“Some Remarks on Syria,” by Observer

"Observer," one of Syria Comment's keenest commentators, sent in this note on his recent trip to Syria. He writes:

I just returned from a trip to Europe and Syria with a short stay in Lebanon as well. Here are my observations

1. The Syrian regime never felt any significant pressure from being so called isolated. As long as the foundations of the regime remain stable and strong, they do not care one bit whether tourists come or stay home, investments flow in or out, and so on and so forth.

2. The state which I felt a mere three years ago was going towards a failed situation has recovered well. Infrastructure is being built and more importantly being maintained and repaired. It is by no means similar to what a first world country does, but it is a remarkable improvement.

3. The public is happy with stability and disgruntled with nepotism and corruption. If the last two items are tackled the populace will rally behind the regime even more

4. The ability to absorb and manage the near 2 million refugees from Iraq is a feat to be absolutely commended. Some are doing well having brought money and invested in local business, others are quite poor and destitute but still not hungry and all are sheltered.

5. The price of commodities has people unhappy but I saw much fewer begging than before and certainly a lot less than what I saw in Prague.

6. The alliance with Iran is unbreakable, the two countries have mutual investment and military and economic ties that will be near impossible to break short of a real threat of regime change.

7. The military is transformed into a more efficient force, although still in conventional terms no match for Israel, training is being conducted day and night. I happen to have stayed near an army shooting range and I could hear the firing both days and nights.

8. The KSA invested 1.5 billion dollars and with the Jordanian secret service trained the Hariri militia into a state that was completely destroyed in less than four hours by HA with the full awareness and even help from Syria as they poured 600 highly loyal and very well trained Druze into the Shouf mountains to put Walik Bek in his place while at the same time helping fully with the Alawite community near Tripoli.

9. In Paris, Assad got all he wanted, cooperation, recognition, while not committing to anything substantial and at the same time snubbing Olmert and more importantly Mubarak.

10. The Lebanese may opt for partition of the country if encouraged and helped by France and the US to avoid having the state de Jure that is non present, be controlled by the non-state but active HA. This will be a disaster for the country, especially since the Foreign policy of France is being conducted by impulsive Sarko le premier.

11. The entire south and the Dahyia has been fully rebuilt with Iranian help. The transformation is absolutely remarkable.

12. In Iraq, the US have stabilized the situation somewhat by doing essentially what Saddam did all along. Fear, co-opt some, bribe some, pay some, and divide some. Outside of the Green zone, there is really no true government but warlords, gangs, bandits, factions, and the like. Iran has essentially played a major role in stabilizing Iraq by having its hand in with every faction except the hard line Sunnis. Here Syria has been able to help due to the ties between the two Baath party factions.

13. Europe is tired of competing, and the population is fully frazzled at having to work harder, longer, and in a more frantic way than ever before. The elite have a vision of Europe equal to that of the US in all measures and the population see an incompetent parasitic bureaucracy that is out of touch with reality.

14. Returning to the US, I see that the public here is so oblivious to what the rest of the world is doing that it is truly amazing. In terms of energy efficiency every toilet has a water sparing system and every lighting is motion activated to reduce energy costs in every place I went to even in Syria and here we are still refusing to see the train coming down the track full speed ahead at us. The deer in the headlight is an apt description.

15. Finally the consensus in the ME from the 2006 war is that the Israeli public and the Israeli society have moved into a stage of development that they no longer are willing to fight. 3000 HA fighters fought to a standstill 30 000 Israelis. I wish you could see the pictures of Nasrallah in the region to have an idea of the depth of popularity that he enjoys.

Comments (71)

Qifa Nabki said:


Good post.

I too think that partitioning Lebanon would be a disaster.

What are your thoughts on the way forward for the country? I am assuming that Hizbullah and the FPM will seize a majority (maybe 55-60%) of the next election. What do you think are the priorities?

Apologies for the Lebanon-specific query.

July 18th, 2008, 11:44 pm


norman said:


Thank you , You made feel good.

July 19th, 2008, 12:28 am


Majhoool said:

I have doubts about the credibility of these observations. Its sounds one sided and apologetic.

I see expats coming back from Syria ALL THE TIME, and I have to say none has been as positive as Observer.

Anyways, thanks for sharing this with us

July 19th, 2008, 1:42 am


JustOneAmerican said:

Interesting observations – I’m curious as to how they were formed – talking to everyday people, or what?

Unless you had some kind of special access, I’m not sure how you can legitimately make claims about the “transformation” of the military and the unbreakability of the alliance with Iran just to name two.

Still, several observations are noteworthy and valuable.

July 19th, 2008, 2:32 am


trustquest said:

Observer, previously you wrote deeper and more comprehensive comments, the recent post is flew on the surface of events, and there is no mentioning of economic hardship.
Since three years which you evaluate, inflation and the prices have eaten the average Syrian and put him on the hunger meter. Your item 5 is a little out of the rhythm of comprehension; it seems to me that Syria is richer and more civilized than Prague. What about people who are getting 2 hours of water a week, or about the people whose income if calculated should not be enough for transportation.
But no complain, this is what have seen, however this is my reading for your post based on the, one of three: (a) new news, (b) bad news (c) no news, goes like this:

2, 7, 9, 10, 12, 15 — a – falls under new news

1, 3, 4, 5, 6, – b — falls under bad news

3, 13, 14, – c — falls under no news

July 19th, 2008, 2:32 am


Enlightened said:


Observer how long were you there?

Who were the people you spoke to?

We just had some relations depart for Syria this week for a six week stay. It will be interesting to get their feedback when they return!

July 19th, 2008, 5:01 am


Alex said:

I think it is obvious that Observer is not trying to hide the fact that he had access to some reliable people who had some authority, or people who were very close to them.

I happen to agree with him almost all the time, but his observations can certainly be expected to be biased here or there … we know him and we know his biases.

The problem is that others decide to believe the extremely negative Syria impression or stories old by people they know (and share their obvious biases) while deciding to not notice or suspect that those negative stories are also probably biased.

July 19th, 2008, 5:20 am


Alex said:

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner confirms that Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, visited France before President Assad’s visit. He tried to convince the French to not seek friendly relations with Syria.

Kouchner also said that he hopes the Saudis (who are smart) will understand that there is no other way .. because everyone is working for peace.

Finally, he said that the Americans and Israelis approved and supported Sarkozy’s initiatives … including his work with President Assad.

كوشنير يؤكّد لـ»السفير« لقاء الفيصل وساركوزي:
السعوديون ليسوا متحمسين لتقارب دمشق وباريس

محمد بلوط
باريس :
السعوديون ليسوا متحمسين للتقارب الفرنسي السوري. الخلاصة تفرض نفسها في ما قاله وزير الخارجية الفرنسية برنار كوشنير لـ»السفير«، وهو يغادر ظهر امس، منبر مؤتمر صحافي عقده في الكي دورسيه.
انتخب الوزير الفرنسي من سؤال »السفير« عن حقيقة موقف الرياض من تقارب باريس ودمشق، عبارة »قلة الحماس«، مفضلا إياها على تعبير »معارضة الرياض« للقاء الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي بالرئيس السوري بشار الأسد في قصر الإليزيه الأسبوع الماضي.
»هل أظهر السعوديون معارضتهم او قلة حماسهم للتقارب الفرنسي السوري؟«، يجيب كوشنير المقاطع »أفضل قلة الحماس«.
و»هل أتى وزير الخارجية السعودية سعود الفيصل وتحدث بذلك مع الرئيس ساركوزي؟«، يجيب كوشنير »نعم بالتأكيد«.
وكانت »السفير« قد نشرت الاثنين الماضي، خبر المساعي السعودية للجم الاندفاع الفرنسي تجاه دمشق، في لقاء عقده الأمير سعود الفيصل مع الرئيس ساركوزي، قبل وصول الرئيس الأسد إلى العاصمة الفرنسية. ومن غير المستبعد ان يقتطع ساركوزي والملك السعودي عبد الله، بعض الوقت من عطلتيهما الصيفية في المغرب، للاجتماع بهدف متابعة البحث في الموقف السعودي.
وبات واضحا ان الاعتراض السعودي على تطوير باريس لعلاقاتها مع دمشق، في الوقت الحاضر على الأقل، حجته الراجحة في خطر البرنامج النووي الإيراني، اذ لم يعد تحالف سوريا مع ايران يشكل حاجزا لا يمكن للرئيس ساركوزي اجتيازه، في طريقه إلى دمشق. كما لم يشكل عقبة كبيرة امام القائمين على الاليزيه لفتح أبوابه الأسبوع الماضي امام الأسد.
ويحيل كوشنير »اسباب الاعتراض السعودي حول التقارب مع سوريا«، لاختلاف في »التعبير، في الأنظمة، والبلدان، والموارد، والتحالفات التي تعقدها سوريا، او السعودية وهي قطب مهم في العالم العربي، وهذا طبيعي، ولا يصدم. هذه حال الدنيا ولا جديد فيها«. ويضيف »لم يظهر الاختلاف فقط حول قدوم الرئيس الأسد إلى باريس، بل قبل ذلك.. والجميع يبدل رأيه، ولان السعوديين أذكياء، اعتقد أنهم يفهمون، ولكننا لا نطلب منهم تغيير موقفهم.. هناك مساران سياسيان لا بد لهما من لقاء، لأننا جميعا نريد السلام«.
والشراكة الفرنسية ـ السعودية الإستراتيجية، تملي تنسيقا مستديما بين الرياض وباريس، لكن وصف ساركوزي في الإليزيه للعلاقات السورية الفرنسية المستجدة، بانها بنيوية واستراتيجية، يندرج لدى الوزير الفرنسي في تحولات سياسية أوسع في فرنسا والولايات المتحدة إزاء سوريا وإيران.

