It’s the Economy Stupid – Ehsani Comments

Anyone wanting to know why Syria has not signed the European free trade agreement (Association Agreement) that was finally OK’ed by the EU states recently need look no further than this article in Arabic هيئة تخطيط الدولة تفضح الدردري !!, written by Ali Aboud and reprinted by Ayman Abdelnour’s All4Syria. In English the title is “The State Planning Commision Exposes Dardari.”

Abdullah Dardari

Abdullah Dardari

Abdullah Dardari was the head of the State Planning Commission in 2005 and is responsible for writing the Tenth, Five-Year Plan. Dardari was kicked up stairs in 2006 and named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Economy, although he does not have authority over a ministry or even a commission.

Tayssir Raddawi was named to replace Dardari as Head of the State Planning commission. Raddawi, who is close to Finance Minister Hussein, has been the number one critic of the 10th five-year plan and never loses a chance to point out the failures of the plan and of the previous five-year plan. He has called it “not populist” because the people don’t understand it. Dardari has been a major promoter of free trade. His efforts took Syria from “socialism” to a “social market” economy. But the impact of liberalization has had many damaging effects on Syrians – in particular – lower income Syrians.

How much of this is due to Dardari’s short comings and bad planning and how much is the necessary pain of getting out from underneath the failure of socialism and incompetence of central planning? I don’t know. My sense is that Syria is due for a lot of economic pain in order to escape bad habits and past mistakes no mater who plans the transition. Dardari had a very small staff. He was fighting large ministries, which fought him every step of the way. He had few experts to help him. Those that were outspoken and gave honest, but impolitic, assessments of the true extent of Syria’s economic problems and the source of corruption were drive out by people other than Dardari. In short, Dardari has had one hand tied behind his back. All the same, Syria has no social network to catch those who are getting crushed by liberalization. But where should the money come from? Somebody deserves the blame – I am just not sure it is Dardari.

Here are some scary facts. The following is a translation of Raddawi’s critique of the liberalization process:

1- The environment for Investment is weak and productivity is low.
2- Low private sector participation, intense global competition and a major collapse in raw material prices.
3- The GDP growth rate that Syria has is unlikely to persist given the continued inconsistencies which have been identified prior to the economic plan.
4- General Low productivity and weak institutional and administrative reforms.
5- Low technology usage in production
6- Continued high unemployment especially for the youth
7- Income is still unfairly distributed between individuals and regions
8- What high economic growth has been witnessed needs a set of metrics to ensure that it continues in both the medium and long term
9- Dependence on foreign demand is difficult since Syrian exports have not improved in both 2006 and 2007
10- A rise in the SYP exchange rate by close to 10% has had a negative effect on exports
11- Falling both private and public investment by close to 12% is a negative sign and runs counter to the economic plan.
12- Worker productivity is still poor compared to other developing countries.
13- The ranks of the unemployed are expected to increase especially for the youth.
14- The economic indicators for manufacturing have fallen significantly because of older machinery, higher costs, lack of worker skills and idle production.
15- The absence of any regular evaluation by the industry ministry of existing policies and whether goals have been met.
16- The failure to earmark enough funding to expand public sector light manufacturing.
17- Public sector light manufacturing needs new investment in machinery and a faster response function from its management regardless whether this may bring inflation.
18- The failure of the relevant government agencies to conduct regular evaluation of both private and public sector entities to help identify shortfalls.
19- Economic planning must not be built on slogans and wishes but must be realistic.
20- The fall in investments in 2007 was due to the lack of clarity in law number 8
21- The private sector is still small or medium size and is still managed mostly by a family structure.
22- The improvement in tax collection ex oil does not reflect the principals of fairness judging by the falling direct tax revenues and the rising indirect tax receipts.
23- There is still a significant amount of tax evasion judging by the fact that the growth in nominal GDP was not matched by indirect tax revenues and as non-oil tax receipts don’t match the fall in taxes revenues from oil.
24- The above tax revenue deficit has had a negative impact on income distribution and reorienting the national economy.
25- Eliminating subsidies partially on some items has had a negative effect on living standards as prices rose.
26- The existence of a stock of foreign currency outside the banking system may add to economic pressures in the event it is exchanged into Syrian Pounds.
27- In spite of the existence of private banks, government owned banks continue to dominate when it comes to both loans and deposits.
28- Inflation has risen to 17.8% in the first half of 2008.
29- The current account is not stable due to the deterioration in the trade deficit.
30- Even though the ranks of those under the poverty line has dropped, there is still 12.2% below what is regarded as extreme poverty while 34.5% under the poverty line
31- There is still no law to facilitate rental financing even though this has been presented to the economic counsel.
32- Wages and salaries now make up 30% of total GDP in 2007 after falling from 32% in 2005. Real wage growth also fell from 9.9% in 2005 to 3.2% in 2005.
33- The implementation of the economic liberalization program has had a negative effect on income and spending due to a fall in real economic growth.
34- There is still no solution to the pollution of the water used for residential, industry or agriculture.
35- Per capita water availability is down to 747 m3 per year which is a level below the water poverty level of 1000 m3.
36- 8% of agricultural land has suffered degradation due to the environmental changes.
37- Land truly used for agriculture has fallen by 2.6% due to increased urbanization and water resources which has increased the risks of investing in agriculture.
38- The agriculture insurance laws is yet to be issued which has made it difficult to implement the past contracts between producers and marketing institutions to help regulate the market. The absence of private marketing concerns with deeper pockets has not helped in organizing the marketing either.
39- The volatility of raw materials has slowed down the implementation of investments in agriculture.
40- The failure of most tenders or managing them effectively to fit the feasibility studies of development projects.
41- Even though a number of laws have been passed, failure to implement them has resulted in deteriorating resources and encroachment on agricultural land.
42- Extended weakness in both private and public Tourism institutions.
43- Goals were unmet in air transport due to the low number of available aircrafts.
44- The unavailability of laws governing BOT type investments and the failure to allocate funding to the government owned entity in charge of highway and road construction.
45- The reluctance of the private sector to invest in high cost infrastructure projects has resulted in the lack of detectable improvement in the road and rail networks.
46- Nothing has been done about the identified inconsistencies in the economic plan.
47- Low investment spending has resulted in lower budget deficit but this made the level of investments inconsistent with the economic plan.
48- Revenues have fallen short for many reasons including the lack of a credible system that of taxation and the avoidance of tax evasion.
49- There is still no strategic plan to deal with the public debt in way that would balance the needs of the national economy as a whole.
50- The level of interest rates is still not conducive to increased investments.
51- Most of the policies that were crafted to deal with the economic crisis are yet to enter the implementation stage.

I asked Ehsani for his comments, which are posted below:

The 51 point-criticism of Dardari and the so-called economic reform plan is extraordinary in both depth and scope. The reformers are being blamed for everything from high raw material prices to low investments, productivity and economic growth that have left 34% of Syrians  (6.8 Million) living below the poverty line, which is 2$ a day. No punches were spared. Even the country’s exchange and interest rates were deemed too high for both exports and investments.

The tone behind the scathing attack is one that identifies with the suffering of the working class — poor workers and farmers — who have seemingly suffered the brunt of the recent economic reforms that are underway.

While few solutions are offered, it is clear that the author is calling for more public sector investment in both agriculture and light manufacturing coupled with more taxation of the rich through direct rather than indirect taxes.

While such solutions may appease  die-hard Baathists, they conveniently overlook the true causes of our economic malaise. Dardari’s liberalization process did not start us down this road. On the contrary, the long absence of liberal reforms brought us to this point. The Baath has been in charge of economic policy for over 40 years. Undoing the damage caused by extensive reliance on  subsidies amid a population explosion and persistently weak economic growth will not be easy.

Some would argue that the economic reformers ought to have provided a wider safety net as they embarked on their program. That criticism fails to explain from where the funding of that safety net would come. The country’s coffers are under severe pressure. One of the criticisms that I have been sympathetic to has to do with taxation distribution. Syria’s very wealthy do not pay their share of taxes. Most boast of their ability to evade taxes and wonder why they should pay any tax given the lack of services. This is a classic chicken and egg problem. Services are weak because tax receipts are low and tax payers don’t want to pay since they receive no services.

In the opinion of this writer, Syria’s problem is not that the reforms have been too fast but rather too little too late. A massive culture of dependency on the state has grown up in Syria; it is so pervasive that average Syrians have come to regard subsidies and government jobs as their right.

Syria’s economic challenges are likely to be enormous. The 51-point document must serve as the best illustration of that. Solutions like increased investment in the public sector caused the problem in the first place; they will not solve it.  Similarly, solutions relating to increased investment in agriculture conveniently overlook the fact that Syria suffers from a severe shortage of water resources. Less dependence on agriculture that heavily depends on water and not more must be the answer.

It is time for bold leadership in economic matters. There are no easy solutions, given the daunting set of issues the country faces. Arguing and bickering between the reformers and the hawkish Baathists merely delay finding a credible set of solutions that have been in short supply thus far.

Comments (74)

Doc said:

No way will the inevitable transition be easy if two groups are pulling in different directions. That doesn’t mean that one can not be smart about it, the transition that is. However, playing catch up with the rest of the world, seeing how retarded ecnomically this country is, will not always be smooth. Although an irrelevant analogy, it reminds me of a WWII thinking, back in 1943, “darkness before the dawn”.

I don’t give much for the 51 point critique. Most of them and more would fit on a similar list of a planned economy, like Syria.

October 30th, 2009, 12:26 pm


Observer said:

The problems are enormous in many countries and Syria is not immune. There is some relief from a centralized economy in one sense only: protection from the nasty effects of globalization. The West with its crusade of globalization in the last 30 years has reaped huge problems as well. The outsourcing of jobs, the growth of the financial sector at the expense of a real economy, the growth of trade within multinational that does not translate into real growth, the stealth taxes on the poor whether it is official gambling or fees for recreation, the growth in monetary trade, that shifts currencies without creating wealth, the imposition of IMF and WB, and WTO standards on fragile economies, the mantra that the economic forces will shape the new generation of man, and the concept of the nation-state as an impedement to economic progress. All of the above has resulted in the creation of failed states, in the increase in income disparity, in the privatization of essential aspects of an economy like the attempt to bottle the water of the rivers in India and sell it to the poor. The economic model that Ehsani talks about is systemically flawed and the problem is that many new economists have become religious fanatics when it comes to this new creed that shrinks man to the level of an economic unit of consumption.

The neo-liberal form of economics is not compatible with life on earth for the earth would have to sustain the needs of 72 billion people if they all were to aim to live like the 700 million citizens of the West. Consumption of water, energy, space, timber, steel, rare metals and so on and so forth is not possible. There will be a backlash, hard and bloody, and the best example of that is the return of negative narrow xenophobic nationalism with its harbinger in the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and Yougoslavia and its first evidence of growth in the right wing political parties in Holland that most tolerant of nations and in other parts of Europe.

Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, and Lebanon are all failed states from their outset being artificial creations aping some Western concept of a nation state that never took hold in the minds of people. As I said before the only true nation states are Turkey, Iran, and Egypt and the later has been completely marginalized by the Mubarak family rule into a fiefdom of banquets and lunchs and ceremonies of no consequence.

No wonder the void that the US is leaving behind in the region is being filled by the only real actors Turkey and Iran.

Once again, I said it before, the regime in all of those countries has to be uprooted from the tip of the roogs all the way through. This does not mean revolution or violence but real and definitive uprooting of these “dynastic family farms”.

