and that in the grand scheme of things, you can’t measure the effectiveness of those reforms YET.

The question is, where were we before that? Why weren’t we proactive on addressing the issues of energy and subsidies?

March 11th, 2008, 5:42 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

What are you doing up still? I sent you some mail… thank you for yours.

March 11th, 2008, 5:51 am

 

Alex said:

Offended,

Pre-2004 … they were expecting everything to progress differently. they were counting on France, England, and Saudi Arabia to help Syria with expertise, investments, and grants … etc.

Instead … things changed. All the promises were gone .. all the partners became fierce enemies … all the plans were put on hold.

There was a transition period of two years … 2004-2005 during which the Syrians were

1) Busy with trying to deal with American invasion of Iraq which looked like it was successful at first (After Baghdad fell quickly), and knowing that Syria was next.

2) Busy with the repercussions of the Hariri assassination … they had to withdraw from Lebanon … etc

3) Busy trying to establish other partnerships. Opening to turkey, strengthening ties with Iran, and other Asian partners.

Post-2005 economic planning assumes the following big one: We will need to survive and grow without any help from America, Europe, or America’s Arab allies.

March 11th, 2008, 5:56 am

 

Majhool said:

SYRIAN

So we agree that the fix is political. however we disagree on how the resources can be allocated:

Lifting emergency law does not cost a lot of money; I can argue that the overcrowded military and intelligence services cost a lot of money and unnecessary and anti-business fear.

As for democracy, few points

1) Rule of law is a different from democracy. I never advocated chaotic parliamentary system for a country such as Syria, in the contrary I believe in the virtues of a strong executive governing.
2) The problem with the regime is not that fact that it’s not democratic. the problem is that it’s unpopular with wide segments of the society. which result in a very expensive and repressive survival mechanisms (Intelligence, negative defensive policies, mafias, Buthayna Shaaban etc.)
3) Why not share power with a strong popular representative prim minister instead of marginal ones we has (Zoubi, Mero, Outry)?? I mean marriage is not enough don’t you think?

March 11th, 2008, 6:35 am

 

Majhool said:

Alex,

I have friends from Zimbabwe who are making millions there. Does that make Zimbabwe a great economy? Similarly I am sure there are many opportunities to makes lots of money in Syria.

“We have to admit that Bashar scored a decisive victory”

So what? King Assad the first,scored 10 times more victories and what did we get? an economy in ruins!

I don’t see any value in glorifying a leader’s victory over his people and other regional powers. I am looking after the average man

You are not a liar, but you do spin things a little. and you are nice guy. mabsoot?

March 11th, 2008, 6:40 am

 

offended said:

Alex, I agree with you…
However, and I am writing at the risk of sounding pessimistic or cynical; the ultimate reality of the depleting energy, rising demand and exhaustive subsidies should have been predicted long ago.
We always tend to say that we ‘were busy doing this’ or ‘we were busy doing that..’ but the fact of the matter is that these tangling things and distractive issues will never stop….
Again, I don’t want to sound critical or pessimistic, that’s just my two fils ..

March 11th, 2008, 6:50 am

 

Majhool said:

Offended,

I agree with you. but let me assure you (Alex told me) that once peace is struck with Israel (sometime next year) that everything is going to be ok. lol

March 11th, 2008, 6:54 am

 

Alex said:

Offended,

It is ok to be pessimistic at your age : )

I remember when I was very young this Time magazine article from 1983

“A more serious threat to the regime may be the country’s worsening economy. Plummeting oil revenues and bad harvests have drained foreign reserves. According to an International Monetary Fund report, Syria’s total reserves (excluding gold) dropped from $927 million in mid-1981 to $40 million by early 1982. Electricity is now rationed nationwide. Though unemployment figures are not released by the government, more people are out of work than a year ago and inflation is on the rise.”

Syria had 40 millions only! .. and “plummeting oil revenues” too … since 1983.

Now Syria has an 18 billion dollar reserve … and those plummeting oil revenues of 1983 are still plummeting …

Who knows what will happen next year …

March 11th, 2008, 7:05 am

 

offended said:

Majhool,
I wonder whether your agreement with me was part of the sarcasm that had enticed the ‘lol’, but anyway I am glad we have some common ground….let’s see if I can change your mind about other stuff as well…

March 11th, 2008, 7:32 am

 

Alex said:

استكملت دمشق التحضيرات اللوجستية للقمة العربية المقررة في 29 و30 آذار الحالي، في وقت ما زالت مسألة المشاركة تلقي بظلالها على مجمل الاتصالات والتحركات السياسية، والتي كان أبرزها، أمس، الاتصال الهاتفي الذي أجراه الرئيس بشار الأسد بالرئيس الليبي معمر القذافي، وإعلان رئيس الوزراء العراقي نوري المالكي أنه سيرأس وفد بلاده إلى القمة، فيما أكدت الدوحة رفضها خيار المقاطعة.
وذكرت وكالة الأنباء الليبية «جنا» أنّ القذافي تلقى اتصالاً من الأسد، تناول آخر المستجدات المتعلقة بانعقاد قمة دمشق، مشيرة إلى أنّ هذا الاتصال يأتي «في إطار التشاور المتواصل بينهما بشأن القمة».
إلى ذلك، أعلن المالكي أنه سيرأس وفد بلاده إلى قمة دمشق. وقال المستشار الإعلامي لرئيس الحكومة العراقية ياسين مجيد إنّ «وفداً حكومياً رفيعاً سيرافق المالكي، ويضم عدداً من الوزراء بينهم وزير الخارجية هوشيار زيباري».
من جانبها، نفت الرئاسة العراقية أن يكون الرئيس العراقي جلال الطالباني قد اعتذر عن عدم المشاركة في قمة دمشق، موضحة أن «مشاركة المالكي في القمة تأتي نزولاً من الرئيس الطالباني عند رغبة المالكي لوضع ترتيبات لعقد اتفاقات» من دون إعطاء مزيد من التفاصيل.
من جهته اعتبر رئيس وزراء قطر الشيخ حمد بن جاسم بن جبر آل ثاني إنّ «القمة ليست ملكاً لسوريا، بل هي قمة عربية بحسب القرارات التي وقع عليها القادة العرب»، مؤكداً أنّ «المقاطعة لا تنفعنا، فنحن لم نقاطع مؤتمرات السلام، وذهبنا كلنا إلى أنابوليس وكنا نتشاجر من سيذهب أولاً، فالأولى أن نذهب إلى سوريا، ونتشاجر هناك مثلاً». (تفاصيل ص 14)
إلى ذلك، نظمت وزارة الإعلام السورية، أمس، جولة للإعلاميين على مواقع عمل واجتماعات القمة، وتحدث معاون وزير الإعلام طالب قاضي أمين أمام حشد من الإعلاميين عن 750 استمارة طلب تقدم بها صحافيون محليون وأجانب لتغطية القمة.
وبد واضحا خلال الجولة، التي استغرقت ساعتين، حجم الجهد الذي وضع في خدمة هذه المناسبة، علماً أن إمارة قطر تعهدت بتنفيذ وتمويل قسم كبير من الأعمال، لا سيما مواقع إقامة الزعماء العرب والضيوف الأجانب الكبار بالقرب من مكان انعقاد الاجتماعات، حيث تكفلت شركة «الديار» القطرية ببناء وتجهيز 26 فيلا رئاسية فخمة خلال وقت قياسي، وذلك على مساحة 60 دونماً كانت حديقة في السابق.
ويرفرف علم الشركة القطرية في إحدى ساحات هذا الموقع، فيما يتولى حراسة الموقع منذ الآن عناصر من قوى الأمن الرئاسي، التي حددت للصحافيين فيلا ضيافة واحدة للتصوير، وتحديداً في صالون الاستقبال الذي تضمن زاويتي استقبال واستراحة، و طاولة اجتماعات ومكتباً من النوع الفخم.
وبدت القاعة التي ما يزال شعار الجامعة الضخم ينتظر التعليق في صدرها، كورشة عمل تخضع للمسات الأخيرة، في وقت تركز الجهد الأكبر خارج القاعات، وتحديداً على بوابة قصر الأمويين والطريق المؤدي إليه، حيث جرى توسيع طريق مطار دمشق الدولي، وزرعت على جانبيه الزهور والأشجار، كما يجري تحسين مظهر مداخل القصر.
وخصصت وزارة الإعلام السورية أربع قاعات إعلامية موزعة بين وسائل الإعلام المختلفة، فيما أعلن أمين أن الحكومة ستؤمن 18 جهاز بث خارجي، مشيرا إلى أن المركز يمكن أن يستوعب 40 جهازاً.
كما ستزود القاعات الإعلامية بكل ما يحتاجه الإعلاميون من وسائل اتصال، مع العلم أن هؤلاء سيقومون بتغطية القمة عملياً من هذه القاعات، حيث لن يسمح لهم بالدخول إلى قاعات الاجتماعات، فيما يملك التلفزيون السوري الحق الحصري لنقل وقائع الجلسات المفتوحة لمختلف المحطات مجاناً.
وذكرت مصادر رسمية إن الاجتماعات المغلقة للقادة العرب ستكون «واحداً لواحد»، أي أنه سيسمح لكل منهم بمرافق واحد، أمّا الاجتماعات الموسعة فستكون «خمسة لواحد»، أي أنه سيسمح لكل من هؤلاء بخمسة مرافقين.

March 11th, 2008, 7:44 am

 

offended said:

Alex,
My pessimism is not a state of mind, it has more to do with reality. Poverty is not a delusion as Mr. Dardari tried to explain. It is real. And more and more people are getting poorer.
The fact that my family and I are doing well doesn’t mean I can’t relate to those people. It’s become harder to get admission to a decent college (without paying the hefty ‘parallel education’ fee). Private universities are still out of reach for average families. Government jobs (which are described as secure although very low paying) are dwindling, the government is no longer obliged to hire engineers after graduation. Fresh graduates have no choice but to immigrate. I know people who have worked very hard and done everything they think is right and they still can’t get a grip on a decent life. On the other front you’ve got a population issues that have almost sprawled out of control. The irony of it is that the poor are multiplying more and faster than the others who are doing better than them. Housing is still a major problem. If you manage to get a subscription with an honest developer (who will not rip you off of your life saving), then it is either going to take a lifetime for the development to finish, or you will be forced to sell your subscription prematurely with marginal profit.