ويسأل كوشنير عما اذا كان السعوديون على اطلاع أم لا على ما يجري على الخط السوري الفرنسي. ويقول »من البديهي أننا أعلمناهم بما يحدث.. لكن البعض قد يقدر أننا لم نفعل ذلك بشكل كاف.. لا أعرف! صحيح ان السعودية لم تكن نصيرة للقائنا مع الأسد، إنها علاقات معقدة وحساسة وأفهم اختلاف المواقف داخل العالم العربي، لكن أعتقد أن الجميع قد فهم موقفنا وهو يجنح نحو السلام والتهدئة«.
ويتابع الوزير الفرنسي »بوسع السعوديين الا يقبلوا طريقتنا في البدء، أو لا يوافقوا عليها كليا في مرحلة تالية.. ولكن هذا ليس انطباعي.. ان ما يجري جزء من إعادة التشكيل، ليس الجغرافي فقط، ولكن السياسي والإستراتيجي أيضا.. إنها دبلوماسية الحركة والحوار«.
واختلاف التقدير بين السعودية وفرنسا، لا يفقد تقارب باريس ـ دمشق شيئا من زخمه، ولن يغير الاعتراض السعودي شيئا كبيرا في المدى القريب، لأنه يجري في ظل تفاهم أميركي فرنسي، وتشجيع إسرائيلي. ويقول كوشنير »نلنا تهنئة إسرائيلية على دعوة الأسد إلى قمة الاتحاد من أجل المتوسط.. وقد التقينا بالرئيس جورج بوش وكوندليسا رايس في حزيران هنا في باريس، وعقدنا اجتماعا لأربع ساعات وشرحنا لهم موضوع اللقاء.. وبدأوا بالتفكير بطريقة عملية، انطلاقا من المعطيات الجديدة.. وقد هنأنا الأميركيون على القمة وعلى اللقاء بالأسد لأنه لا يمكن الفصل بين الحدثين«.
ويتقدم التقارب السوري الفرنسي بسرعة أكبر مما يعتقده كثيرون، من دون ان تعيقه شروط مسبقة. ولأن باريس ترى انها حققت الأهم في إعلان الأسد من الإليزيه قرب إقامة سفارة سورية في بيروت، فقد اصبح نافلا بنظرها، ان يسبق موعد اقامتها، زيارة الرئيس ساركوزي إلى دمشق، مطلع أيلول المقبل، طالما ان مبدأ إقامتها قد أصبح واقعا.

July 19th, 2008, 5:31 am


ausamaa said:


Just returned from 10-day business trip to Syria last night as well and I agree with your remarks 100%…..

What you may have missed is the economic side.

HUGE amount of foriegn investment pouring into the country especially from the Arab Gulf. The projects I was looking at on behalf of my company for example include an Islamic Bank, An Islamic Insusurance Co, an oil refinary, a Finance House, 6 mega-size touristic and Urban development project and others. The total of the above which is maily privat Gulf and Syrian investers exceeds $ 6 Billion dollars! for ONE company only. Mosetely IPOs with 30% GUlf Money, 19% Syrian Private and Institutional Money, the rest for 51% for the Public. You have to run to book an IPO launch date. The Treasury Bonds Issue and the Stock exchange issue are being finalized, but their future effect on interest rates and liquidity is every ones’s guess still.

At the government top executive level, enthusiasem, encouragement and support for new investors are evident at all steps. From the Prime Minster office, to the Finance Minister, to the Economic and Tourisem Minster level and down on. You have a problem, they try to solve it ASAP and suggest alternatives. It is not perfect, it moving from crawling to walking (bordering on running..!!) but it is unbelivable. Meeting high level and Ministrial level officials was easier than booking a meeting with a Ernst&Young a Private Bank Head, or a Lawyer like Dr. Riyadh Al Dawoodi oe even booking a room at the Sheraton or even the Damascus or the Latakia Meredien. And, not many Gulf tourist, but a lot of Corporate Gulf visitors.

We are moving, and fast. I just could not beleive it.

Inflation is there, but everyone understands that it is a World-Wide problem and the peploe are managing OK and they beleive they are faring much better than their neighbours in Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt in this regard.

The people on the streets are confident, confusedly hopefull, but not worrid at all, and as proud as usual, and not worried about outside threats in the least. They see that Syria had come on top clearly. Nobody is bothering much with the US sanctions -if mentioned at all-, Israel or Lebanon, they feel sorry for the Lebanese for the foolish manner in which some of the politicians or groups there behaved during the last few years, but are holding no grudges at all. They love Nassralah and make jokes about the half-men. Army officers seem more confident than ever. People are not afraid in the least, but some are worried about the shortfall of the Iraqi situation after the obvious US confusion there.

You have painted a very representive picture Observer. Little conservative, perhaps.

July 19th, 2008, 7:13 am


Zenobia said:

What about the other ninety percent of the people who don’t even have a bank account never mind know what an IPO is.?

July 19th, 2008, 7:35 am


ausamaa said:


There is a lot of money around, but much less than 90% of the people can not afford IPOs. The amount of jobs that will be created and the effect of the investments, and the huge resulting liquidity the government will have will eventually reflect on the large lower-middle class. That will come in terms of increased spending on government sponcored infrastructure and support projects as well as from the effect of a a greatly expanding economy. And in the end, the authoreties are keeping a good control to minimize the negative effects of the somewhat unexpected huge influx of investments funds into Syria.

BTW, you have spent some time in Syria yourself last year. How many people have you met who are not holding a mobile in their hand? The poor are there of course, just like every where else, but when things get better for the country as a whole -and they seem to be getting better-, the government is very carefull that this should reflect downwards. They dont merely want another Egypt style open market or a Solidier Style facial.

July 19th, 2008, 7:55 am


offended said:

I believe the one good distinctive thing about Syria is that despite the influx of capital investments and such, money still trickles down to the poor.

July 19th, 2008, 8:12 am


Zenobia said:

… mmm we’ll see.
but i can definitely tell you that the obsession with having a cool mobile phone does not mean shit.
There are lots of young people who buy expensive mobile phones when they are sleeping on the couch at home because there is not money or room for another bed.
Similarly, in Lebanon, I noticed that any lebanese who can find the money to drive a BMW will do so, even if they live in a crap hole of an apartment. ( I am talking about men of course)
These two countries have bizarre senses of priorities in terms of what it makes sense to spend the little money you have on. ….

I highly question whether this growth is going to reflect downwards. Or I am sure it will to a degree, but the question is to what degree.

Ps Ausamaa, I also took issue with another thing you said on the Syria’s Private new universities post , and wrote it over there.

July 19th, 2008, 8:48 am


Majhoool said:

So Asumma and Observer agree. Duh!!! What a surprise

After all it seems like people see what they want to see. Reason has nothing to do with it.

I would like to know more about the infrastructure projects, and the effective army. and PLEASE provide substantial evidence.

July 19th, 2008, 8:58 am


Majhoool said:

“despite the influx of capital investments and such, money still trickles down to the poor”

Haka Badri wen sharah sadri. This is poetic to say the least. I am touched to see how the trickele effect is alive and well. There is no reason to worry any more. Life is good and the people are happy. I say let’s shut down this blog and get it over with it, there is nothing to complain about.

God bless you all, ana sori ah ya neyyali.

July 19th, 2008, 9:03 am


Karim said:

Aussama ,change the regime and Syria will become as rich as Saudi Arabia,Oman or Greece in not more than a decade…the reality says dear Aussama,that our GDP/capita is the lower in the arab world with Mauritania.The same GDP/capita was superior to the south Korean in the 70’s.
Without the asads ,Syria would be today 10 or 15 times richer with a GDP/capit

July 19th, 2008, 9:17 am


offended said:

Ok Majhool, little money trickles down to the poor. But still, something is trickling.