October 30th, 2009, 2:59 pm


EHSANI2 said:

“The economic model that Ehsani talks about is systemically flawed ”

Please be more specific and explain what MY flawed economic model is exactly. More importantly, please explain YOUR economic prescription for a country like Syria as you highlight the flaws in mine.

October 30th, 2009, 3:07 pm


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

None of these problems are found in the island nation of Mauritius. See what Socialist model they were under, what econo-political plan they executed a decade ago and copy it.

Syria may not be a lost cause, but that is a long hopeful shot statement, because wave 2 of the global economic downturn will be coming in the middle of 2010 and in wave 3 hell will broken loose, this final collapse will start in 2012 and will last for seven years coupled with severe global warming period in those years caused by the rare cyclical aliment of planets. Worldwide draught and famine, for the first time in history (under Baathists) would hit Syria peasants and poor hard just as in starvation areas of Africa. No outside help is expected, The U.N. is being prepared to tackle the global situation, even police it, but it was not, and will not be funded. Arabs and Iran could not help either because all nations will be struggling financially and agriculturally to feed own people first. If you to study Israel investments abroad, practically taken over Poland, Hungry rich soil areas and Manhattan Real Estate, if you to read all the United States, executive orders and emergency laws hurriedly passed by congress in the past 3 years on this subject, if you to look into all the laws and powers handed out to the United Nations without much fanfares, you may get a clue of things to come.

October 30th, 2009, 4:12 pm


Murhaf Jouejati said:

Ehsani is on point in his critique of Dardari’s critics. The problems and the challenges facing the Syrian economy are not of Dardari’s making: They are structural. In fact, I humbly am of the view that Dardari’s liberal aproach may be the best thing that happened to the Syrian economy in a long, long time.

October 30th, 2009, 5:45 pm


jad said:

Dear Ehsani,
Very good analyzing as usual,
In your last paragraph you wrote:

“Similarly, solutions relating to increased investment in agriculture conveniently overlook the fact that Syria suffers from a severe shortage of water resources. Less dependence on agriculture that heavily depends on water and not more must be the answer.”

1- I know that Syria has the water needed but it doesn’t have the right management of that amount of water and how it should distribute it and protect it, or how we can force 75% of our farmers to change their old bad watering habits to the most efficient watering system without polluting and destroying the soil by using black water, for me those who does that are criminals.

2- some theories about the climate changing and the problem of drought in Syria might be used instead of cursing it, the pattern is changing not the amount of water we are getting, so instead of the farmers insist on planting in November or whenever their grandparents used to plant they can do the seeding and planting in Jan or march and get the same results. Science is our friend we need to use it and be smart about it.

3- In the middle of all this reform process we have a major problem that we lost one of Syria’s main strength of being an agricultural country and we concentrate on changing the economy system into services not even industrial, and forgetting to update our agricultural strength, in my humble opinion the Soil/Earth is the origin of wealth.

4- The food growing today is the most important issue in the world and there are many communities in the most developed country in the world are changing their neighborhood and use their infrastructure to support local producing urban farms, we can do that if we think (unfortunately we have the stupid culture of rural and urban mentality that we need to get out of to become better)

I agree on the world wide hunger and starvation, it has been happening for long time now and it is hitting Syria already.
I agree on the global warming and that we already hit the threshold that whatever we do now or tomorrow won’t change a thing. We are going into the solar era.
I also agree that Arabs and Iran won’t have enough money to help anybody even themselves, but if they become smart for one second they can do better ONLY for themselves
(from what I read and know, I say, they are not going to).

October 30th, 2009, 5:54 pm


Steve said:

One factor that neither Riddawi nor the Dardari-critique address is corruption. This is a HUGE obstacle to either the successful application of free market economics OR, should there be the contrary desire, to a successful socialist model.

Take for example Riddawi’s tax dilemma. Yes, it is a chicken and egg situation, but many wealthy Syrians i spoke to on a recent trip argued their objection to paying taxes was not a aversion to contributing to society, but a genuine mistrust that their taxes would be spent on anything but lining officials’ pockets.

October 30th, 2009, 6:04 pm


Badr said:

Anyone wanting to know why Syria has not signed the European free trade agreement (Association Agreement) that was finally OK’ed by the EU states…

Are you telling us that there are no political strings attached to this agreement?

October 30th, 2009, 7:14 pm


Observer2 said:

The simple thing that everyone is ignoring is that Syria is not the first country to implement neo-liberal economic reforms and the results of these reforms have been in most countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, with only few exceptions have been disastrous. And every time neo-liberals were faced with the bleak outcome of their policies, they used the exact sentence the writer used “Syria’s problem is not that the reforms have been too fast but rather too little too late”. Neo-liberals are usually considered to be good in media and in the invention of new catchphrases. I wonder where they got this reputation from!!!

October 30th, 2009, 8:34 pm


Yavuz said:

So, in a nutshell, why did Syria not sign the agreement ? Can somebody please summarize as I can’t get hold of it from the article.

October 30th, 2009, 8:35 pm


Observer2 said:

Just a correction. The results have been disastrous. The word is missing

October 30th, 2009, 8:36 pm


Observer said:

It is not your personal economic model, but the model of free unregulated trade to make maximum profit in the shortest period of time without regard to human and environmental consequences. There is a mantra that was promoted best by Greenspan that markets know best and that charity can support society. Bush the first proclaimed this with his 1000 points of light and Reagan championed free market without regulation. Nothing personnel. My point is that the current model is not working. Socialism failed miserably but free market deregulation failed miserably as well.

My solution to the problems of Syria are
1. Stop the state of emergency
2. Develop an independent judiciary
As an investor I would not risk my money in any country that has a state of emergency and a subservient judiciary. I cannot trust to have my chickens be in a coop guarded by a fox.

October 30th, 2009, 10:23 pm


Ford Prefect said:

An excellent analysis, indeed, by the one and only Ehasani (hey, it even rhymes!)

I know where Ehsani’s heart is. He wants Syria to propel into the modern world with the right economic policies at the right time and by the right people. In fact, we all do in our own ways.

But a critical fact remains: whether it is Dardari, Riddawy, or Paul Krugman working to revive the Syrian economy and bring it to the 21st Century, we must realize it is one heck of a tough job.

Years of misguided policies, implemented by incompetent, if not ignorant, politicians have taken its toll on this beautiful country. It is not easy to steer a system of nepotism, favoritism, and egoism into a liberal market-economy – no matter how many bold 10-year plans are hatched and implemented by forward-looking people.

Observer, in his analysis above, is presenting an elegant two points solution. Stop the state of emergency and develop an independent judiciary. I beg to differ, though I am fully on board with his assessment of the negative and harmful effects of globalization. I even argue further that it is globalization, specifically, that is slowing the pace of modernity in Syria. But that is a subject for a future discussion.

I differ with Observer’s two-point solution for the following reasons:

1. The state of emergency is in fact a charade. It is irrelevant in an authoritarian political environment. A state of emergency is only relevant when prior to imposing it, there exited an environment of political liberalism. Removing the state of emergency law does not by default result in a liberal society in as much as removing Saddam resulted in democracy in Iraq.

2. Develop an independent judiciary. Amen to that. Just about how would a nation begin to develop an independent judiciary? I argue that an independent judiciary is NOT developed; rather it is an artifact of a politically and economically liberal society. There exists no recipe in today’s modern world for developing an independent judiciary in isolation of the all attributes that lead to a liberal society.

Though the progress that we all envision for Syria is not as fast as we’d like it to be, nevertheless, it is happening. Let’s not forget the existential threats that Syria is facing today starting with its work-in-progress identity as a nation-state to its serious state of war, countless vultures at its doors, all in a dysfunctional Middle East region.

The Dardari vs. Riddawy exchange is a step in the right direction. During my days in 1970s Syria, such an exchange was a dream.

October 30th, 2009, 11:26 pm



I read the 51 points, observations, scary facts, whatever,… critique of the liberalization process that Dr. Raddawi’s report is made up of. He obviously has an opinion if not an agenda.
If an important body such as The State Planning Commission submits a report, I would expect it to be analytical, showing cause and effect and suggested corrections in each of the problem areas and sectors of the economy.
To use some numbers and make some statements, in order to support an agenda is unacceptable and unprofessional.
I would like for the State Planning Commission to show for example, say, under the old system, when AFTOMACHINE was responsible for the importation of vehicules, machinary and parts, be it cars, trucks, tires, etc. the consumer was better served and the economy/society was better off. My observation is that the private sector was allowed to participate after deregulating this sector to a certain extent, and now that sector is thriving by providing choices of cars in size, price and use. There are a lot more people involved and employed in that sector, than the handful AFTOMACHINE employees. I dare to guess that corruption was more tempting when competition was limited. The price of cars and machines was higher with very limited availability. I am sure that tax revenues are higher with the shear number of transactions in todays sector, than under AFTOMACHINE. I assume that some parts are being made localy, such as, rubber parts (gaskets and O rings), filter elements, plastic parts, body parts, wire harnesses, batteries, etc.
Now if Dr. Raddawi and his team of experts can show us where Dr. Dardari and his reforms went wrong in each case, and give us the alternative in a case by case in every sector, then maybe a return to a socialist rigidly managed economy is what Syria needs. Otherwise I am speculating that growing pains and painful adjustments come with change to an open and bigger economy, and yes we need to allow and expect mistakes, that is the price of progress.

October 31st, 2009, 12:59 am


norman said:

Ford Prefect,

you and Ehsani are right on all accounts , I think that the legal system in Syria can improve by using it , i was very happy when one of the opposition was released after he appealed his conviction , using the legal system and having courageous Judges is the only way ,

About the rich Syrians not wanting to pay taxes because they do not get services , That is laughable for me , We pay taxes in the US and what we get for that , free education to high school , only in public schools ,that is the same as Syria , no free collage education which is provided free in Syria , no free health care in the US , which is provided in Syria without even questions asked about ability to pay ,safety in the street in the US , probably better in Syria , women can walk the street at night in Syria and children still play outside , we can not say that about the US , in the US we pay about 50% of our income in taxes and what do get for that , good military and a government who will go to war for us if we are killed or kidnapped out of the country but do not give a Daaa, if something happen to us on the street of New York.
i think the rich in Syria do not know how good they have it ,
3 tier taxes, will be appropriate in Syria , Income tax of about 15% on income above 180,000.00 SP which will save most employees , establish an estimated income tax for the self employed which has to be certified by an accountant and paid every 3 months , doing that will make it difficult to cheat the tax man ,second a sale tax of about 2 % which will make it easier to collect taxes with exemption for food medicine and cloths , the third one is fees like building permits and other fees like car registration , higher taxes on Gasoline as most people who have cars can afford it .
I have a question to ask , if Syria has 34% unemployment , can somebody explain to me why we are importing Philippians to serve in Syria ,

I believe Dardary is on the right track to reform the Syrian economy , he needs more time and free hand ,

by the way Ehsani , why doesn’t Syria do what china does and control the Syrian Pound exchange to the Dollar ?.

October 31st, 2009, 1:37 am


majedkhaldoun said:

All of the above discussions are reasonable
Jad said soil is the original of wealth, it should be corrected and say” soil is one of the origines of wealth”.creating jobs is the origin of wealth,be it soil,education,trade, services,industry etc.
I Disagree with Ford perfect,You can not have independent and free judiciary without removing the state of emergency,and freedom of speech and freedom of press.
As for Steve,Corruption is rampant, but it is a shaddow of Authoritanism.It indicates sickness in the society.
We all know what is needed, and things will build up to a correction.