How could I be optimistic after all this?

March 11th, 2008, 7:50 am

 

offended said:

LOL Alex,
I’ve just realized that my last comment sounds like as prolonged episode of Maraya or Bok3a’ Doo’

March 11th, 2008, 8:02 am

 

Alex said:

Offended,

I agree with everything you observed. I know you were in Aleppo few months ago.

But … The pendulum always swings to the other extreme at some point … Syria was socialist for decades… and now the Ehsanis will take over for some time… there will be inflation, and there will be a greater distance between the rich and the poor. But those 20-30 billion dollar investments from Qatar and the UAE will surely have a trickle down effect .. gradually.

I know that “the regime” used the excuse of regional conflicts in the past to explain why no economic progress took place .. but hte past few years, this was a valid excuse … managing to run a country while the United States refuses to let anyone sell you spare parts for your CIVILIAN airlines is not easy.

But .. the corruption .. they can really do much better there. that is my biggest disappointment with them.

The rest, I heard mostly convincing arguments why they did not move faster… although I would have taken some risks on some issues.

Dardari works very hard. He is a good man.

March 11th, 2008, 8:11 am

 

MSK said:

Ya Alex,

Do you think that the corruption is systemic or do you think that the regime (i.e. Bashar & his close co-rulers) has a real chance to combat it?

Personally, from my experiences with similar regimes I am very skeptical. I just can’t see how the Syrian regime, which includes at its highest levels people like Rami Makhlouf, can successfully push through an anti-corruption scheme, even if it wanted to. What could it offer all those corrupt officials (in ministries, administrations, courts, police, etc.) as a substitute for the current bribes?

–MSK*

March 11th, 2008, 9:02 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

The poster that appears in the picture that you referenced however, replaces the words “This regime occupying Jerusalem” with the word “Israel”, so the English translation on the poster is correct, but it doesn’t match the original quote.

Apples and apples if you ask me.

QN –

Thank you for the translation. This is just another example of what Israel, the US and the West is up against. You have a country with a violent, intolerant ideology that has no problem funding and glorifying terrorists and suicidal bombers. This ideology has cost the lives of thousands of Middle Easterners, Israelis, Americans, Europeans, and Asians.

And the sympathizers here on Professor Josh’s “peace site” should be ashamed of themselves.

Good work, you simply cant trust these people here on SC, thank you for exposing them. We will now give you the Honorary “Sherlock Holmes” detective award for exposing them for the frauds that they are!

Enlightened,

This wasn’t my work. Other observers of the Middle East simply scan the news reports from AFP, AP, Reuters, etc and show the interested public what the MSM doesn’t want us to see. I found the link at another anti-terror website. The bottom line: the excuses for Ahmadinejad were numerous, and in the end, these “bad” translations have proved to be accurate. I guess you can call us Westerners who are very concerned with this madman “neocons”.

Keep up the good work your efforts are being noticed here.

I guess. But whether my posts are being noticed or not doesn’t matter to me. I personally enjoy cutting through the misinformation.

Your work is not frivolous, these “nice” “people ” only want your destruction…

Tell me something I don’t know.

March 11th, 2008, 10:55 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Dear Majhool,

I would like to come to the defense of my good friend Alex regarding your exchange with him earlier. It was me indeed who stated earlier that the level of corruption in Syria had gone down recently. Let me explain:

People like Mr. Dardari for example are not corrupt. Following repeated questions on my last trip to the country, I was assured that Mr. Dardari receives an above average salary that makes it possible for him to avoid having to resort to bribery. Rumors are that he gets paid close to $10,000 a month in salary paid directly from the Presidential Palace.

This is a vast improvement from the past. A person at Mr. Dardari’s position was expected to be a prime target of bribery and elicit under the table payments. It is my understanding that this type of activity has been reduced rather significantly when it comes to key ministerial positions.

None of us can be naïve to think that corruption in Syria is not pervasive. It is. But, it is not as blatant as before. I bring the example of Mr. Dardari as a case in point.

My friend Alex was correct in quoting me on this topic.

March 11th, 2008, 2:06 pm

 

Karim said:

Ehsani ,what can do men like isam zaim or dardari in front of members of asad and makhlouf family,can they say no it’s too much ?in this case dardari is not very different from abdulrauf al kassem who was prime minister in the 80’s .here is not located the corruption but amongst the civil servants and the barons of the regime and their sons…no one can deny that under bashar ,corruption is higher than it was before 2000 it’s so obvious.

March 11th, 2008, 3:41 pm

 

Enlightened said:

AP said:

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

Akbar, please re read my earlier post, you missed something , really missed something.

March 11th, 2008, 9:42 pm

 

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