July 19th, 2008, 9:24 am


Karim said:

Aussama ,change the regime and Syria will become as rich as Saudi Arabia,Oman or Greece in not more than a decade…the reality says dear Aussama,that our GDP/capita is the lower in the arab world with Mauritania.The Syrian GDP/capita was superior to the south Korean in the 70’s.And how would have been the situation without the direct and indirect Khaliji money ?(investment/syrian workers in the Arab gulf)?
Without the asadian tumor,Syria would be today 10 or 15 times richer than it’s now.

July 19th, 2008, 9:30 am


trustquest said:

I thought this piece of news in Arabic is essential to all future investors looking to work in Syria to give them an idea on the profit margin 825/20 = 41.2, and on how to conduct business in Syria. The meeting between the architect of Syrian market economy Dardari, Mayor of Homes and the investors who already seems bought the land or at least promised to be given the land through selling a whole area of failed public sector companies, the report shows how things work and how things are going in the favor of the investors even when Dardari stand firm on not selling the properties.
دمشق – سيريانديز
خلال اجتماع السيد عبد الله الدردري مع المستثمرين في المدينة الصناعية بحمص عرضت محافظة حمص توجهاتها بخصوص نقل منشآت القطاع العام الصناعي الموجودة في المدينة إلى خارجها على اعتبار أن تلك المنشآت غير مجدية اقتصادياً وملوثة للبيئة ومخالفة للقوانين القائمة حالياً، ناهيك عن أن استثمارها سيحقق عائدات كبيرة جداً..
ولدى نهاية هذا العرض المتميز بحق قدم محافظ حمص م.محمد إياد غزال بعض الشروحات عن المشروع ومن ضمن الحديث كانت هناك إشارات حول بيع أو مشاركة القطاع الخاص وتحقيق عائد استثماري جيد ولكن السيد الدردري قاطع المحافظ بصورة حاسمة: “لا تترك مجالاً لأي جدل أو تأويل” وقال: “الملكية العامة محسومة، لا مجال لبيع أراضي مصانع القطاع العام، المجال مقترح لاستثمارها فقط”..
واضطر الدردري للتوضيح أكثر من مرة لاسيما عندما طرح الباحث أن قيمة أرض شركة نقل النفط IPC الحالية لا تتجاوز 20 مليون ليرة في حين أنه تصبح قيمتها 828 مليون ليرة في حال تحويل الصفة الاستثمارية وعندها تدخل المستثمر عصام أنبوبا وقال: نحن اشتريناها بهذا السعر فأجابه الدردري: “الله يخليكم بيع لا يوجد على الإطلاق

From the reading especially the last sentence you get to know that the investor has already paid the price of the land, while Mr. Dardari reply: “for god sake there is no sell” But the guy already bought the land as shown in the last sentence. Notice the Mayor hinted to the selling or cooperating with private sector and Dardari interrupted him and said, no way you can sell public properties. When the investor said: we bought this land.

As, any investor will read this, he will get to know that:
-Do not listen or rely on laws, keep focus on officials,
-You can make from 20 a 825 times and this is a very good profit not available in any place else, as long as you have the big guys on your side,
-There is nothing straight forward in that country, you need to go through curved lines,
-Public officials are partners and you can not do work without them,

Off course Ausamaa, everything you said regarding the future investment is right, the real things is different and you will see it when you get in nitty-gritty of things. My point is that the base of open economy is shaky; it shows in the laws being issued for this purpose and there is big difference between the theory and application. This is the same principal which made the failed the economic health in the last 40 years, which is the laws are for poor and the real dynamic of the economy is working beside the law. For 40 years the basic import for household was smuggled through the boarder benefiting smuggler and powerful army officers. I thin the same is going on now, but in different way. Anyway, the infrastructure for capitalism is coming back and the change is coming, what will bring is anybody guess.

Alex was right about biases, but he emphasized the one side.

**Ausamaa, I hope you got the link I sent you for Nabil Sukkar site when you asked about consulting in Syria, here it is again (http://www.scbdi.com)Mr. Sukkar paint different picture from yours. But the reality was clear in the last economic report which was not giving any discussion or attention, even from Ehasi.

The report below gives us a failed policy and way of the mark and the prediction of most optimists on this forum. It add to that grim picture the 350,000 students who attend the Bachaloria exam who not even 10% will find work. But reality also different, because 75% of those students will end immigrants.

Here it is:

“Syria maintains that growth in 2007 was 6.5%, the Economist Intelligence Unit however, estimates it at 4.3%, because investment growth and exports were not as strong as previously thought; the IMF is even more downbeat, estimating 3.9%. We expect the Syrian economy to slow further to an annual average of 3.9% over 2008-09, largely owing to falling oil output.
The agricultural sector is also expected to remain depressed in 2008, after another poor harvest. These negative trends will be only partly offset by continued expansion in the services sector, boosted by solid growth in tourism and demand for goods and services, in part from the large Iraqi refugee population.
Growth in private consumption is likely to weaken in 2008-09, not only because of lower disposable incomes (owing to cuts in fuel subsidies and higher inflation), but also because the impact of the influx of Iraqi refugees on consumption levels will start to wane as many run down their savings, some return and visa restrictions limit the number of new arrivals. We expect that investment will continue to expand steadily, provided that there is no deterioration in the regional political environment.
Syria will continue to attract investment from the Gulf Arab countries, Russia and Iran. Import growth will also remain relatively strong in 2008-09, averaging 4.5% a year, reflecting the steady expansion in domestic demand and non-oil exports (many of which use imported inputs). Despite healthy growth in non-oil exports, the ongoing decline in oil production and thus oil export volumes will prevent the export sector from making a positive contribution to growth.”

July 19th, 2008, 11:31 am


Observer said:

Well colleagues that was just a quick post with some jet lag effect.
I am not an economist, and I tend to be on the pessimistic side of things in general without bias towards Syria or the US.
The economic situation is certainly not rosy and Bashar did inherit from his father a completely sclerotic situation.
The point is that they are trying to do what the Chinese have done, liberalize the economy without necessarily liberalizing society.
In view of the pressures that the country was put under with economic and political isolation as well as the huge refugee problem it is truly a testament to the resilience of the people and their ingenuity that there is not much more visible signs of poverty.
The economy is what will make or break the issues on the long run. I had hoped Ehsani would contribute his thoughts on this.
I did not have access to any high level official, mere observation as I traveled the area, saw roads being repaired and maintained, shrubbery planted along side it, military trucks that resemble military trucks rather than moving carcasses, soldiers in neat uniforms, guards that are clean ( still occasionally picking their noses in public though ), and I did have to open an internet line for my mother and the offices were much better organized and believe it or not people stood in line.
At the phone company you pick a number and you are called when your number comes up, likewise at the bank. The bus that took us on a tour was clean and well maintained.

Now as for Lebanon, HA has delivered a knock out blow to the coalition, Aoun has emerged as the central Christian leader, and the idea of partition is not being promoted by the Lebanese but by the foreign powers. In essence, partition would limit the influence of Syria and Iran and re establish that of France and the US. The idea is that with support and high tech industry, a partitioned Lebanon is viable. The key of course is that you need
enough stupid Lebanese to believe that
a geographic entity that cannot be blockaded
HA sitting on the sidelines.

HA in the latest exchange of prisoners did the following
it forced Israel to abandon every one of its claims for the 2006 war
it forced the UN to a new reality that is beyond resolution 1701 which called for the immediate release of Israeli prisoners while only a consideration will be made for Lebanese ones
it forced the exchange to include Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners and remains thereby showing that its resistance movement is both Lebanese and Arab with a core Islamist ideology.

Saudi Arabia spent 1.5 billion arming the Sunnis and the Jordanian secret service trained them for two years and they had absolutely nothing to show for. Every one of them received a call at home before the events asking them to choose: lay down your arms and stay home, or die.

What is amazing to me is how is it possible that the Druze community has continued to support Walid and the Sunni community Saad. These are failed leaders. I fear that the Salafis will gain the upper hand.

If HA can fight Israel and more importantly protect its back from being stabbed by the Arab “brothers” then it would have achieved a feat that is truly unique in the annals of the modern ME.

Israel has missed a big opportunity by ignoring the Saudi king Arab initiative. The unbelievable greed that pervades the political establishment in Israel has blinded to the realization that the situation on the ground has shifted while they were bickering and asking for more concessions from the Arabs. The population in the Arab world do not believe that Israel wants peace but wants a state of war footing for its foes, while it enjoys an ever more expansionist ideology both physically and economically. There is now no chance for the Palestinians of Lebanon and Syria to be settled there permanently. There is no chance of Syria bargaining on the Golan principles that were set by the late Hafez Assad.
Iran has emerged as a true regional power and there is no escaping that it cannot be shrunk back to a third world status.

In a grand strategy situation, the West as exemplified by the EU and France in particular are conducting a rear guard retreat to limit the damage inflicted on it by the US debacle in Iraq.