October 31st, 2009, 1:55 am


Off the Wall said:

First of all, again thank you Ehsani for yet one more sober analysis. It is possible that both Dardari and his opponents (the conservatives) are trying to avoid driving the country through IMF style shock therapy, which has proven fatal for several African countries and have resulted in a redistribution of wealth that will take long time to overcome. Observer has written a very keen comment on the problem of the stagnation in creating wealth. With the exception of China and perhaps a couple of South American countries, the past 25 years (Starting with Reagan and Thatcher) witnessed more creation of fortunes than of wealth.

I will lend cautious support to Ehsani in the area I am familiar with. I do agree that investment in expanding irrigated agriculture is rather risky given the uncertainties facing the water resources in Syria. But I happen to believe that there is a major need for investment in agricultural efficiency as Jad keeps hammering. That said, the only reason for anyone to invest in that would be a limitation imposed, through a national water resources plan (not 5 years, but 25 to 50 years) plan, which starts by gradual reduction in agricultural water subsidy for the first 10 years, leading to realistic pricing of water including probably taxes on ground water wells and enforcement of a well registry and monitoring program. Some irrigation districts in the US and elsewhere use satellite and areal imagery to monitor the health of vegetation, and occasionally, to recognize irrigation violation. I think it can be done with readily available (free) satellite data, but only for larger fields. But this is not the situation is Syria, where field are characterized by being small.

There will be a need to invest some money in reclaiming productive rain fed lands that were devastated by the recent drought, but such reclamation can only be done after a thorough analysis of precipitation records and drought cycles to determine the probable dry/wet frequency so that investors can know the risk of similar droughts (very much like when you buy flood insurance if your house is in a flood prone area). Increasing reliance on drought resistant crops such as those being developed by ICARDA is a must, and developing a sustainable mixed local and regional economy base in the northeast is also important to avoid the repetition of drought migration. Focus must also be geared towards improving productivity and efficiency of good lands. And i mean efficiency in terms of reducing wasted water and using recycled water (Truly recycled).
Now back to the 51 points. First, there is a great deal of redundancy in the points. They can probably be reduced to no more than 25 points. Second, if there is anything these points and the ongoing saga point to, it would be an increasing political life in Syria. Even within the Baath party, we are seeing distinct currents, each with its own economic outlook and approach, and each with its own constituency among the Syrian people. As Ford Prefect elegantly recognized, such discussion was unheard of in the 70s. An ideal system would be a plural system where the ideas are presented to the people with no side claiming to represent the majority of the country except through the Ballot box. I believe that given the opportunity, a majority of Syrians may initially side with the hardliners but only for one or two election cycles. The question is, can the country afford that.

While I agree with Ford Prefect in recognizing that lifting the emergency law does not necessarily lead to democracy, i beg to differ by pointing out that It will improve the odds for more transparency and prevent the security bureaucracy from strengthening the conservatives hand.

The policies of the Baath party over the past 40 years have been populist policies not socialist nor capitalist. This is natural in an agrarian economy that has only light industrial basis. The survival of the conservatives depends on the horizontal expansion of the two economic bases. The outlook is scary, but the debate, nonetheless, is starting for the future of Syria.

I agree with Jad that Syria must retain its agricultural basis and avoid sliding into service economy mode. But developing heavy industrial basis is a must. I am uncomfortable with current investment trends in Syria. Tourism is a most uncertain sector, and we should be careful parsing out Syria’s most beautiful areas for foreign eyes and deep pockets only. A national park legislation or decree is needed now more than ever to protect some of the remaining magical areas for all to see, Syrians and visitors of Syria alike.

October 31st, 2009, 6:52 am


norman said:


I think the personal use of water in Syria is probably on the low side in the region ,

Syria will do better if the government gets out of the way , and yes most investments in Syria is in tourism , that will change when they find that tourism is overused , they have to see for themselves ,

so how many restaurants can Syria have .

October 31st, 2009, 12:45 pm


trustquest said:

Ehsani, it seems Halloween is around the corner, Jad, OTW great contribution complete agreement, but I think the argument inside the government between the planners is not only indication of the new era and open window for criticism, it is meant also to send indirect message to the big planner (president) who actually the responsible party for the current mess.
The tell- tale heart from the exchange is that he has failed and we all know why. For example the government in Syria is biting its tongue seeing 8 billion SP going to private company like Syriatel, just because family laundry of stolen billions has to work over any concern, after all it is better than the one kept in hiding, difficult catch 22. The 51 points are exactly like the voices of the dissents that end up in prison, it is not going to be too long before people will realize this cry. The stake in the heart for this dilemma is Mr. President be strong like Putin or someone else will think of this job, it is critical and you have to use your potion and get rid, stop, expropriate those barons who already harmed the economy and will continue to do so, tough choice. He needs to make friends from wider segment of the society and respect the civil society. Nothing is working is the national theme and baddies override the goodies and answers have been given over and over again, the question is, when people will see some act?.
Please accept my apology for my strong wordings, but it is the pumpkin season of shocking.

October 31st, 2009, 3:31 pm


Off the Wall said:

In my previous post when I was talking about improving efficiency, that also requires the enactment of legislations to regulate the use of pesticide and fertilizers. I heard that there are some regulations regarding that in Syria, which makes further improvement possible.

Yse it is, the individual’s use of water is not as significant (Per/Capita use) but that reflect dry conditions not conservation. Yet, one water melon continues to consume much more water in Syria than one you purchase, say in Jordan.

October 31st, 2009, 5:08 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The problems are huge, but there are solutions.
All of the proposed solutions share the same feature: It’s going to be painful and extremely unpopular.

The question that should be asked, is whether a theocratic regime is
able to take this kind of risk.

October 31st, 2009, 6:21 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Sorry… ‘Theocratic’ is premature prophesying.. ‘Autocratic’ it should be.

October 31st, 2009, 6:35 pm


Akbar Palace said:

All of the proposed solutions share the same feature: It’s going to be painful and extremely unpopular.


I may be older than you, but I’ve been hearing this for the past 30 years.

Is patience really just a virtue, or could it be something else like complacency or, more likely, fear?

October 31st, 2009, 7:30 pm


Alex said:

Excellent discussion Ehsani and all.

All I can add at this point is

The state of Syria’s agriculture in general in not as bad as some portray it. There are many success stories … Over the past few years Syrian farmers managed to produce enough to make Syria one of the world’s largest producers of Olives and Olive oil, pistachios and almonds, as well as being one of the leading Mediterranean nations in citrus fruits and grapes production.

Because many of these crops do not consume much water in comparison to Syria’s other traditional product, cotton, farmers have been encouraged to invest in them. In addition, they can be planted in rocky or mountainous terrain which is often the case in western and northern parts of Syria.

On the other hand, both grain and cotton are produced extensively in the north eastern parts of Syria, a large area of which has been most adversely affected by drought and the drying up of the Khabour river. It should be noted that the extreme north east tip of Syria has always enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, sufficient rain water for its grain production which, this year, allowed the production of some 850,000 tons of wheat in Jazeereh despite the drought.

The net effect has been a considerable reduction of two major agricultural exports, namely cotton and wheat which have serious economic and strategic (in the case of wheat) effect.

Unless some new sources of water can be obtained from the Tigris river to partially compensate for the loss of Khabour’s water flow it is inevitable that cotton planting should be limited in the area to save underground water for more pressing needs and for agricultural crops that require less water. Again, use of more modern irrigation methods should be planned, financially supported and even enforced.

One of the major reasons for drying up of the Khabour river which originated from springs near the Turkish border (inside Syria) has been due to the extensive use of the water table feeding its springs in Turkey through a huge number of wells. This would be a valid reason for Syria to ask for Turkish cooperation in obtaining a share of the Tigris river’s water flow to feed the areas along the Khabour valley, including the city of Hassake.

Unlike the case with the Euphrates, Turkey did not set up as many irrigation projects that tax the Tigris river’s supply.

Before substantial water can be drawn from the Tigris to the Khabour valley, a major canalization project costing hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed. This apparently has not yet found the required funding sources. One would assume that the situation might change with a relaxation of the political tension in the Middle East.

October 31st, 2009, 8:46 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dear Murhaf:

It feels good to hear that you think I am on “point” when it comes to supporting the reformers.

Of course lifting the state of emergency and developing an independent judiciary would be welcome. Indeed, anything that encourages foreign and domestic investments would be helpful. But, this two-prone solution is not nearly enough.

The solution to Syria’s economic challenges can be summed up with three words:

Rapid Economic Growth

In early 1992, weeks after the collapse of the Soviet Union, China’s leadership under Xiaoping Deng toured his country’s south to promote a strategy of rapid economic change, coupled with tight political control. The foresight of Deng was noteworthy. China’s ruling communists, who had bloodily suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, were wary of the revolutions sweeping Eastern Europe. The party’s leader’s first reaction was to freeze economic and political change. Deng of course had other ideas. China’s autocracy was able to survive because it was to develop a capitalist economy while keeping a one-party rule. Double digit economic growth can indeed do wonders.

That rapid economic growth ought to be Syria’s goal may be hard to argue with. How to achieve this goal though is another matter.

China’s answer of course was to rely on a flourishing export sector. Most developing nations start with weak domestic purchasing power. Only by tapping on wealthier international consumers, do they start adding significantly to their gross domestic income. Over time, the accumulated reserves and higher output lifts the income of domestic consumers too. This allows the country to start relying on domestic consumption in addition to exports.

In the case of Syria, such a strategy needs investments in infrastructure, energy, a more competitive currency that allows local producers to compete regionally if not internationally. Tax and other financial incentives for exporters must also be part of this strategy. There is no doubt that Syria is already late for this party. Regional competitors have already started down this path years ago. Turkey is a case in point. The late Turgot Ozal started his economic reforms at the time also by incentivizing exporters while keeping the country’s currency competitive.

Syria’s reformers must continue to push ahead. Left-leaning opposition do not have the solutions. They are the ones who have slowed if not halted the country’s progress for 40 decades. It is time that bow out and allow a true economic reform to take place. The process will not pretty. You cannot embrace a failing policy for 40 years and not expect to pay the price. But, just because the process is going to be painful, it does not mean that the country must waver and have second thoughts about the direction. If anything, the reforms have been too little too late. The only way to catch up is to take them into higher gear and not lower. Privatization must be on the agenda next. The state sector will not turn around regardless of how many promises you hear. It is time for conviction and bold leadership.

October 31st, 2009, 8:56 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


The comparison with China is indeed inevitable, and I cannot agree with
you more than I already do.


I did not fully understand what you meant…


EHSANI suggested rightly, that “a Rapid Economic Growth” is needed.
You don’t achieve this with traditional and “more of the same” agricultural
If you want to grow rapidly, you need radical change in traditional
habits and methods. You need agricultural Hi-tech.
Last year I visited Berlin, and was amazed when I went into a local
supermarket. There I did find this ‘Carmel’ brand of products, that
sells for relatively high prices. This Israeli brand you don’t find
in local Israeli supermarkets; it’s exclusively for exports !
Take a look:

It’s so sad that just 70 km south of Damascus, there’s the know-how,
the technology, the capital to invest, the solutions and (I believe)
the will, but the Syrian leadership is preoccupied with it’s outdated

October 31st, 2009, 10:23 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Tel Aviv Amir who owns Carmel Agrexco? It had been a state owned company for over 50 years selling the products of socialist collectives. Hardly a good free market example for Baathists. 🙂

Carmel Agrexco is the biggest agricultural exporter from occupied territories. Fruits and flowers grown on stolen land using stolen water and picked by South East Asian and Palestinian “slave” labour. High tech indeed.

October 31st, 2009, 10:51 pm


jad said:

Your comment is so funny 🙂 but you forget to write about “there’s the know-how, the technology, the capital to invest, the solutions and (I believe) the will” in short HEAVEN…Indeed, the Prince’s tent is so perfect in everything.

October 31st, 2009, 11:12 pm


Observer said:

Ehsani I agree with the Chinese model. It is exactly what the US did to become a world power in the 19th century protecting its economic activity with tariffs and insuring that its currency is not subject to manipulation. I would say Malaysia led the way when it removed its currency from being pegged to the dollar and prohibited the flight of capital. Syria need to have a protection of its domestic economic activity. I would add to the two other imperatives a major effort in technical education. Finally, the private sector needs to be liberated from the parasitic state apparatus that is sucking its blood dry.

November 1st, 2009, 3:21 am


Ford Prefect said:

Yes, indeed, the rich have a great life in Syria. But so they do everywhere else, in relative terms, don’t they?

Taxes in Syria are easier said than done. The government, if it can ever successfully impose and collect taxes on a progressive scale, might quickly rethink its strategy and regret having such a system in the first place. Taxes are the template for a nice government obituary. Taxes and authoritarianism are two mutually exclusive systems.

A progressive taxing system is an attribute of a liberal democracy. We all know what happened to kings and rulers who imposed heavy taxes without providing a transparent and accountable democracy. One or the other will survive, but not both.

In the spectrum of political systems today, we see theological authoritarianism represented by family-owned and run countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Wahhabia (KSW), at one end of the spectrum. On the other end, liberal democracies exist in the garden varieties of Sweden and the USA, for example. In between, most countries are progressing in the direction of the liberal democracy end. It is that end that humans aspire to reach – it is just an inevitable fact of life.

From what I am reading and what Ehsani has described above, Syria seems to be progressing forward and for good reasons. Lest not forget that many, many countries are stuck in a perpetual oscillation of zero sum gains. So, relatively speaking, evidence exists of Syrian progress since 2000.

I don’t think we will see any progressive taxing system in Syria until a viable and well-educated middle class have organically grown and flourished in Syria. One can expect a liberal society to be born at about the $6,000 per capita income. Progressive taxes will then be a natural second.

Meanwhile, we will just have to stay tuned.

November 1st, 2009, 5:13 am


Ahmad said:

The main obstacle to transform the economy is the the negligence of Syrian human resources and the administrative reform . whatever the goals of any reforms , the lack of capable administration and enough experts and technocrats -who are well paid – will always stop any ambitious reforms. the 10th plan major problem that it was not concentrated on Syrian human resources , every one knows that Syrians are smart , hardworking and easy going but Dardari failed to build on Syrians.. examples …The INA or or the institute of public administrations ,Systems of scholarships in the government, training missions overseas all entail in a lot of money but zero scientific benefits, the system of registration of unemployed Syrians and nomination by ministry of labor ,
there is a great deficit in preparing a comprehensive plan to transform the Syrian youth into
1-skilled well trained experts, engineers, scientists ,economists, accountants and lawyers..etc…
2-smart and capable entrepreneurs…
The President in many speeches talked about the weakness of administration and management in Syria and Dardari failed to transform this in real plans, no wonder his plans will fail , it is prepared by the same administration apparatus which weakened the economy ,what do you expect from the Syrian bureaucracy ,they will produce no reform only small changes that lobbyists push for or things to benefit them
If Radawi is Serious he should prepare a comprehensive plan to transform our Syrian personnel but I doubt he will because this does not seem to be the government priority even if the president talked about it , I am worried that the president is suffering from the same obstacles that Jamal Abd al Naser in Egypt suffered were people around him did not really believed in his dreams ….

November 1st, 2009, 5:24 am


Akbar Palace said:

It had been a state owned company for over 50 years selling the products of socialist collectives.


cc: Sim

You’ll have to excuse Sim. His hate for the evil State of Israel knows no bounds.

We can see this when he accuses Israel of the same crimes that he accepts from other countries and states.

This time Sim take issue with “social collectives”. It doesn’t matter that his motherland, Finland, is one of the biggest socialist states in the world. Although I prefer the free-market model where the government owns no business at all, I realize that many states, including Israel, still prefer a “nanny state”. So I guess what other countries and their people want isn’t my business. Perhaps Sim needs to be reminded that people have the freedom to join a collective and the freedom to leave a collective.

Then there is the usual invective Sim likes to interject after reading the terrible reports from the BBC and al-Jazeera…

Sim is haunted (happy halloween) by the terrible grip the Zionists have over his daily routine.


Here’s a surprise, the PA is now pointing a finger at the US…

November 1st, 2009, 2:56 pm


Off the Wall said:

I fully agree that the incredible increase in “dryland” crops such as pistachios and almonds are fantastic and present a solid model for “smart agriculture”. In addition, i am fond of “google earth” tourism, and every time i surf over Syria, I am struck by the huge number of green houses that have been established, particularly in the narrow coastal range in the fertile valleys. All are wonderful steps forward and signify increasing investment in agriculture. Cotton, on the other hand, is a colonial legacy, water monster crop but more so in Egypt and India than in Syria. I understand that Syria is moving towards producing cotton mainly for local industries and focusing on exporting processed cotton more than on exporting raw cotton, which is a step in the right direction. But further improvement requires the adoption and adherence to international textiles standards and a level of competitiveness both private and public cotton manufacturing sectors are yet to implement, the sad fact is that only foreign competition inside Syria will force Syrian industries into a competitive mode when they can no longer take the local market for granted. Yet, the only reason cotton is a strategic crop is the fact that light industries continue to dominate Syria’s industrial landscape. One promising industry in Syria is pharmaceuticals. With proper investment in that industry instead of real-estate and fancy hotels, Syria can become a major competitor in this important market. The product line must expand and R&D divisions must be supported both in private and public sectors.

Riddawi, regardless of motivation, also identified a very important issue which I am sure was also on Dardari’s radar. And that is the prevalence of family model of running business. Such model may work well for small to medium size businesses, but unless it expands to share holding models with professional management style, family businesses are limited in both vertical and horizontal growth options. This requires major social reforms that must work hand-in-hand with economic reforms.

Finally, I am always cautious about the free market and monetarian model as the only viable model to lift developing countries’ economies. Despite of what Milton Friedman and the Chilean Chicago Boys have argued, the economic measures adopted in the so called Chilean Miracle (1973-1982) resulted in actual 14% actual drop in salaries between 1970 and 1983, signifying, in addition to staggering inflation, a huge re-distribution of wealth from lower-and middle income bracket to the rich and by 1996, the average income of the top 5% exceeded 100 times the average income of the entire country. Is this the model we want for Syria? I beg to say, we need another model. That said, Chile is now the 8th most-free economy in the world by the not-so neutral Heritage foundation standards. One must point that in the index used by the heritage foundation, the presence of strong labor protection laws and unions is considered an impediment to economic freedom, hence comes the lower ranking of most of western Europe in comparison with the US and Australia. Another impediment to Friedman’s Randian economy, is the presence of centralized planning. Can anyone of us imagine addressing Syria’s economic future without some sort of centralized planning, especially considering the risk aversion mentality of private capital in Syria (see point 26, stock of foreign currency outside the banking system)

November 1st, 2009, 7:13 pm


norman said:

F P ,

With the improvement of the Syrian economy , the rich will become richer and the poor will become poor and without some kind of wealth redistribution Syria is heading for a revolution , the rich of Syria should be sold on taxes as the only way to have a safety net that will save Syria from the leftest and of the people who want to take back Syria to central rigid planing that she had ,

establishing a middle class is essential to move Syria forward ,


I think that Syria can do better without central planing , look at the pharmaceutical industry , it is mostly private , look at the TV series , they are very good , they are private while the movies which are government control are weak and lack popular support , actually Syria makes only 2 movies in a year , I think that the movie industry will do much better if the government offer only financial support and stay out of the way , what Syria should do is concentrate on infrastructure , roads, communication , trains , airports and airlines ,Education , health care , and leave the Syrians to find their way , they will find out that you can not continue to open restaurants , eventually some will fail and will close , then they will move to something else and something else untill they find what can do well for them ,

November 1st, 2009, 10:05 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Since there seems to be interest in agriculture and limited regional water resources, this article in today’s NYT may be of interest:


To plan forward, you need to have the foresight to predict the economic future. Five year plans assume that you have a handle on the economic projection 5 year out.

Alan Greenspan once opined that even with 400 full time professional economists at his disposal, he was only comfortable making an economic forecast one to two quarters out at the most.

Most 5-year plans of developing nations are not worth the paper they are written on. Fortune 500 company CEO’S are finding it hard to offer an earning projection for the next quarter.

November 1st, 2009, 10:07 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I’m def not a ‘free market’ adherent as you are. A ‘collective’ is a great
way of combining privet ownership, with a capitalistic model.
It could be great idea if Syrian farmers unite and create farmers
collectives. Why not? all will benefit.

About SimoHurtta, I understand that she/he is European. Finnish, if I’m
not mistaken.
It’s a waste of time for me to talk with this kind of Europeans. And
particularly, after I read the kind of comments from them. I’m here to
talk with Arabs, to read what they have to say, to get to know better
their points of view.
I really have not interest in what Europeans think, and especially,
in what Finns, who have huge black stains in their history.
Will read what they have to say, coz it’s a free and open forum, but
have no desire to argue or to communicate with them.

November 1st, 2009, 11:06 pm


norman said:


Does the five year plan assume to know how the Syrian economy is going to do or just to say what the projects Syria is planing for the future five years ?.

November 1st, 2009, 11:41 pm


norman said:

Syrian-EU partnership deal needs to serve Syria’s interest: Assad

2 November 2009 | 01:20 | FOCUS News Agency

Damascus. Syrian president reiterated that the partnership agreement between Syria and the European Union (EU) should be “in accordance with the requirements of Syria’s national interest,” Xinhua News Agency informed.
“Syria will go over the agreement again to identify its requirements, which will be specified in accordance with Syria’s national interest,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told reporters who accompanied him on his recent visit to Croatia.
“It should be a counterpart association. No possible interference in Syria’s internal affairs will be accepted,” the president added.
Assad paid an official visit to Croatia on Oct. 28 and 29.
Damascus and the EU first drew up the draft partnership pact in2004 but it was never signed by European countries due to concerns of some nations over human rights condition in Syria.
On Oct. 8, the EU said it was ready to sign a Syrian-European partnership agreement on Oct. 26 in Luxembourg.
However, Damascus has officially asked to postpone the signing to an unspecified date, saying it needed taking more time to consider the agreement and assess its impact on the Syrian economy.