The militarization of the energy policy of the US has brought it nothing but ruin and hardship while it would have better for us to have invested in much more efficient alternative energy and transportation needs.

July 19th, 2008, 12:43 pm


ausamaa said:

Karim, Majhool,

You are right about “haka Badri”… but who “Badri” is in this case, you have to figure out on your own and for your own….

After what I have seen in Syria from either the fourth floor of the Sheraton, or from talking to relatives, cab drivers, shopkeepers, and officials as well, take my advice: do not await or count on the broken record of Regime Change. The “regime” is more solid that it ever was. President Bashar personally is as popular as Nassralah. Criticisem of various things is always there as it is in the Board rooms in NYC, or by the NY cabbies, but serious or even marginal Internal Syrian opposition is a “myth” be it the MBs or the few other enlightened voices who represent no more than themselves and the tiny circles around them. The Opposition is just not there, and not because it is in jail, but because it seems that it was so rootless and mainly either self-serving or foriegn-inspired, or both, that it has marginalized itself, if it was an Opposition to begin with. The average Syrian is as proud of Assad and Nassralah and Syria as they can be, and as “uncaring” and “unworried” about Bush, Olmert and the Moderates as they can be. The leading circle itself is as strong as it ever was and never mind what you read here and there.

As to Mr. Dardari, Al Husian, PM Al Otrai, or other officials, I believe they are knowledgable about how to steer the counry economically while providing the necessary safety net for the undereprviliged than you can imagine. And they are up to date on things around them than you can expect. But moving a Mountain from point A to point B under the pressures Syria was subjected to is no easy task. But things are hapening, and quickely.

Anyway, suffice it to say that Damascus Internation Airport runway is no more under threat of being bombed by any one, that some champions of regime change are now playing checkers with Chirac. and that investment is pouring into Syria from outside ( and I do not have to remind you what a big coward external CAPITAL usually is). And that people now are talking in term of Syrian Lira and refuse to talk in terms of US dollars.

As to “infra-structure” a lot of projects are underway, many of them BOT, but they are happening. As to the strength of the Syrian army, I am not a military analysit yet, nor do the military in Syria publicize their capability or intentions as you know; but watching how Olmert was chasing after Assad in Paris coupled with the Israeli Army prisoner exchange with HA “may” lead you to make an educated guess as to where things stand on that side.

So, Majhool, go figure…who “Badri” is nowadays in Haka Badri.

July 19th, 2008, 1:06 pm


Karim said:

Observer ,don’t repeat the lies on the Muslim sunnis of lebanon ,they are the most moderate and open minded people in the muslim world.
The sunnis of lebanon were never implicated in the sectarian killing during the civil war(with the Greek othodox and armenians too)…all the others yes.And no more than then have fought resisted against the occupation of their country…in 1982 Beirut resisted for 4 month as the cousins of Nasrallah welcomed them with rice bags in 1976 in Nabatiya,do u want the photos ?

We as syrian muslims are more religious ,more conservative,more bigots,less open minded than the lebanese sunnis…and even we never voted like a bloc for religious parties when we had elections.I don’t want to see a sunni version of the sectarian Hizbollah in Lebanon ,they should remain pro liberals and moderates.The followers of the iranian regime have no place among us.

July 19th, 2008, 1:11 pm


Karim said:

As to Mr. Dardari, Al Husian, PM Al Otrai, or other officials….Aussama ,they are good people and we have nothing against them ….but what can they do in front of asad and makhluf mafia and its baron Rami Makhluf ?

Aussama ,you are a rich businessman and you have spent most of your time with those who represent less than 3 % of the syrian population.Go see the slums around aleppo and damascus ,btw you can locate them with Google Earth …in Aleppo for example ….look at the areas built before 1975 and those built after 1975 …and then give me your opinion about it.

July 19th, 2008, 1:19 pm


Idaf said:

My preliminary impressions after spending 2 days in Damascus compared to a year ago are very similar to Observer’s. I would add the following based on first hand encounters:

-The city is a lot cleaner than I ever remember. I spent most of my time navigating through the old town and I was impressed with the cleanliness and the upgraded infrastructure compared to last summer.

-Newly transformed renovated houses in the old city into cafes, restaurants and hotels have tripled compared to a year ago.. and still it is hard to find a table for two without reservation. An indication of the tourists inflow. With this rate, I give it 3 more years max before the old city if fully transformed into a tourist trap with offers becoming too good for residents to reject.

-Nobody even notices that there is internet censorship here. I tried 3 different internet cafes and I was able to access everything I tried (Facebook, blogger, opposition websites) without any problem (basically, all PCs are fitted with anti-censorship tools). Also, the news about Internet cafes needing to register your personal info or ID for you to get online is nonsense. I was not asked for an ID in 3 different Internet cafes.

-Photos of Nasrallah and flags of HA are as popular in the Christian neighborhoods as the Muslim ones.

-I also totally agree with Ausama on the following point based on my first hand experience in the last 2 days:
“At the government top executive level, enthusiasm, encouragement and support for new investors are evident at all steps. From the Prime Minster office, to the Finance Minister, to the Economic and Tourism Minster level and down on. You have a problem, they try to solve it ASAP and suggest alternatives. It is not perfect, it moving from crawling to walking (bordering on running..!!) but it is unbelievable. Meeting high level and Ministerial level officials was easier than booking a meeting with a Ernst&Young a Private Bank Head”..

An academic foreign delegation I know closely was able to meet yesterday with the president, the prime minister and a delegation of minister’s advisor in 2 days notice! All of them were impressed with the president specifically. After few hours in the old town, some also insisted on not leaving before exploring the possibility of buying real estate in the country!

Wish you all were here 🙂

July 19th, 2008, 1:20 pm


ausamaa said:


I wish I was a very rich anything. My visit to Syria was as a representative “employee” of certain Arab Gulf companies. And do not worry, I did not get close to the rich Syrians because I did not have time to attend to any invitations. But I think this traditional and new rich Syrian groups “tujjar” hate the huge investment pouring into the country more than Ja’ja hates Aoun. They (the forigners and the government are the “competitors” after all. Right?

As to the poor/unregulated areas you mentioned, three of the projects we discussed were concerning the areas you mentioned. And the governors of the concerned areas espicially Homs and Reef Dimashq were as concerned about starting up the Urban Development projects there as you are if this is any consoloation to you..

And just FYI, Bashar Al Assad is the main force behind all this. Actually, it is now said that if an investor have a real problem, the solution can be found or ordered through the President.

July 19th, 2008, 1:37 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


7amdillah 3a salameh!


Ausamaa, I’ve missed you dearly. Business trips are not an excuse to ignore the SC community.

July 19th, 2008, 1:51 pm


sam said:

Things are tough all over. We in the US are paying $4 a gal for gas and milk, eggs, bread, everything else is up. The Syrian people rich or poor can overcome anything. Their national identity makes them the proudest people on the planet. As for the corruption, it’s everywhere in the world, not just Syria. Especially the last 5 years, I seen it get better. Before 2000 you couldn’t leave the country with paying 5 people. Now nobody messes with you at the airport, trying to get money for little things like accusing you of taking Gold that you bought, olives, Arrak, and the little staples you wish you had in the States. I’m sounding like a broken record because when I post, I say
The Assads are here forever, god willing!

July 19th, 2008, 2:19 pm


Karim said:

employee” of certain Arab Gulf companies….so you have spent your time with what is left from the middle class and who survive thanks to the connections with the Saudis and the Gulf ya Aussama this is khiyana against your axis of resistance …. and don’t say to Nasrollat, Arabian Gulf he will become crazy …anyway ,welcome back.
I’m sure of it ,thanks to Saudi Arabia,Kuwait,UAE we are in the same class of Sudan and not yet Somalia.. …am i exaggerating when i say that half of the syrian people survive through a connection with the arab countries of the gulf?

As for the state economy,don’t ask them to reform it ,it’s a pillar of the system(with the mukhabarat)….80 % – 90 %of the alawites are civil servants or in the security field ,mukhabarat/army officiers.

July 19th, 2008, 2:21 pm


Karim said:

-Photos of Nasrallah and flags of HA are as popular in the Christian neighborhoods as the Muslim ones.

IDAF ,this is the classical hypocrisy ,most of the photos are printed by the iranians and the syrian mukhabarat….if some syrians are deluded by the propaganda of the regime and their friends in lebanon ,not all of them move like a sheep crowd.

If you want to resist ;leave the Gulf and go to your homeland and free our occupied Golan hand 2 hand with Rami and Bashura.
We had enough of hypocrisy.

July 19th, 2008, 2:38 pm


Karim said:

BTW Idaf ,these houses in our beloved Damascus should be restored by experts with respect of the convention …i’m very sad when i see these houses destroyed then rebuilt in an imaginary oriental style in order to be transformed in modern hotels …Even in this field Makhluf has put his cursed hands.

July 19th, 2008, 2:45 pm


ausamaa said:


Whatever you say, but it is not rich Saudi private businessmen I am working for, rather they are non-Saudi Public Shareholding and Holding companies who can teach firms like Exxon and Halliberton a lot about Corporate Governance and the importance of transperency. So do not worry, I have not committed Khiana yet..

Zenobia, I will make sure to lookup ur comments about private universities. I am trying to prepare myself for a nice rebuff right now!

QN, I agree! but dont worry I was checking out SC always but had no time to write. BTW, my wife had the same comment about business trips and the need to call home on timely basis!!!

July 19th, 2008, 3:14 pm


offended said:

So all those Syrian folks in the Gulf are here because they refused to post Nassrallas’s photos. How enlightening. I should start compiling the ‘Nahfat’ from now on.

July 19th, 2008, 3:30 pm


Nour said:


It appears that your hatred for the regime surpasses your care for your country and people. Why does it bother you so much to hear anything good coming out of Syria? Most people who go to Syria will tell you that there is a definite change. I have talked to many people myself who recently visited Damascus, and none of them care in the least bit about the regime, but all will tell you that they sense a positive change.

You seem to think that there is a magic wand that will make everything better so long as the regime is overthrown. This is nonsense. In order to build the country from where it was after Bashar inherited the presidency takes a lot of time and patience, especially given all the international pressure exerted on Syria. You should be proud of Syrians who are improving their country little by little rather than expressing utter disdain for any news of improvement.

July 19th, 2008, 3:31 pm


offended said:


Why do you think Assa’d Abu Khalil (the legendary Angry Arab) keeps saying that he exepects a landslide winner for M14 in the next election?

July 19th, 2008, 3:33 pm


Karim said:

Nour,cosmetic changes are nothing..?Nour do you know that 100 000’s if not millions of syrians are suffering of great sadness after the regime kidnapped their friends,sons ,husbands,brothers…..and their fate is still unknown after 20 years ?
why are you resisting the zionists ?
In every category of the reponse that you will give,the regime did worse against Syria and its people(in both human and economical fields) …has Sharon done 10 % to the palestinians of what had done Hafez to the syrian people or even to the palestinians in Leb who were obliged to eat cats and rats in order to survive during Amal embargo and after they killed 1000’s of disarmed palestinians, following the orders of syrian regime..and Dear Nour ,we all speak on the tragedy of the palestinians and iraqis…but do you know that more syrians have left Syria since the 80’s than the number of iraqis who moved out Iraq ?…and this is despite their wars ,embargo….

Aussama ,dont forget you have dignity and money thanks to the Gulf and if you were obliged to leave Syria it’s in a way or an other related to the asadian occupation of Syria.Those who love the resistance and hate the semi men,it’s more norman that they remain in Syria close to Rami and Bashoura ,enjoying their great achievements and share the fate of the normal syrian people.

July 19th, 2008, 3:40 pm


Karim said:

Offended are you also in the Gulf ?

July 19th, 2008, 3:41 pm


Nour said:


To compare the forced expulsion of an entire population and the occupation of its land by a foreign group to a dictatorial regime is beyond ridiculous, so I will stop right there in this regard.

The Syrians did suffer a lot, no one is denying that. But the people of the entire region suffered a lot because of a lot of political and social circumstances. The Iraqis suffered a great deal under Saddam only to be subsequently faced with an even more dire and stringent situation. The Lebanese suffered tremendously due to their highly sectarian system which led to destructive and deadly internal strife. As for how many Syrians emigrated versus how many Iraqis, I do believe you are exaggerating. 6 to 7 million Iraqis have left their country in the last 5 years alone. Are you arguing that more Syrians left within that same period? Please be a little more reasonable.

Today there are noticeable improvements in Syria, yet you want to deny it only because you hate the regime. And your hatred for the regime, based on all your combined comments, appears to be based more on sectarian tendencies than on anything else. You do not offer any Arab regime the same standard of criticism you offer the Syrian government only because those regimes are sunni. In any case, if I see improvements in the country then it is only fair to recognize these improvements. Just like it is fair to criticize the government when it pursues detrimental policies.

July 19th, 2008, 4:11 pm


Karim said:

Nour ,i don’t want to replace a sectarian minority regime by an another dictatorial regime à la Saudi , Ghadafi or Mubarak ….i believe that our people deserve the better and the better ….now we have the worse,even worse than those i have cited .Only then ,we can hope to join the world in the field of science,culture,politic and to exist as nation in the 21 th century.

July 19th, 2008, 4:34 pm


Karim said:

Nour:6 to 7 million Iraqis have left their country in the last 5 years alone.

No Nour between 2 and 3 millions.I think that the number you gave is for both the internal and external refugees and it’s exaggerated too.

July 19th, 2008, 4:37 pm


Karim said:

Nour,the sectarian nature of the regime must be fought and exposed at every critic of the sitution in Syria ,do you find it normal that in the oil company 90 % of the employees are from the alawite minority and the region is exhausted by unemployment and the region inhabitant lack of work opportunities(this can be connected to our past discussion about chrsitian exodus ????)Nour,the regime in Syria is not only sectrian ,he is a concentrate of Sectarianism…as for the sunni syrians ,they have an another mentality because they are sure of their rights …so teh sectarin feeling among them is very weak and i think it remained weak despite the policy of this regime …and i’m not sectarian at all but i’m proud of my islamic heritage.I’m Umamist like you are …but pro Islamic Umma not Nationalist as we speak about the ideologies …the Syrian nation is not a bad idea …but it must take into account the cultural fact ,so yes for secularism but more yes for the german or british style of secularism than the french secularism …

July 19th, 2008, 4:45 pm


Zenobia said:


you saw people standing IN A LINE??????!!!!!
holy &%$^&! I couldn’t find that last year! (although I did appreciate the new take a number systems going on in some enterprises …

we need to get the address of that LINE so we can turn it into a historical tourist attraction:

dear Ausamaa I am so glad you are back! I was wondering and felt your absence!… don’t bother with the other post, it was from last summer! and I didnt’ realize, but for some reason they were commenting on it last night.


July 19th, 2008, 5:18 pm


Observer said:

I have to say this one very important detail that I happened to hear about from a very very reliable source while I was in Syria:
The Saudi defense ministry is trying to buy all the aviation jet fuel it can get a hold of for at least two months worth of intense use.
This information if true and I believe the source to be very reliable indeed about it means that preparations are under way for a massive air campaign.

Draw your conclusions from this. Now this was in the late June period, since then, things seem to have cooled off a bit.

The other piece of information that I heard is that two squadrons of the IAF are stationed in Afghanistan now, making them close to their targets and coming from the East.

I am certain that all parties involved are playing the game of cat and mouse to the hilt.

Late August and while Congress is in recess is a good time to speculate on some hot events.


July 19th, 2008, 5:27 pm


Majhoool said:

with regard to Sudan

بدوره استنكر وزير الخارجية السوري وليد المعلم طلب المدعي العام لويس
مورينو أوكامبو, واعتبر ذلك “سابقة خطيرة في العلاقات الدولية”. كما شدد المعلم على أن “الجنائية الدولية تجاوزت صلاحيتها في توجيه اتهام ضد رئيس جمهورية منتخب من شعبه ويتمتع بالحصانة”.

منتخب من شعبه
منتخب من شعبه
منتخب من شعبه

July 19th, 2008, 5:32 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:


CALM DOWN. if you scream your points NO ONE will listen, this is a classic case of less is more. THe less you force it the more it will come across. THe refugee count Nour gave is for internal & external refugees and its not exaggerated if anything its probably an under-estimation. I think you’ve already seen this but just in case http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=SUBSITES&id=470387fc2

Also, im sorry to burst your little bubble but if the Assads didnt rule the country we would have had another similar regime to rule us. Just look at every single other arab country, your dillusional if you think we would have been the ONLY democratic country in the region if it wasn’t for the Assads. Im not saying right or wrong, just sad but true.

July 19th, 2008, 5:41 pm


Karim said:

THe refugee count Nour gave is for internal & external refugees and its not exaggerated if anything its probably an under-estimation. I think you’ve already seen this but just in case

yes this is what i corrected ,Nour’s number is for internal +external.

he said :

6 to 7 million Iraqis have left their country in the last 5 years alone.

I agree with you IC,it began with Husni Zaim coup ,but it was not the kind of dictature that we know today in Syria(Hama rule ) ,there was a level tolerated freedom and the syrian civil society had succeed to bring back democracy several times ,even under Nasser Leadership .until 1963 .
The problem is that democracy in the arab world means more credibility and it will put israel in a more difficult position…Israel’s interest is to see the arab world under dictatorial regimes as long possible…and the international community follows…we should not underestimate the international cover on all these dictatorial arab regimes.Now ,i’m not a man who think for the 2 or 3 future years ….but in the long/middle term democracy will prevail.And i’m optimistic that the post asad era will be democratic …asad is probably the last dictator in Syria in the 21th century.