© 2009 All rights reserved. Reproducing this website’s contents requires obligatory reference to FOCUS Information

November 1st, 2009, 11:55 pm


norman said:

They are closing public compabies that are failing ,

الحسين: إغلاق بعض شركات القطاع العام لا يؤثر على الحقوق المكتسبة للعمال فيها

الدردري: نسعى لرفع معدل النمو إلى 8 % وخفض البطالة إلى 4 % عام 2015 الاخبار الاقتصادية

الحسين: تطبيق الشراكة بين القطاعين العام والخاص لا يعني أبدا تخلي الحكومة عن دعم بعض الشرائح الاجتماعية

November 2nd, 2009, 2:49 am


jad said:

Off topic:

An initiative by the Syrian Women Observatory ( of making Oct 29th of every year as ‘The International Day of Solidarity with Victims of ‘Honor Crimes’:

29/10 من كل عام: يوم عالمي للتضامن مع ضحايا “جرائم الشرف”
نساء سورية
في هذا اليوم الحزين، 29/10/2009، قررت محكمة سورية (اقرأ/ي التفاصيل..) أن قاتلا لشقيقته هو بطل لأنه ادعى أنه قتلها باسم “الشرف”! مئات النساء السوريات يقتلن كل عام تحت هذه الذريعة على مرأى ومسمع وتأييد من الحكومة السورية!

آلاف يقتلن سنويا في سورية والأردن والعراق وفلسطين ومصر والسعودية والجزائر والمغرب وليبيا وغيرها.. على مرأى ومسمع وتأييد من حكومات دول لا تلتزم بأهم مبرر لوجودها: منع التذابح بين مواطنيها!

عشرات الآلاف يقتلن سنويا على مدار الكرة الأرضية تحت مسمى “جرائم الشرف”، الاسم الذي يعبر جيدا عن الانحطاط البشري في هذه الجرائم، على مرأى ومسمع من العالم أجمع.. الذي يقدم “إدانات” نادرا ما ترقى إلى مستوى الفعل على الأرض!

حان الوقت في القرن الواحد والعشرين لكي تنتهي هذه الجريمة القذرة. حان الوقت لكي لا يكون هناك أي مجال للتهاون مع “قتلة الشرف” عبر منحهم عقوبات رادعة تطال كل من حرض أو وافق أو صمت على ارتكاب الجريمة!

لذلك، نعلن هذا اليوم، التاسع والعشرين من شهر تشرين الأول من كل عام، يوما عالميا للتضامن مع ضحايا “جرائم الشرف”، يوما لكي نتذكر أن هذه الجريمة لن تصير تاريخا أسود ما لم نقم جميعا بمواجهتها دون كلل ولا ملل، دون تساهل ودون أعذار.

وندعو الأمم المتحدة، وجميع المنظمات المعنية بحقوق الإنسان متضمنة حقوق المرأة، وجميع الأحزاب والقوى التي تدعي أنها تعمل من أجل المجتمع، كليا أو جزئيا، كما جميع وسائل الإعلام المقروءة والمسموعة والمرئية، إلى تبني هذا اليوم لجعله شوكة في حلق مؤيدي القتل الحرام، لجعله سلاحا فعالا في مواجهة جرائم القتل المسماة “جرائم الشرف”.

*- هذا الإعلان ليس ملكا لـ”مرصد نساء سورية”، ويمكن لمن يتبناه أن يعيد نشره بالشكل والطريقة التي يراها مناسبة، متضمنا ذلك أن لا يشير إلى “مرصد نساء سورية” إذا رغب بذلك.

November 2nd, 2009, 3:37 am


jad said:

(off topic again, Sorry!)
Dear Ehsani,
I mentioned the replacement news of Mm. Sira Astor from her position at the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs couple weeks ago, here is Mr. Quadi comments about the issue:

شكر لسيرا أستور.. ومهام أساسية أمام الهيئة السورية لشؤون الأسرة
نساء سورية
للأسف جرى ما كنا قد توقعناه. فقد أعفيت الأستاذة سيرا أستور من مهامها كرئيسة للهيئة السورية لشؤون الأسرة، بعد المواقف التي اتخذتها الهيئة بشأن مشروع قانون تمزيق سورية إلى دويلات طوائف، وهي المواقف التي أثارت رعب الظلاميين، وقرروا إثر نجاح المجتمع السوري في رد هذه الهجمة الأصولية أنه حان الوقت لمعاقبة الهيئة السورية لشؤون الأسرة على مواقفها تلك، وهو ما سبق أن قلناه في افتتاحية سابقة من أنها “أكلت يوم أكل الثور الأبيض”!

November 2nd, 2009, 3:39 am


jad said:

Hi Norman,
This is from a local ‘extremely’ government friendly news agency and not me:
حلب الشهباء تحتضر ” بيئياً ” .. الرهان على الصناعة دمر البيئة ..مياه ملوثة وأجواء خانقة و أمراض وسرطانات .. وعود وتصريحات مسؤولين وشكاوى مواطنين ..والمعالجة غائبة!

Champress starts writing articles in English (good step) but I have no clue how an English article about ‘plastic bags’ will convince ‘Abou Ahmda’ of not using it forgetting that Abou Ahmad doesn’t have internet nor he can read English!
Syria-News had something more indepth about the same issue but at least in Arabic and both used similar ‘lovely’ picture 🙂

Plastic Bags Horrible Effects,Walking and Voyaging al-Rowad Team Join the ” No More Plastic Bags”campaign

نهاية كيس اسود…!؟

November 2nd, 2009, 4:06 am


Alex said:

Wow! … read what the editor of the Lebanese paper Assafir wrote today about the American ambassador to Lebanon.

أسكتوا هذه السفيرة الثرثارة!

طلال سلمان
ليس تجاوزاً أو خرقاً للأصول ولثوابت العمل الدبلوماسي أن تتصرف السفيرة الأميركية في بيروت أو تدلي بتصريحات مستفزّة وأن تحرّض على الفتنة وتعزز دعاة الانقسام والتقسيم في سعيهم لضرب ركائز الوحدة الوطنية في ظل الشعارات الملتهبة بنار «العنفوان والسيادة والاستقلال».
إن هذه السفيرة الخطيرة إنما تتصرف ضمن المساحة التي يتيحها لها أهل النظام من أقطاب الطبقة السياسية، والذين يتخذون منها «المرجع الصالح» في شؤون لبنان، شعباً ودولة ومؤسسات، إذ إنهم يرجعون إليها في كل كبيرة وصغيرة، يطلبون إليها أن تقرّر عنهم أو أن تملي عليهم المواقف التي ترى فيها الخير للبنان السيد المستقل والعزة لشعبه العنيد، بوصفها الممثل الشخصي الوحيد والناطق الرسمي باسم الأمين العام لثورة الأرز جيفري فيلتمان.
ثم إن هذه السفيرة التي لا تنام إنما تتبع منهج وزيرتها هيلاري كلينتون، التي ترى نفسها رئيس ظل للولايات المتحدة الأميركية، فتخاطب الأصدقاء العرب بلهجة الأمر فيصدعون ولا يعترضون، وتذهب في رفض مطالبتهم بالحد الأدنى من حقوقهم إلى الحد الأقصى، كما فعلت برئيس السلطة التي لا سلطة لها في فلسطين المحتلة، فلا يغضبون ولا يثورون ولا يطالبون بطردها من العاصمة العربية التي كانت تستضيفها بشهامة العرب وكرمهم الحاتمي وتحت شعار «يا ضيفنا لو زرتنا لرأيتنا نحن الضيوف وأنت رب المنزل».
والحمد لله أن السماء لا تأتمر، بعد، بتعليمات السفيرة التي لا تنام، وإن نام معلمها فيلتمان، والتي تصل بزياراتها «السرية» الليل بالنهار، وإلا لما كان المطر قد انهمر غزيراً مبشراً بمواسم خير وفيرة تعطيها الأرض الطيبة بغير إذن من أركان الطبقة السياسية المانعة للخير…
وبرغم أن بركة الأمطار المبكرة سيذهب بها افتقاد الإدارة وسوء التنظيم والتعدي المتفاقم على الأملاك العامة، فتكون النتيجة أزمة سير خانقة وأعطالاً غير محدودة في شبكة الكهرباء شبه المعطلة أصلاً، وجرف بعض التربة الصالحة للزراعة، وتعقيدات إضافية في لعبة تشكيل الحكومة الخرافية، بعضها يعود إلى عقدة «الاتصالات»، وبعضها الآخر إلى ضياع بعض «الحقائب» المذهّبة بالاحتكار أو بالاستثمار السياسي أو في غياهب المزايدة والمناقصة… وأحياناً في لعبة «الروليت الروسية» التي صار لها نسخ جديدة بجنسيات عدة.
برغم ذلك كله، فإننا ـ وفي ما يعنينا في لبنان مباشرة ـ نتوجه إلى الله فنحمده كثيراً على أن السماء لا تتلقى تعليماتها من السفيرة الأميركية الفصيحة التي لا تترك شاردة أو واردة إلا وتعلق عليها مصدرة ما يشبه التعليمات المباشرة إلى المسؤولين اللبنانيين، كبارهم والصغار، حول صيغة التشكيلة الحكومية، مستبعدة حكاية الوحدة الوطنية، منبّهة إلى ضرورة الالتزام بنتائج الانتخابات بوصفها العمل الديموقراطي الأعظم، بالسلاح الطائفي المشرع، بدليل أن تصريحاً واحداً لزعيم كتلة نيابية قد ذهب به، مستدركة بالتحذير من خرق القرار الهمايوني 1701، ملوّحة بإصبع التهديد الإسرائيلي إن خطر لأحدهم أن يشرك «حزب الله» في الحكومة، متحدية بعض المراجع الرسمية باتخاذ أبواب مقراتها منبراً لتحدي مواقفها المعلنة…
بديهي أن يلتبس الأمر، أحياناً، على المواطن فيفترض أنه يسمع تهديداً إسرائيلياً بلغة أميركية ذات لكنة آسيوية…
وبديهي أن يفترض هذا المواطن البسيط أن السفيرة الخطيرة إنما تستقوي على اللبنانيين باللبنانيين وعلى العرب بالعرب، وعلى الجميع بإسرائيل التي لم تعد ثمة حدود بينها وبين الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، لا فرق بين إداراتها وسواء أكانت من الديموقراطيين أم من الجمهوريين، أية فوارق تذكر، بشهادة التراجعات المتوالية التي صدرت عن إدارة أوباما حول المستوطنات الإسرائيلية وحول مشروع الدولة الفلسطينية في بطن «دولة يهود العالم» التي ابتلعت أرضها المفترضة، خصوصاً بعدما أسقطت هذه الإدارة المطعّمة بشيء من الإسلام الأسود مدينة القدس (ومن ضمنها المسجد الأقصى) من الأرض التي ستمنح للفلسطينين فلم يعد في الأمر ما يستحق العناء…
مع ذلك، وبرغم احتشاد الأساطيل الأميركية، بحاملات الطائرات والبوارج والمدمرات إلى جانب مثيلاتها «المعارة» إلى إسرائيل، في البحر الأبيض المتوسط، الذي سيظل «عربياً» بمعظم شواطئه، فإن المواقف المستفزّة والخارجة على الأصول التي صدرت وتصدر عن السفيرة الأميركية في بيروت، وبتعليمات مباشرة ومعلنة، بالصوت والصورة من موجهها جيفري فيلتمان، غير مقبولة، ومستنكرة، ومستفزّة لكرامة اللبنانيين، ومن الضروري إلزام هذه السفيرة ـ على خطورة من تمثل ـ بأن تراعي موجبات موقعها، فتُنبّه إلى خرقها الفاضح لمبادئ السيادة والاستقلال والكرامة الوطنية.
لم يصبح لبنان، بعد، مستعمرة أميركية، ولن يكون كذلك في أي يوم!
ويكفينا أهل الفصاحة من المروّجين للانقسام حتى حدود الفتنة من أساتذة اللغة العربية، رجال دين ورجال دنيا، ومن أتباع المرجعيات الأجنبية، ومن المراكز المعتمدة للتمويل العربي للحرب الأهلية التي تخدم إسرائيل في جهودها لتصفية القضية الفلسطينية.
لعل المطر الذي يذهب بالغبار ومخلّفات الحر واليباس، أن يكون بشارة خير بانفراج سياسي يعيد كلاً إلى حجمه الطبيعي، يستوي في ذلك صنّاع الخلافات والدافعين بها إلى حدود الفتنة من أبناء الطبقة السياسية أو من يفترضون في أنفسهم أنهم أصحاب القرار، وأن لهم حق الإمرة على اللبنانيين جميعاً وعلى علاقاتهم بمحيطهم وبالعدو الإسرائيلي بالذات.
بكلمة: إما أن تسكت هذه السفيرة الثرثارة، وإما أن تطلبوا من إدارتها أن تسكتها… ولتقل ما تشاء، في خلواتها السرية، وهي تقول فيها الكثير الكثير مما لا يجوز للبنانيين أن يقولوه فكيف بأن يسمعوه من أجنبي غالباً ما ينطق بلسان إسرائيل؟!

November 2nd, 2009, 11:19 am


Akbar Palace said:

I’m def not a ‘free market’ adherent as you are. A ‘collective’ is a great
way of combining privet ownership, with a capitalistic model.
It could be great idea if Syrian farmers unite and create farmers
collectives. Why not? all will benefit.


OK. I don’t like the government to have a stake in any business. “Collectives” are fine, a business is a collective when you think about it. I don’t like the idea of the government owning, what should be owned by the employees and the stock-holders. Everything the US government has “run” has been inefficient and has lost money.

November 2nd, 2009, 4:36 pm


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

@Akbar, Don’t give the Baathists any idea please, especially for free. Assad can always hire a French Consulting firm to advise his government well. It will all be resolved nicely in the end. When it comes to the Agriculture field, Collectibes are proven to be horrible idea, the worst ever, Communism all over again, who needs that now.

November 2nd, 2009, 8:20 pm


Hassan said:

If Erdogan wants to team up with Iran, Syria, and probably soon North Korea, he is accepting the fate of Necmettin Erbakan. More importantly though for Turkey is course of the reforms that have been undertaken in recent years may be undermined by Turkey turning its back on Europe and the US. We will see, but this certainly does not bode well for the future of democratic and market reforms in Turkey. After all Iran and Syria aren’t exactly bastions of freedom.

For Syrian regime though, this is great, after all Bashar is a pariah and is known in the region for the repression of his regime. However, for those innocent Syrians civilians, enhancing the diplomatic stature of this regime does not bode well for them.

November 3rd, 2009, 12:15 am



Is there a link to the complete report published by the State Planning Commission (The Raddawi report) assessing the two and a half years which elapsed from The Five Year Plan (The Tenth Five Year Plan)?
And is there a link to The Tenth Five Year Plan?

November 3rd, 2009, 3:21 am


hassan said:

Very interesting article on the feud between Baathist Syria’s representative in Washington and the National Geographic magazine.
National Geographic vs. the Syrian regime
Hussain Abdul-Hussain , October 31, 2009
NOW! Lebanon

In its November issue, National Geographic magazine ran a feature story on Syria, calling it the “shadowland” and challenging suggestions that the ruling regime can ever raise the country out of its dark past.

The portrait of Syria, past and present, sketched by the author, Don Belt, is indeed dark. Belt describes a nation stifled by a succession of autocrats who have prevented political, economic and social growth. The late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was involved in a massacre in Hama, the article notes, while his son and successor, Bashar, is suspected of complicity in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Bashar, like his father, remains feared inside Syria for his regime’s notorious intelligence network that has kept the Assad family in power for decades.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the author of the article makes the Godfather analogy, with Bashar Assad filling the role of Michael Corleone, the son of Don, who rises to leadership of “the family” upon the unexpected death of his hothead brother Sonny, which in Bashar’s case would be his late brother Basil.

Whatever the merits of the 3,900-word National Geographic piece, it managed to provoke a 4,250-word rebuttal from the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.

In the typical manner of the Syrian regime, Moustapha tried first to undermine the credibility of the writer by linking him to former President George Bush, the neocons and Israel. “Reminiscent of the neoconservative literature that was prevalent during President Bush’s era,” Moustapha’s writes in his letter, which goes on to deploy the neoconservative label some seven times, four of which with the word Israeli thrown in for good measure.

Along with hurling unsubstantiated accusations, Moustapha threatens the writer and the magazine, a step also typical of the Syrian regime. “I believe that many other countries in our region will reconsider their working relationship with your organization when they are made aware of this incident,” Moustapha writes, imagining an Arab boycott of the National Geographic in solidarity with the Syrian autocracy.

But Moustapha’s letter doesn’t just attack and intimidate, it also seeks to do the impossible: prove the popular legitimacy of President Assad. As one might suspect, the very attempt ends up undermining his argument.

“[T]he University of Maryland, along with the Zogby International Polling, conducted an opinion poll in six Arab countries earlier this year (all US allies), Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, and the UAE, which showed that President Assad was the most popular figure amongst Arab leaders,” Moustapha writes.

The fact that the evidence of popular legitimacy Moustapha chooses to cite comes from a US pollster — one whose methodology is questionable due to its small sample sizes, and which at any rate suggests at most Assad’s popularity in several Arab countries, but not the one he rules — rather than Syria’s own joke elections in 2000 and 2007 says much about Assad’s true legitimacy.

Having thus accused Belt of being part of a neo-conservative-Israeli conspiracy, warned that displeasing the Syrian regime has negative consequences around the region for the writer and his magazine, and “proved” that Assad is a popular pan-Arab hero, Moustapha now expresses surprise at how any one so fortunate to meet Assad could write such an unfavorable piece.

But how could an unknown journalist, in Moustapha’s words, meet Assad?

Bringing western journalists and academics to Damascus to meet with Assad has become a staple of the regime’s propaganda. Syrian ambassadors, like Moustapha, often meet these “opinion shapers” in person, and generously wave the visa fee while offering all manner of help for the scheduled trip – including a possible meeting with Assad.

Most of these Westerners end up meeting Assad’s wife, who clearly impresses visitors with her cordial manners and Western education. The effect is that many such visitors later become Assad’s defenders.

The New Yorker’s Seymor Hersh was granted such close access that he later reported that he was next to Assad when news broke that Hariri had been murdered. Eric Follath, the author of Der Spiegel’s controversial piece on alleging that Hezbollah was involved in the Hariri assassination, meanwhile, publicly boasted about his ties to Assad. For Academic David Lesch, his meetings with Assad led to his book, The Lion of Damascus. Rob Malley, of the International Crisis Group, often mentions this or that meeting with the Syrian president.

Almost all of Assad’s visitors have become his admirers. But Belt, surprisingly to Moustapha, broke the rule.

Moustapha’s original expectations of Belt could be easily gleaned from the rebuttal: “He should have discussed the mosques and churches… He should have described the over 120 boutique restaurants… he would note that Syria is actually ‘cozying up’ to Turkey… He [did] not interview someone from, say the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association.”

When Moustapha received Belt in his office in Washington to give him a visa, he probably “suggested” people to be interviewed, all of whom are the regime’s protégés, in addition to Assad himself. Even though Belt was unknown to Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador probably reasoned that Damascus can always benefit from a pre-planned piece in the National Geographic, at the time the Syrian regime is fighting nail and tooth to win some of the US administration’s attention.

When Belt’s article described Syria and its dictatorship more accurately than Moustapha had expected, the Syrian ambassador received a stern scolding from Damascus and had to rectify the situation by writing a rebuttal that was more incriminating to the Syrian regime than vindicating.

And for all those who could not finish the seemingly endless Moustapha response, rest assured that the Syrian ambassador never refuted Belt’s accusations that the Syrian dictatorship had further tightened its grip by censoring Facebook, YouTube and a dozen other websites. Nor did Moustapha deign to answer the questions about the fate of the activists of the Damascus Spring.

After all, there are limits to how much tyranny an eloquent and intellectual Syrian ambassador can cover in one written document.

November 3rd, 2009, 3:38 am


Nour said:

Now Lebanon is not a serious news source. It is a Hariri propaganda outlet that distorts facts and misinforms its readership in order to serve a particular agenda. It is also notorious for plagiarism, so forgive us if we don’t take this silly article seriously.

November 3rd, 2009, 5:33 am


Hassan said:


Hariri propaganda. Do you mean Rafik Hariri? He’s dead. Syria killed him. You must mean Saad Hariri.

If NOW Lebanon is guilty of plagiarism who are they plagiarizing? Moreover, it was clearly an op-ed column.

Perhaps you would prefer this pieced from Al Rai.