July 19th, 2008, 5:56 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

The Lebanese may opt for partition of the country if encouraged and helped by France and the US

The Lebanese…or 14 March? It would be typical of Gemayel types to abandon southern Lebanon to the predations of the IDF.

July 19th, 2008, 6:16 pm


Bashmann said:


I would not characterize Observers observations as “keen”; I would certainly categorize them as biased, narrow, and lack minimum credibility. The problem with Syrian U.S residents who take a 10 day vacation and theorize about what they have seen and done in Syria during their short, limited, and luxurious stay where they spend most of their time in Damascus’s trendy new restaurants and cafe’s, is the assessment they come up with of the overall situation; such an evaluation becomes clouded by their perspective coming from the ivory towers of Damascus. It reminds me of the famous phrase uttered by a European aristocrat “Let them eat cake”!


Mr. Mua’alem needs to go on the record in case Syria end up facing the same fate as Sudan. He is only repeating what naturally comes to him in his own environment of political oblivion. Bashar Assad also was elected by the people, he said so himself to Christiane Ammanpore of CNN. Why are you so surprised!!! (note the sarcasem)


July 19th, 2008, 6:35 pm


Alex said:


Some of the consistent anti-regime commentators here used to complain to me a year or two ago that Syria is so backward because (among other things) it does not have any of the fancy buildings, hotels, restaurants that Beirut, Cairo, or Riyadh has.

Now that they are hearing about the presence of the same things they called and wished for in Damascus, they are making the point that all of those things are both superficial, and not beneficial to the poor!

“consistent” indeed … they will criticize no matter what.

By the way .. the same people who are defending economic activity geared exclusively for the enhancement of the living standards of the poor, call those same poor “nawar” and “falla7een” and argue that Syria needs to be run by its “elite” …

And, I agree with Trustquest, I am also biased when I expose the bias of one group only. I have to admit that the rest of us (“regime supporters”) are also guilty to some extent of minimizing the negatives.

July 19th, 2008, 7:23 pm


Nour said:


The number I gave is for internal and external refugees, yes. But the question was, do you seriously believe that more Syrians emigrated in the same time period? And I didn’t say that you wanted to replace the dictatorship in Syria with a Sunni dictatorship, but it is a fact that you apply a different standard of criticism to the Syrian regime than you do to any other Arab regime.

The regime did behave in a sectarian fashion at times, but I believe this is more because, just like all Arab dictatorships, it engaged in nepotism. But some of the statistics you provide I’m not sure where you got it from, so I would prefer that you provide some sources so I know what the basis of your claims are. I don’t know what the sectarian breakdown is of the employees of the oil company, but I can’t take your 90% Alawite figure at face value.

In any case, regardless of everything else, I do believe that things have improved since Bashar came into power. I of course do not favor the way in which he came to power (inheriting the chair from his father) but given the reality on the ground when Bashar was put in that position, I believe he has performed relatively well. Is he perfect? NO. But he has some positive attributes and I would definitely take him over the other Arab leaders we have any day.

July 19th, 2008, 8:31 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

The Syria Comment summit has taken place.

Qifa Nabki and Ehsani2 held high-level talks at an undisclosed location, and official sources report that the results were “very positive.”

It was further reported that conference calls were held with two other members of the Syria Comment coalition, namely Alex and Joshua.

Plans for a broader summit involving more parties are in the initial planning stages.

July 19th, 2008, 8:41 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

“consistent” indeed … they will criticize no matter what.

Ya Alex,

I agree with you! Imagine my own amazement as I hear the very same people who used to criticize Beirut for all of its superficial nightlife and restaurants and corrupt monopolists (al-Hariri etc) now praise Syria for following the same model!


July 19th, 2008, 8:43 pm


Alex said:


1) Not me.
2) If you are referring to Ausa*** .. then you are a certified trouble maker.

July 19th, 2008, 9:22 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Both QN and myself have concluded that we still love you. Yes, we argued for an hour on our telephone conference call but as we both hang up, the consensus was that you are still the best.

IDAF Habibi,

Will be seeing in Aleppo soon. May be we can write a joint report from there which will be a bit more balanced 😉

July 19th, 2008, 9:28 pm


Alex said:

Teslam ustaz Ehsani el3azeem.

Looking forward to your joint report with IDAF from Aleppo.

Actually … Most expats report about Damascus… what is hapeneing in Qamishli and Hassakeh? .. Hama and Dreikeesh? …

July 19th, 2008, 9:43 pm


ausamaa said:

Yes, there are lines now, and there are cab drivers who remind you to put the seatbelt else you get out of the cab, heavy vehicles and public transport busses are now equiped with a box checked upon arrival to see if they excceded the speed limit and tough action is taken immediately (accidents dropped drastically). And just about every one is adhring to those new rules.My plane was delayed for hours according to the captain because the delay at the airport immigration because of the large number of Iraqi travellers.

And last but not least Karim is finding solace in highlighting the “Syrian” contradiction (I happened to be the example) between living in the Gulf, liking Bashar and Nassrallah, and working on developing Gulf investment in Syria which is coming mainly from Qatar, Kuwait and Emirates ( a political and economic message at the same time!). As to the Gulf people and Assad and Nassrallah, well, a very prominent Sunni millliardair businessman, Mr. al Kharafi who happnes to be the head of Kuwait’s elected parliment had just sent a foot long telegram to Nassrallah congratulating him of the prisoner’s exchange, and the last pools in the Gulf put Nassralah and Bashar at the top of their favourit leaders. Your anger at the regime can cloud things a bit, but dont convince yourself that a tornado watch announcement is bound to turn into a Catrina-size hurricane.

I know I can not change how you feel, and personal experiences can be very painfull -if this is the case-, but life is changing, and holding grudges forever is not a very smart idea. And things are not always either White or Black. Same like when we always thought we saw ghosts when forced to sleep early. Ghosts can be certainly are around, but surely, there are not a large enough numbers of them to attend to all the sleep-resistant children in the world.

July 19th, 2008, 10:09 pm


ausamaa said:


Come on, we are supposed to be building Nuclear reactors around the area you mentioned, right? So a lot should be happening there! And let us look forward to “self-proclaimed” more balanced reports from there too..

July 19th, 2008, 10:14 pm


norman said:

QN ,

It looks like the board of Syria comment had a meeting , What about us the share holders , when are you going to tell us about the result.

Ausamaa ,

With your optimestic view of Syria , I think these IPOs you are talking about might be of interest to me.

July 19th, 2008, 11:41 pm


norman said:


I agree with you and I think that the US is playing nice with Iran to make the attack more of a surprise .

If KSA supply and provide support for the attack on Iran The relation between the Arabs and Iranians will be damaged for a long time , Thinking of it , I think the KSA wants a division between the Shea and the Sunni so the Muslims will be busy killing each other and leave the West alone.

That is their deal with president Bush for leaving them alone after 17 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 were from KSA . Divide the Muslims ,
they are losing their status as defenders of the Arabs and Muslims after the rise of Nasrallah and Assad .

July 19th, 2008, 11:54 pm


Majhoool said:


Exactly. thank you

July 20th, 2008, 2:05 am


Off the Wall said:


First, Welcome back. And thanks for the good news. From what you and others have described, it seems that a positive trend towards civility and customer service is taking place. I have not been back for ages now, and what you describe make me want to go back for the long awaited visit, and to enjoy trendy coffee shops and Aleppine ivory towers.

You mentioned that the country’s leadership is trying to implement the Chinese model (i.e., liberalize economy but not the society or the political life). At this juncture, i happen to believe that such may be a reasonable decision, not for the inability of the yrian people to live in a liberal democracy, but for the fact that re-building the country from the sclerotic state it was in in 2000 into a better state requires strong and centralized decision making institutional structure.

So far, most of my Syrian friends who went for a visit came back with positive impressions. An American colleague of mine, who recently spent a full week in Aleppo in a workshop, came back stunned. His comment was exactly the following ” Infrastructure is there, it is being built every day, and the country is getting ready to become a tourist mecca.”

I asked him to compare what he saw with other Arab countries he has visited including Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt (which we visited together also on a business trip). He said that he liked Syria the most, and he would seriously consider a vacation there.

To me that was both a good news and a source of concern. It is a good news because one of the primary assets of Syria and Lebanon is the cosmopolitan nature of their citizens. And any business person, (IMHO), must recognize that the human capital is the most essential element of any enterprise. It is a source of concern to me because all of the projects I have been hearing about are primarily service project. I do hope that you, or Ehsani can shed a little light on whether industrial projects are being constructed?, is anyone investing in agriculture, has anyone tried to bring in some high tech industries? or is the vision of future syria is primarily a tourist economy?