جريدة الرأي
العدد 11033 – 15/09/2009
«شهر العسل» في العلاقات الأميركية السورية انتهى وواشنطن صرفت النظر عن فكرة إعادة السفير إلى دمشق
| واشنطن من حسين عبد الحسين |
وصل الغضب الاميركي على سورية، ذروته مع اعلان فريق مبعوث السلام جورج ميتشل، ان جولته في المنطقة لن تشمل دمشق، فيما علمت «الراي» ان الادارة الاميركية صرفت النظر عن فكرة اعادة السفير الاميركي الى دمشق، بعد اقل من 100 يوم على اعلانها ذلك.
وتقول مصادر في العاصمة الاميركية، «ان شهر العسل في العلاقات الاميركية السورية، الذي بدأ بعد انتخاب باراك اوباما رئيسا، انتهى اليوم، وان الاسابيع المقبلة تنذر بتصعيد خصوصا من جانب واشنطن».
وتعزو المصادر انهيار مشروع اعادة العلاقات الى عهد ما قبل اغتيال رئيس حكومة لبنان رفيق الحريري في فبراير 2005، بالقول ان «السوريين لا يعرفون الفرق بين التطبيع في العلاقات، وتصرف دمشق وكأنها هزمت اميركا في حرب عالمية».
وتضيف بنبرة عالية ان «(الرئيس بشار) الاسد بدأ يعد البيض الاميركي في سلته قبل ان يقدم لنا اي شيء في المقابل». وتقول ايضا: «يطلق الاسد صاروخاً من هنا او هناك، ويتوقعنا ان نهرول اليه… هذا النوع من الابتزاز الامني لم يعد ينطلي على الولايات المتحدة».
أما القشة التي قسمت ظهر البعير بين واشنطن ودمشق، حسب مسؤولين اميركيين رفيعي المستوى، فهي التصرفات السورية اثر زيارة ميتشل الاخيرة ولقائه الاسد في يوليو الماضي.
ويقول هؤلاء: «اثناء اللقاء بين ميتشل والاسد في دمشق، طلب الرئيس السوري من المبعوث الاميركي ان يشرح له بنود العقوبات على سورية، حينذاك، تناول ميتشل مسودة العقوبات وقرأها بندا بندا، وشرحها بالتفصيل للاسد، واستغرق ذلك اكثر من ساعة ونصف الساعة». ويضيفون: «ختم ميتشل حديثه بشرح آلية وضع العقوبات ورفعها، وابلغ الاسد ان مراجعتها تتم سنويا، وان رفعها ممكن في حال توافرت الشروط اللازمة لذلك».
بيد ان الجانب السوري، المستعجل دوما تصوير علاقته مع واشنطن على انها في طريق حتمي الى الانفراج، سرب عن قصد، او عن طريق الخطأ، ان الولايات المتحدة وعدت برفع العقوبات المفروضة على سورية. وقبل ان تحط طائرة ميتشل في مطار دالاس الدولي في واشنطن، في طريق عودتها من الشرق الاوسط، كانت موجة غضب عارمة تجتاح اروقة القرار في واشنطن. فوزارة الخارجية لم تزود ميتشل باي تعليمات توحي بأنها تنوي رفع العقوبات. كذلك جن جنون عدد كبير من اعضاء الكونغرس الذين قاموا باستدعاء ديبلوماسيين من الخارجية، على وجه السرعة، للوقوف على ما دار بين المبعوث الاميركي والاسد.
الا ان ميتشل قدم محضر الاجتماع مع الاسد الى زملائه في الخارجية، والى زملائه السابقين في الكونغرس «عندما قرأنا ما حصل فعلا بين الرجلين، توصلنا الى قرار وحيد، هو ان الاسد يحاول دوما التلاعب بنا، وانه علينا ان نبرهن له ان مشاريع واشنطن في المنطقة لا تتوقف عليه»، حسب مصدر اميركي رفيع المستوى.
وتضيف المصادر ان «عرقلة تشكيل الحكومة اللبنانية، والتي يتهم البعض سورية وحلفاءها في لبنان بالوقوف وراءها، لا تعني الولايات المتحدة كثيرا، فنحن لا ندخل في هذه التفاصيل وهي شأن لبناني».
لكن ما اثار حفيظة الادارة الاميركية، حسب المصادر، «ان بعد اشهر على الحوار معه (الاسد)، لم يعدل قيد انملة في سلوكه، ولم يقدم لنا اي شيء مما نطلبه، بل يسألنا دوما عما يمكن ان نقدم له نحن، تحت رحمة الابتزاز ووقوع حوادث في المنطقة… اميركا لن تخضع للابتزاز السوري».
وسألت «الراي» المسؤولين الاميركيين عن اي دور عربي لتقريب وجهات النظر بين واشنطن ودمشق، فردوا بأن «مصر حانقة على الاسد وتشاركنا وجهة النظر في ان لا فائدة من الحوار مع النظام السوري، اما السعودية، فراقبناها تقدم التنازل للاسد تلو الآخر – في لبنان وغير لبنان – ولم نر نتائج تذكر حتى الآن». ويضيف المسؤولون ان «اسرائيل صارت اليوم بعيدة عن فكرة استقطاب الاسد بعيدا عن ايران اكثر من اي وقت مضى». لكن الرئيس السوري، حسب هؤلاء، حاول استخدام ورقة المفاوضات السورية غير المباشرة مع اسرائيل – عن طريق تركيا – ليصل الى واشنطن، «لكن اسرائيل رفضت عرض سورية وعرابتها تركيا رفضا قاطعا».
وتشير المصادر الاميركية الى تخبط في خطاب الاسد كذلك، اذ «يدعونا يوما الى السلام، ثم يتحدث عن وحدة الصف العربي، لنسمعه يصدر تصريحات عن تحالف سوري – تركي – ايراني – عراقي. فاذا كان الاسد راغباً بالسلام مع اسرائيل وباعادة علاقاته مع محيطه العربي، ضد من سيوجه التحالف الذي يقترحه مع تركيا وايران والعراق؟».
التوتر الاميركي السوري في طريقه الى التصعيد، حسب الاجواء السائدة في العاصمة الاميركية، فيما وجهة النظر التي يبدو ان معظم السياسيين الاميركيين يتشاركونها، مفادها بأن «سورية هي اللاعب الاضعف في التحالف مع ايران وممكن استقطابها، لكن ايضا بحكم كونها الشريك الاضعف، فان عزلها ونسيانها هو اسهل بكثير».
وتختم المصادر بالقول: «ذهبنا الى الاسد لاننا نعتقد انه الحلقة الاضعف في التحالف المعادي لنا في الشرق الاوسط، لكنه يتصرف كأنه الحلقة الاقوى ويضع الشروط علينا بدلا من اغتنام الفرصة والانفتاح، ووسط هذا التباين، كان لا بد من العودة الى الاختلاف وممكن الانقطاع النهائي».

November 3rd, 2009, 5:46 am


jad said:

‘Do you mean Rafik Hariri? He’s dead.’
الله يرحمو

‘Syria killed him.’
عمرو خالص

November 3rd, 2009, 6:54 am


Nour said:

Syria had nothing to do with the killing of Rafiq Hariri and even the international tribunal that your hero Saadeddine was calling for is now moving away from such a claim.

I know that the Now Hariri piece was an op-ed, and it was a silly op-ed as it was clearly aimed at villifying Syria. It had no factual content to educate its readership, but merely loaded and charged accusations, along with farcical claims and contentions designed strictly to incite hatred toward Syria, which has been the specialty of certain racist Lebanese propaganda outlets.

As for the Al-Ra’i article, I don’t really put much into it as I never expected anything out of the US government, which has proven time an again that it is wholly committed to serving the interest of the racist, cancerous Jewish entity. What I find more interesting are the comments on the side by the readers, most of whom express admiration of Syria and its steady, consistent position.

November 3rd, 2009, 7:26 am


jad said:

Off topic:

Some of you may like this news:
الإدارة المحلية تلزم الأبنية الحديثة بتركيب السخانات الشمسية

However, it should be more organized than this.
To work it must be implemented on every building, not only the new ones and it should be specify as ONE and CENTRAL for the whole building occupants and also to promote solar panels not only for hot water but also for electricity.
The most important piece they missed is to support all this rules with a good program to help people achieving what the city is asking for by having special loans with some banks and technically smart group of personnel to demonstrate and explain step by step how to do that for public.
Rules alone doesn’t make any change.

Check out what SF municipality is doing, they have a Solar Map for the whole city and they are willing to work with any building to help them financially and technically to do that.

November 3rd, 2009, 5:12 pm


idaf said:

Ehsani, OTW, FP and all,

This was an excellent discussion. I enjoyed reading every word. I sure hope that both Dardari and Raddawi (if he can read English!) are reading this. But more importantly, I hope the people in Qasr el-Shaab are.

The skirmishes between Dardari and the “old guards” have been going for years now behind closed doors. Only recently that this became public. It is only healthy that these criticisms are being discussed in the media today (something unimaginable 10 years ago in Syria). One should note though that the Raddawi and the hard core protectionists are the more vocal ones (empowered recently by the global economic crisis). I don’t recall reading any rebuttal from Dardari on criticisms publicly hurled at him for years. This can mean one of two things, he either prefers to work and deliver results to prove his policies (generally Baathis on the other hand subscribe to the populist school of Fedel Castro and love to shout from a podium), or he might be confident enough that he has the ear of the president and is not worried much about defending his reputation.

Either case, one could only understand the smart policy by the Syrian leadership for giving both the economic reformers and the populists competing roles in Syria’s current transitional economy. Firstly, they will balance each other and make sure that a gradual and incremental progress is made with close assessment of social impact. Any government will not risk going far and fast into one direction without assessing its popularity, if only for political survival. In Syria’s case the regime was courageous enough to pursue the unpopular and somewhat painful reforms even under severe existential external threats for the past 4 years. On the other hand, the full throttle double digit growth cases of China and Dubai are not applicable in Syria’s regime case. It is not as much in control as the regimes in those two places. Although, not many objective analysts can argue that Bashar does not enjoy the support of a majority of Syrians today, the regime still fears the backlash of the monster created during the past 40 years.. a society highly addicted to populist policies and responses from government. This addiction to government subsidiaries by a big portion of the Syrian society is what’s empowering the old guards. They are still relatively powerful and popular and this is why one should understand the gradual steps and competing forces at play between reformists such as Dardari and the conservative old guards. Imagine the damaging demagogic responses of those populists if economic reform were put in “high gear”. Take for example the case of Dubai: the double digit growth in Dubai for the last decade is decried today by the Dubaians who are left today with huge debts and dramatic social, societal and cultural changes that they are not able to coop with. The government is not nearly as popular as it was a year ago among its citizens. It is common today to hear thought leaders criticize the sheikh himself publicly (something unheard of in most gulf sheikhdoms). One can only imagine the magnitude of the reaction of those subscribing to populist ideologies within the historically “revolutionary” Syrian culture! Politicians democratically elected or not, need to calculate their survival and stability, be it Syria or the US.

November 3rd, 2009, 5:17 pm


idaf said:

On a separate note, this is very refreshing..“without exaggeration, this is a revolution”.. indeed:

J Street Again
By Dr. James Zogby
Posted on Monday November 2, 2009

On October 25th the Arab American Institute and J Street convened a joint meeting, that brought leaders and activists from both communities together as an expression of our shared commitment to advance a just and comprehensive Middle East peace. Two nights later, my wife Eileen and I had the pleasure of attending the J Street Gala Banquet. Because it was such an extraordinary event, I want to share some observations about the night.

First and foremost was the size and composition of the assembled crowd. A week or so before their conference was to begin, with registration nearing 900, J Street leaders were still hoping to reach 1000, their announced goal. Then came a wave of attacks on the group from hardliners in the pro-Israel camp. When I asked a J Street leader whether the criticism was having an impact, he replied “a little negative, but a huge positive impact”. Their event, for example, lost about a dozen of its 160 Congressional sponsors, but retained almost 150. And their registration swelled to 1,500!

As we entered the room it was clear that spirits were high. Jewish activists from the left and center of the political spectrum had spent three days in packed sessions debating policy and program. They had differences, to be sure, but were of one mind in their commitment to project an alternative pro-Israel, pro-peace perspective, and to legitimize a U.S. debate on the way forward toward peace.

As I looked around the room, I realized that I knew many of those present. Some from Middle East peace work we had done together in the 1990’s, and others from civil rights and other progressive coalitions in which we had participated. In his opening remarks, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami made the observation that while J Street is new, it is made up of thousands of Jewish political leaders and activists who have long been engaged in the struggle for peace and justice. What is new is that they have found one another, and have come together to challenge the status quo—that up until now has maintained that there is only one way of being pro-Israel

I was reminded of a metaphor Jesse Jackson used back in the 1980’s when he described the millions of unregistered voters he hoped to empower through his Presidential campaign. They were, he would say, like “so many stones laying around” needing only to be put together and built up to become a wall—an edifice that can provide strength.

I was also struck by the Arabs and Arab Americans who were in attendance, and the profoundly respectful and gracious reception they (we) were given. Several Arab ambassadors were there, one of the evening’s emcees was an Arab American, a video of a message from Jordan’s King Abdullah opened the session, and our joint Arab American-American Jewish meeting was discussed by one speaker and greeted with wonderful applause.

An Israeli friend, with whom I had both debated and worked during the 90s, commented on this Arab presence. She remarked that it was ironic that J Street was being attacked by hardliners because a few Arab Americans had contributed to the group, and some Arabs attended their function, at the very moment when these same hardliners are saying that the Arab world must reach out and declare their interest in peace. They say, she went on, “we have no partners” but here are the partners, and yet they criticize us. I think, she concluded, they don’t want partners.

The content of the night’s program was also quite moving and worthy of note.

The Rabbi who opened the dinner with a prayerful reflection spoke of his personal attachment to Israel, the members of his family who survived WWII to find refuge there, and how they had prospered but still lived in fear and insecurity. He then moved to include in his prayer concern for the Palestinian people noting that if Jews acknowledge one God then their compassion and concern for life must be extended to all mankind, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Other speakers developed this theme with one of the most eloquent moments of the night coming when J Street’s Director Ben-Ami spoke of his group’s resolve to be, “a voice that cares not simply about our people’s destiny but about the future of the Palestinian people – not just because it is in our interest, but because Palestinian children deserve a future and freedom, hope and happiness every bit as much as Jewish children.” His remarks, like those of the Rabbi, were greeted with applause.

It was also important to note how significant the entire night was for the dozens of Members of Congress who were in attendance. For those who had long been advocates of a just peace, they found reinforcement, and for those who have been afraid to speak out, they were able to see, and hear, the emergence of an alternative voice that makes debate on Middle East issues possible.

As one attendee noted, “without exaggeration, this is a revolution”. The three days, beginning with the joint Arab American-American Jewish meeting, to the banquet at its conclusion, marks the birth of a movement and, one hopes, a transformation not only within the Jewish community’s internal debate, but in Arab American-American Jewish cooperation.

This effort will, no doubt, face obstacles and be challenged by those on all sides who are locked into old patterns of behavior and destructive ideologies based on fear of, anger at, and exclusion of “the other”. But, what I and many others saw over the three days was that a powerful voice has been born calling for change. And it is new.

In the 1990s, when we came together, we did so because leaders in the White House pressed us to work together and Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the White House lawn validated the effort. This time is different. We emerged and came together on our own, with a will not only to build a partnership, but to export its spirit to the Middle East despite the incapacity or unwillingness of Israeli and Palestinian leadership to do so.

November 3rd, 2009, 5:24 pm


EHSANI2 said:


As usual, your comments are always spot on. There is no doubt that the leadership faces a fine balancing act when it comes to caliberating the speed and depth of the economic reforms.

I still stick to my view that Syria’s problem is simply that there is not enough economic growth to go around. The fact of the matter is that whatever reforms have taken place have missed the 8-9% economic growth target.

Deciding on how to cut the cake and who gets what is always hard. Having to make distrubution decisions with a small sized cake for so many people is that much harder.

November 3rd, 2009, 7:20 pm


Off the Wall said:

Thanks for both your post and the Zogby’s article. I believe that Dardari’s position is akin to an economic Czar as opposed to a ministerial position. From those who know him personally, I understand that he is quite, non-combative person who likes to do more than talk. This is a new breed and I sure hope that he has the president confidence, which so far seems to be the case.

I fully agree with you that getting the debate out is healthy, but I hope that the reformer’s side get more active. At the same time, and as you described, the addiction to subsidy has made much of Syria reliant on the government and made the short-term day-to-day interests of many Syrians aligned more with the conservatives than with the reformers. It is possible that more vocal attitude on the reformer’s side may result in a backlash and in strengthening the conservatives position, who seem to be encouraged, behind the scene by a socially conservative prime minister, whose economic position oscillates between that of a none-populist deficit hawk, and populist reform slowing position. As you said, with these debates being taken into the public arena, Syria is witnessing a healthy development. A smart policy indeed.


I agree that rigid state planning is counterproductive. But countries on the verge/in the process of major transformation need a vision that establishes development priorities and contingency actions. This can only be accomplished with some sort of a consensus based plan, or call it a road map. Such will identify key industries to support in terms of granting private sector access, performance metrics so that state coffers, loans, and tax breaks are used to serve the vision, and monitoring and enforcement rules that minimizes the role and effect of greed in economic development. IMHO, a national economic plan aims at two things only, the first is to improve the average living standards of the widest swath of citizenry, and second to ensure that such improvement is sustainable and self propelling. Way easier said than done.

November 3rd, 2009, 7:26 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Dubai was like a car speeding at 120 miles an hour in a 60 mile limit zone with no seat belt on.

Syria is like a car speeding at 30 miles an hour in a 70 mile limit zone panaroid about what would happen if it pressed on the accelerator a little.

November 3rd, 2009, 7:32 pm


idaf said:


I totally agree, the pace of reforms is much slower than the road permits. Even Bashar agreed with you on this repeatedly 🙂

I don’t think it would’ve been harmful if Syria pushed that accelerator a bit, but regime reformers will tell you that “when we took power we were immediately confronted with Iraq war, Bush regime change, Hariri fiasco and now the economic crisis”.

They would say (and many would agree) that there were just too many speed bumps, deep holes and checkpoints on that road, not to mention that the 1950 over-packed Citroën deux chevaux vapeur they were driving was out of gas with an overheating rear engine… and with no seat belts in the first place 🙂


You are probably right. I tend to agree that the reformers know that if they open their mouth in response to their conservative critics it will be a loosing battle publicly. The society’s addiction to the old system is way too strong. It will be smart of them if they keep their head low and keep doing what they’re doing.

November 3rd, 2009, 8:38 pm


Majhool said:

Tying taxes on income to services, and in the case of billionaires, is laughable. The opportunity to make income (the availability of consumers, and even labor) in any society is on its own tax worthy. The arguments (Tying taxes on income to services) hold only on taxes imposed on low income households and business hence the notion of “deductions” in order to make ends meet and on local taxes, when the return is tangible.

If one imports rice and make billions and then avoids paying taxes (excuse is poor infrastructure, education and/or health rendered by the government) then in my mind this prison worthy felony.

November 3rd, 2009, 9:39 pm


OFF the WALL said:

and no airbag!

November 3rd, 2009, 9:59 pm


ehsani2 said:


Sounds like that car could have qualified for the cash for clunkers program. I am sure US taxpayers would not have even noticed.

November 3rd, 2009, 10:07 pm


jad said:

I got this present for you form my last trip ‘somewhere’:

November 3rd, 2009, 10:13 pm


hassan said:

With the driver holding the passengers captive at gunpoint while his colleagues in the front seat shoot AK-47s at all of the neighboring cars indiscrimnately.

November 3rd, 2009, 10:31 pm


Hassan said:


The US let you in their country!?!?!?! You support a government of terror. A government that was friendly to Carlos the Jackal, to Abu Nidal. They made a biiig mistake.

November 3rd, 2009, 10:46 pm


jad said:

LOL, I agree 🙂
BIIIIIIG mistake.
I guess they didn’t know what trouble they put themselves in having someone like me in the states.

About your ‘CAR’ comment, well, accidents happen and In Syria we call them:
قضاء و قدر
Try to live with them, wear a bullet proof vest, hard hat or metal helmet, buckle your seat belt and stop whining.

November 3rd, 2009, 10:56 pm


Off the Wall said:

Thank you for the gift, I saved the image. Nice of you to remember me while visiting “somewhere”. I liked the prevalence of SALES signs and the crowded displays and shelves, looks pretty much like how my brain feels now. 🙂

November 3rd, 2009, 11:44 pm


Hassan said:


Re your car comment.

Accidents happen. Well its unfortunate that innocent Lebanese, Iraqis, Kurds, and Palestinians have to be the victims of the “accidents” “caused” by the Baathist-Allawi regime in Syria.

November 4th, 2009, 1:49 am


norman said:

Ehsani, Idaf, Jad and OTW ,

What do you think about changing from income tax to sale tax , would that be easier to implement and collect taxes without a major tax collecting agency ,


I think that government should only be in ventures that can not be done by the private sector, like airports , railroads , major state roads , seaports , airline at least the national one but let the private sector join and compete , the government should help the private sector with the know how with money and low interest loans so that they can do the work while the state collecting some kind of taxes .

November 4th, 2009, 3:46 am


majedkhaldoun said:

There are rumors that we will have new goverment soon,in Syria,and Naji Otri will be removed, and it is possible that Dardari will be the next prime minister

November 4th, 2009, 4:07 am


majedkhaldoun said:

«دير شبيغل» تكشف تفاصيل قصف موقع الكبر السوري

November 4th, 2009, 4:29 am


LeoLeoni said:

Ehsani, thanks for your articles, please keep them coming.

I believe that there is a silent majority within the people that are totally supportive of the economic reform plan and liberalization policies. Is the cake being cut properly? Maybe not, but we are not the anomaly here. Most countries have suffered a similar path when shifting from central planning to free market system (Russia and China are a great example). As long as the cake keeps expanding, we will eventually see the wealth being dispersed down. The car is a great analogy. The car already started to move, despite hitting a major road bump (credit crunch crisis), it’s still moving. There is no need to pull the hand break right now and go on the reverse. That is what the conservative populist ideologues want to do.

norman said:
“What do you think about changing from income tax to sale tax , would that be easier to implement and collect taxes without a major tax collecting agency”

Both sales and personal income taxes are important for government revenue. Personal Income tax is where the majority of the government revenue comes from. Most developed countries don’t have a problem with verifying and collecting income tax from EMPLOYEES. It’s more difficult to account for the income of proprietors because they tend to understate their profits by incurring additional expenses on their business. It’s also widespread for restaurant or shop owners to use an extra “hidden” cash register. They understate the sales coming from the “hidden” cash register and use them for tax purposes. All in all, accountability requires an efficient tax collecting agency backed up by strong prosecutors and laws. Prosecutors/Tax collectible agency could be given extra incentives to go after tax evaders by earning bonuses on every crime/criminal/evader convicted, etc. That is just one method of trying to create some incentives to reduce corruption.

majedkhaldoun said:
“There are rumors that we will have new goverment soon,in Syria,and Naji Otri will be removed, and it is possible that Dardari will be the next prime minister”

If what you are saying is true, then I see that as a positive step in the right direction. Dardari is definitely on the right track with the initiation of the economic liberalization policies. We need to see more technocrats and academics in government and less ideologues. The prime minister role has traditionally, in the past few decades or so, been more focused on internal affairs, something that would fit with the nature of reforms and the role that Dardari is pursuing. Also, it would give him the legitimate power to initiate more “daring” reform policies that Ehsani and many others have been calling for. Truthfully, I was never fond of Otri’s policies. The latest discord regarding the new personal status laws, in which Otri was supportive of the sectarian changes, tipped it off, and I am sure many citizens had similar feelings.

Dardari for prime minister will definitely be in a better position to PIMP OUT OUR RIDE!

November 4th, 2009, 8:50 am


Off the Wall said:

I agree with LEOLIONI on the tax issue. Both are important, with sales taxes going for localities. But with no sales taxes on essential food items.

I am all for what you said in terms of infrastructure. But infrastructure is a tricky issue. One must also budget in the plan operation and maintenance cost. As we can see in the US, the state of many highways, bridges, and dams is in such disrepair that now requires major investment in maintenance. This can only be done by the government (in terms of financing) but in terms of actual construction, it has to become private sector.

Also we must not forget soft infrastructure. Research centers, universities (not the buildings), and data collection and monitoring of water, environment, health, and other indicators. This is as important as hard infrastructure.

November 4th, 2009, 4:35 pm


Syria Comment » Archives » “Has President Assad Stepped Up Economic Reform?” by Ehsani said:

[…] on al-Reddawi’s “51 point critique” of the liberalization process, which can be read here.  That post triggered a debate between Dr. Omar Dahi, an economics professor at Hampshire College, […]

January 12th, 2010, 10:42 pm


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