My concern stems from my fear that a tourist economy relies heavily on external factors. Economic downturn is neighboring countries can lead to a decline in tourism. I have similar concern with the rush of expats in both Syria and Lebanon to buy apartments as investment properties instead of investing in industries that can create jobs and have long term economic impact. This is not to mention that by dosing so, they have been making it harder for their resident compatriots to buy homes to live in. I have asked this question in a previous discussion, and have never heard an answer to it from either Alex or QN.

Since I have been out of the country for very long time now, I would love for anyone to kindly enlighten me regarding Syria’s industrial development. I can see that packaging of exported food items has improved significantly and it is now very competitive with turkish and other items. Yet, I would like to see at some point in time, on a computer chip, an internet card, or some other similar item, the word “Made in Syria”. I hope that we are not following the Indian model, but the Chinese or the Russian model, if nothing else.

July 20th, 2008, 4:21 am


Majhoool said:

It’s time for a reality check instead of “keen” observation”
Where the poor are concerned, Syrian media has nothing to report


More than 2 million Syrians live below the poverty line of two dollars a day. But you would never know it from the Syrian media. Media analyst Ruhada Abdoush explores how Syria’s poor are perceived, and ignored, by the media establishment. By RAHUDA ABDOUSH

One of the ubiquitous shoeshine boys who crowd the streets of Damascus. R.R.

DAMASCUS, July 15, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Arguments can be made about how accurately the state-run and privately-owned media in Syria portray social issues. But there is little dispute about the Syrian media treat its sizable population of poor people – some 11 percent of the population or more than 2 million people – with little or no consideration.

These are the people the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) categorizes as living below the poverty line of two dollars a day, and in Syria these are the people creating jobs with their own hands living on the day’s earnings to survive.

They live everywhere among the population, whether they are shining shoes, cleaning offices or selling liquorice drinks off Thawra Street in the Hamidiyeh neighborhood. They are indispensable to the economy because they do work that many are unwilling to do.

Yet, the Syrian population doesn’t see them in the media.

Only during Ramadan

Examining the local Syrian media provides little insight into the lives of the disenfranchised.

Dailies such as al-Thawra and Tishreen adhere to the “we’ll cover it when it’s the appropriate time of year” school of thought.

During Ramadan, Syrians do find out about liquorice drink seller. Smiling, laughing and focused on quenching the thirst of the faithful, the drinks seller is often thrown into feel-good pieces together with the smiling shoeshine boy.

We find no serious reports looking into these people’s needs or their way of life.

Other newspapers, such as the Communist Party-run al-Nour, covers certain aspects of the lives of the poor, but without depth and certainly without any critical voice directed towards the root causes of the poverty.

And media analysts are quick to point out that privately-owned newspapers such as al-Watan or Baladona also act as if there are no social or economic problems in Syria.

Looking at Syria’s magazine market, the reports are certainly more in depth. Being poor for publications like Abyad w Aswad, Majallat Juheina, al Azmina or al-Iqtisadi is equated with having few social or economic safety nets.

In this sense, there is one area where coverage of the poor exists, but aspects of this analysis rarely cast blame towards the presidential palace, and they distinguish themselves by simply opposing the language of the official media.

Turning to the electronic media, with websites such as Thara, Marsad Nisa’ Souriya and al-Jamal, the qualitative gap with the rest of the media is clear. This is due perhaps to the publishing freedom electronic media enjoys, or maybe because of the gravity with which they address issues of public interest and social awareness experienced by most Syrians.

Still, even in the electronic media the treatment of the poor mainly touches on domestic violence and its relation to poverty and unemployment.

TV drama to the rescue

Examining the TV stations, both local and satellite Syrian broadcasters avoid any programs dealing with the livelihood of the disenfranchised in their news or analysis, relying instead on ornamentation and state slogans about government steps to address their plight.

That is unless Syrian TV dramatic series are considered as credible news sources.

Ironically, Syrian TV drama series do manage to portray characters that are indeed deprived both socially and economically. As an example, writer Fouad Humeira’s popular series, Deer in a Forest of Wolves, which aired on Syria’s second channel two years ago, often cut away to poor people in their homes wrestling with their dreams and their hardship.

It is a trend that has been found in recent Syrian drama series through writers such as Dalah Al-Rahbi and Reem Hanna, both of whom have made the point that the poor deserve as much attention as the more economically well-off in Syrian society.

Syrian media expert Hala Al-Atasy told MENASSAT that the media landscape in Syria is like “an island isolated from its surroundings.”

“Syrian media cannot function individualistically. There is a need for comprehensive governmental planning to deal with issues of poverty,” al-Atasy said.

“Media is one major part of it. The government must have a clear overall vision, and must revise what it allows media to say. Allowing the media to address issues with honesty exposes the size of the problems and their negative impact on society.”

This is obviously something the Syrian government does not welcome with open arms.

Atasy also alluded to the fact that journalists rarely feel empowered to tell the stories of the poor because of the obvious implications for the societal problems that exist.

But by not covering the issues of poverty and the poor – largely because of a fear of painting a negative picture of Syria – the media also have a hand in the marginalization of this class of people.

July 20th, 2008, 4:32 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Karim

When democracy comes to Syria, would you like it to come to a country in shambles, or to a country with some infrastructure and reasonably strong middle class. What I have been reading here between the lines tells me that the middle class, which is the corner stone of liberal democracy, is being reestablished in Syria. This is good news, because it will make democratic reforms easier and smoother. My wishful thinking is that Bashar, and his advisors, when faced with the resistance to his earlier reforms from the “old guard” (Khaddam included), have decided to maneuver around that and to establish his power while at the same time, making things easier for poeple in Syria by improving the economic situation despite of the tremendous external stress on the regime and the country. If i would take a little aloof position, i have to say Kudos. But afterall, what do I know 🙂

July 20th, 2008, 4:41 am


Majhoool said:

Ok let’s practice simple arithmetic here.

14 million Syrians are poor or low income class, this includes

– 2 million individuals living by less than $2/aday:

– 2 million employees in the public sector. Supported family members will total 6 million.

– Working class in the private sector: let assume its equal in size: 2*3 million.

Upper middle class 6 million

2 million individuals supported by Merchants and business owners and a small number of employees in the private sector

Retirees or unemployed family members relying on gulf money/old money. (4 million)

Super rich (50, 000 max)

The problem I see is that upper middle class is not self-sustaining. I don’t see how you can build a modern state without an active role for this class.

July 20th, 2008, 5:01 am


Off the Wall said:


Good post. Thanks.

I understand that in Aleppo, the poor Khaldeyyeh section, which neighbors the affluent Shahba neighborhood, has established a cottage industry of serving their neighbors by preparing “mooneh”. is that True. It is both sad, and hopeful. Sad because it higlights the class divisions, but hopeful because it demonstrates the inudustrious nature of Syrian People.

Ignoring the issue of poverty is very shameful, the Syrian media is not the only Arab media doing that. My limited sources tell me that poverty is still an issue in Saudia Arabia or even in the UAE, especially among migrant workers in the latter. Personally i never believed that Charity will ever solve the poverty problem. And I happen to fully agree with the article that strong efforts by the government is most essential and needed. It is a shame when a family has to take their daughter or son out of school so that they can shine shoes or sell liquorish to earn these two dollars/day. Any constructive idea about how to do address the issue?

The problem is that if the government tries to establish a new jobs program, critics will argue that the government is building a fat and unhealthy bureaucracy. Here in the state, poverty problem, which is also significant, will never be solved as long as arch conservatives have any power because they do not want the pocket of the most wealthy hit by additional taxes to improve social welfare. In fact, they always want lower and lower taxes, particularly for the most wealthy.

Solving poverty problem is very illusive, it needs money, and money has to come from somewhere. It needs job creating program, and by raising taxes to do so, there is also the valid argument that small businesses, who create most of the jobs that can have significant impact on poverty will be unable to create these new jobs. In many cases it is as they say a catch 22.

July 20th, 2008, 5:12 am


Off the Wall said:


If the number you provided are right, and I am not stipulating that the aren’t, then I agree that upper middle class is not self sustaining. That is why I was asking about the creation of high paying jobs as opposed to service and tourism jobs.

July 20th, 2008, 5:15 am


Majhoool said:


What’s disturbing is that two thirds of the upper middle class is literally idle, inactive, and marginalized.

Merchant although important don’t grow economies. It’s going to be very difficult to convince experienced ex-expatriates and well-to-do educated Syrians to participate and have faith in a broken system they don’t trust. Those end up in the west or the gulf no matter how comfortable their living situation in Syria is. they want to pursuit their dreams of personal achievement and success.

Many of my friends are so frightened when it comes to living in Syria merely because they grew comfortable living in countries that respect rule of law. It’s an insurance many cannot live without anymore.

At a minimum you need to restore rule of law in order to re-engage them.

July 20th, 2008, 7:22 am


pamela said:

I think it would take more than a short visit to get a fuller picture. I presume Observer flew in through Damascus International Airport, I believe a new airport is being constructed ,inshalla.. at the moment the airport is an utter disgrace ,its filthy ,the immigration and custom officers are rude and unhelpful ,I recently had the misery of landing in the older part of the airport ,only one flight was being processed in this terminaland we were kept in line for more than an hour,I was travelling on a non syrian passport ,but have a residence visa ,and was required very rudely to buy a visa for50$ dispite protesting ,and was kept to the end of the queue , the customs officer was sitting holding a long cane that he kept banging on the table ….fal,aa for the passenger carrying contriband???
I,ve lived here for a while ,so I was used to these goings on ,but what about tourists,businessmen etc , I,m sure the reception at the airport would put anyone off for good..
I had flown in from Dubai where the airport experience couldn,t have been more pleasant . Even if the economy does catch up to other countries ,there has to be a change in the way Syria greets its visitors and citizens.
Syria deserves better !!!

July 20th, 2008, 10:58 am


Qifa Nabki said:


Walla I don’t know why As’ad is making that argument. Sheer terror maybe?

He’s basically worried that M14 is going to cut a deal with Hizbullah so as to ensure some kind of maintenance of the status quo. I have no idea. Obviously, the Hariri and Jumblatt patronage machines are still working fine, even if their security muscle proved to be no match for the Hizb. So maybe I’m wrong. But I forecast a win for the opposition, and maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. (As I said, I’d like the counter culture to become the dominant culture … that is very healthy in any society, within limits.)

Ammo Norman,

Yes, the board had a meeting, and we discussed *ahem* very serious issues… we will be making systematic changes, shake-ups in management, simultaneous downsizing and expansion, research and development, etc. etc.

Don’t worry, your shareholders’ dollars are in good hands.


July 20th, 2008, 11:24 am


idaf said:

Karim, you said:
-Photos of Nasrallah and flags of HA are as popular in the Christian neighborhoods as the Muslim ones.
“IDAF ,this is the classical hypocrisy ,most of the photos are printed by the iranians and the syrian mukhabarat….if some syrians are deluded by the propaganda of the regime and their friends in lebanon ,not all of them move like a sheep crowd.”

So what are you trying to prove Karim? That Hassan Nasrallah and Hizballah are not popular among ordinary Syrians and that all those expressing support to HA are hypocrites and mukhabarat agents?!

Karim… Tell that to the Sunni taxi driver who drove me from Bab Touma and enthusiastically told me about his Christian neighbor who had a baby boy the same day the prisoners exchange and Nasrallah’s speech took place in Lebanon few days ago. Guess what the Christian father named his new born son… “Hassan Nasrallah”. The taxi driver told me how he drove his neighbor from one government department to another to try to get approvals for such a combined first name “esem murakkab” (since a decade now, you’re not allowed anymore to register combined names in Syria).

Will you cut out the conspiracy theories already? HA popularity is as genuine in Syria as it is among Gulf Sunnis and Egyptian Christians.

Karim you also said:
“BTW Idaf ,these houses in our beloved Damascus should be restored by experts with respect of the convention …i’m very sad when i see these houses destroyed then rebuilt in an imaginary oriental style in order to be transformed in modern hotels”

FYI.. I stayed in one of these renovated houses and entered many of the renovation workshops in old Damascus. I had a long discussion with the owner of the charming 16th century renovated boutique hotel I stayed in (a surgeon who spent his life savings in renovating this old house). He said that only centuries-old techniques were used in the renovation. Most of the workshops are using manual old techniques. Some are making expansion using concrete (which is not good for the old buildings). However your baseless claim about “destroying old houses” is nonsense. It is not only illegal (with possibility of jail time for offenders), it is also simply impossible. Do you really think that any of these entangled old houses can be destroyed without destroying 3 more in the process?!

Karim, appreciate if you cut out your hyperbolic negative propaganda and stick to realistic criticism.

QN, Ehsani and Alex,
Too bad I missed the summit! If I knew about it I would’ve extended my stay! I expect a full report 😉

July 20th, 2008, 1:06 pm


Observer said:

The economy cannot be explained solely by internal factors. Outside investments are pouring in. The Emir of Qatar has invested in building resort houses for his family and friends. The Saudis have invested in hotels and in dairy farms, the olive oil business is doing well since the trees require little water and little maintenance.

One has to remember that there are 1 million working Syrians in the KSA alone. If each one sends an average of $ 5000 per year, you can have your calculator ready to see how money is coming through.

Still not all is perfect, just before I left Western Union in Syria accepts incoming transfers and refuses to transfer money out by “royal decree” from someone in the higher ups. No explanation.

A few more notes, the people on the street where I live collected money to clear it of all the left over garbage and did it in two days. This effort of collective thinking is also new as beforehand, agreement on the form and the size of the lighting system in the hallway of the building brought the tenants of our building to major disagreements.

The extreme individualism in combination with a total lack of civic duty is a major source of the dilapidation of many structures, but the revival of the religious feelings in combination with the ever looming threat of decrease in income is finally putting a dent in this vicious cycle. People are becoming activists in groups and in better collaboration. Finally, I agree with the post above that the restaurants are full, especially those that cater to Damascenes.

Hope to hear more impressions and observations from others visiting


July 20th, 2008, 1:13 pm


Karim said:

IDAF ,I know that you are also in the Gulf…in my opinion you must go back to Syria and for a long stay ,one or two years and then your observation would be more accurate …the problem is that you visit Syria as tourist and you are not concerned by the repercussions of the economical and human regime’s crimes.In fact Syria should be richer than the Gulf and this poverty is not normal at all.
As for the massacre of the historic urban fabrics,since 1970 they destroyed 30 % of old Aleppo and probably more in Damascus …as for Hama you all know what happened in the old city .
In the 90’s there was some improvment because of the inscription on the world heritage list by the UNESCO …but recently the tranformation of the old houses in hotels are more a deformity than a restoration …there are exceptions of course.

the french writer Degeorge who wrote several books on damascus and syria wrote this famous article in the 90’s :The Damascus massacre – effect of modernity on old buildings in Syria
he wrote:
In 1983, only a year after the oppression of the Hama Revolution and the methodical destruction of the old town along with its historic monuments by troops of the president’s brother, Rifa’at al-Asad, old Damascus found itself again subject to arbitrary expressions of power. Inflamed by the hatred that all tyranny – from Herod of Syracuse to Ceaucescu – always feels for the old and organic and the tyrant’s instinctive love of the new, rigid, straight and rectilinear, the authorities embarked on the ‘improvement’ works. With unaccustomed speed, without reference to UNESCO or to the Government Committee on the city, demolition contractors were unleashed. The citadel was cleared on three sides following the plan recommended by Ecochard. To best assure the safety of the officials coming to offer their prayers at the Umayyades Mosque, a wide opening was randomly bulldozed in the west rampart at the entrance to the mosque. Other ‘improvements’ were announced but public disapproval and protests from UNESCO were beginning to have an effect. The Department of Antiquities came out of its stupefaction and set out to rebuild and patch up the gaping holes in the damaged facade.

Besides the great sham of good intentions put forward by the State, the ‘restoration’ enterprises were incompetent, cheap and distorted by greed, amateurism and improvisation. None followed the appropriate guidelines. Everywhere there is defective masonry jointing, misuse of plastering, inappropriate materials and equipment, weakness of form, gaudy paintwork and kitsch ornament. Hammams, madrasas, mosques, tombs were spoiled: none of the precious patrimony of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was saved.
Most worrying remains the absence of all technical, architectural and archaeological study, even in basic form. The ‘calculations’ put forward for certain sections of masonry which would certainly have caused collapse, are regretfully unavailable. On the other hand, their chief designers openly admitted being inspired by an eighteenth-century drawing, by the Russian traveller Barsky, of a monument with griffons. Why then, stop at this mediocre sketch, and not restore the building to its former state before the fire of 1400 or better still to that of 1069?UNESCO which should have been consulted, and which would have been able to provide technical and financial help, was not even informed. The International Committee reported with great anxiety at the meeting of the Committee of World Heritage in Santa Fe in December 1992 on a simple letter received in November from a tourist ‘intrigued by the strangeness of works in progress’. The director of Syrian Antiquities who participated in the meeting put forward a ‘Committee of Academics and Architects’ who stood guarantee for the necessary works and their conformity to the appropriate regulations regarding design and craftsmanship.

In March 1993, the Minister of Culture, Najjah Attar, in a curt, dismissive letter, claimed with firmness that all the guarantees would be upheld, and Syria had no need of assistance. It prevents, unhappily, any of the restorations being effected to this day.

All proposed improvements should be evaluated by a group of architects specialising in historic monuments, to ascertain their worth. The committee should co-ordinate all initiatives from municipalities or different ministries. Failing which Damascus, this urban jewel, already very much disfigured, will soon become just shapeless blocks of stone without soul.

July 20th, 2008, 8:22 pm


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