“Why Does Syria Do So Badly in World Economic Rankings,” by Ehsani

Ehsani provides this interesting analysis of latest world economic rankings provided by the World Economic Forum. He writes:

The rankings are based on twelve criteria of competitiveness.

1- institutions , 2-infrastructure, 3- macroeconomic environment, 4- health and primary education, 5- higher education and training, 6- goods market efficiency, 7- labor market efficiency, 8- financial market development, 9- technological readiness, 10- market size, 11- business sophistication, 12- innovation.

The first 4 criteria are known as the basic requirement
The next 6 criteria are known as efficiency enhancers
The last 2 criteria are the innovation and sophistication factors

Syria slipped 3 levels to 97 from 94 last year. The study assumed the following key statistics:
Population 21.9 million, GDP $ 52.5 billion, Gdp per capita $ 2579.

Most interesting is that the country received a number one ranking when asked about “business costs of crime and violence”. It was also ranked number one in the world in the HIV prevalence category. It also received very high rankings in “lack of organized crime”, “business costs of terrorism”, “national savings rate”, ” interest rate spread”, “rigidity of employment” and “control of international distribution”. The above areas were notable competitive advantages by the study.

On the negative side, here is what went wrong:

Syria was dead last (rank 139) in “extent of staff training”, The country was at 137 in “company spending on R&D”, “university-industry collaboration in R&D” and “prevalence of foreign ownership”. Surprisingly perhaps, it got a 136 ranking in “female participation in the labor force”. It was ranked at 133-134 in “transparency of government policy making”, “strength of auditing and reporting standards”, “reliance on professional management”, “the legal rights index” and “burden of customs procedures”. Another low ranking was in “internet access to schools” at 131.

Switzerland Again Tops Global Competitiveness Rankings, Canada Drops to 10 (Table)
2010-09-09, By Marco Babic (Bloomberg)

The following table ranks countries on their competitiveness from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The rankings are based on twelve criteria of competitiveness.

                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Switzerland                      1           1           0        5.63
Sweden                           2           4           2        5.56
Singapore                        3           3           0        5.48
United States                    4           2          -2        5.43
Germany                          5           7           2        5.39
Japan                            6           8           2        5.37
Finland                          7           6          -1        5.37
Netherlands                      8          10           2        5.33
Denmark                          9           5          -4        5.32
Canada                          10           9          -1        5.30
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Hong Kong SAR                   11          11           0        5.27
United Kingdom                  12          13           1        5.25
Taiwan, Chna                    13          12          -1        5.21
Norway                          14          14           0        5.14
France                          15          16           1        5.13
Australia                       16          15          -1        5.11
Qatar                           17          22           5        5.10
Austria                         18          17          -1        5.09
Belgium                         19          18          -1        5.07
Luxembourg                      20          21           1        5.05
Saudi Arabia                    21          28           7        4.95
Korea, Rep.                     22          19          -3        4.93
New Zealand                     23          20          -3        4.92
Israel                          24          27           3        4.91
UAE                             25          23          -2        4.89
Malaysia                        26          24          -2        4.88
China                           27          29           2        4.84
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Brunei Darussalam               28          32           4        4.75
Ireland                         29          25          -4        4.74
Chile                           30          30           0        4.69
Iceland                         31          26          -5        4.68
Tunisia                         32          40           8        4.65
Estonia                         33          35           2        4.61
Oman                            34          41           7        4.61
Kuwait                          35          39           4        4.59
Czech Republic                  36          31          -5        4.57
Bahrain                         37          38           1        4.54
Thailand                        38          36          -2        4.51
Poland                          39          46           7        4.51
Cyprus                          40          34          -6        4.50
Puerto Rico                     41          42           1        4.49
Spain                           42          33          -9        4.49
Barbados                        43          44           1        4.45
Indonesia                       44          54          10        4.43
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Slovenia                        45          37          -8        4.42
Portugal                        46          43          -3        4.38
Lithuania                       47          53           6        4.38
Italy                           48          48           0        4.37
Montenegro                      49          62          13        4.36
Malta                           50          52           2        4.34
India                           51          49          -2        4.33
Hungary                         52          58           6        4.33
Panama                          53          59           6        4.33
South Africa                    54          45          -9        4.32
Mauritius                       55          57           2        4.32
Costa Rica                      56          55          -1        4.31
Azerbaijan                      57          51          -6        4.29
Brazil                          58          56          -2        4.28
Vietnam                         59          75          16        4.27
Slovak Republic                 60          47         -13        4.25
Turkey                          61          61           0        4.25
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Sri Lanka                       62          79          17        4.25
Russian Federation              63          63           0        4.24
Uruguay                         64          65           1        4.23
Jordan                          65          50         -15        4.21
Mexico                          66          60          -6        4.19
Romania                         67          64          -3        4.16
Colombia                        68          69           1        4.14
Iran, Islamic Republic          69         n/a         n/a        4.14
Latvia                          70          68          -2        4.14
Bulgaria                        71          76           5        4.13
Kazakhstan                      72          67          -5        4.12
Peru                            73          78           5        4.11
Namibia                         74          74           0        4.09
Morocco                         75          73          -2        4.08
Botswana                        76          66         -10        4.05
Croatia                         77          72          -5        4.04
Guatemala                       78          80           2        4.04
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Macedonia, FYR                  79          84           5        4.02
Rwanda                          80         n/a         n/a        4.00
Egypt                           81          70         -11        4.00
El Salvador                     82          77          -5        3.99
Greece                          83          71         -12        3.99
Trinidad and Tobago             84          86           2        3.97
Philippines                     85          87           2        3.96
Algeria                         86          83          -3        3.96
Argentina                       87          85          -2        3.95
Albania                         88          96           8        3.94
Ukraine                         89          82          -7        3.90
Gambia, The                     90          81          -9        3.90
Honduras                        91          89          -2        3.89
Lebanon                         92         n/a         n/a        3.89
Georgia                         93          90          -3        3.86
Moldova                         94         n/a         n/a        3.86
Jamaica                         95          91          -4        3.85
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Serbia                          96          93          -3        3.84
Syria                           97          94          -3        3.79
Armenia                         98          97          -1        3.76
Mongolia                        99         117          18        3.75
Libya                          100          88         -12        3.74
Dominican Republic             101          95          -6        3.72
Bosnia and Herzegovina         102         109           7        3.70
Benin                          103         103           0        3.69
Senegal                        104          92         -12        3.67
Ecuador                        105         105           0        3.65
Kenya                          106          98          -8        3.65
Bangladesh                     107         106          -1        3.64
Bolivia                        108         120          12        3.64
Cambodia                       109         110           1        3.63
Guyana                         110         104          -6        3.62
Cameroon                       111         111           0        3.58
Nicaragua                      112         115           3        3.57
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Tanzania                       113         100         -13        3.56
Ghana                          114         114           0        3.56
Zambia                         115         112          -3        3.55
Tajikistan                     116         122           6        3.53
Cape Verde                     117         n/a         n/a        3.51
Uganda                         118         108         -10        3.51
Ethiopia                       119         118          -1        3.51
Paraguay                       120         124           4        3.49
Kyrgyz Republic                121         123           2        3.49
Venezuela                      122         113          -9        3.48
Pakistan                       123         101         -22        3.48
Madagascar                     124         121          -3        3.46
Malawi                         125         119          -6        3.45
Swaziland                      126         n/a         n/a        3.40
Nigeria                        127          99         -28        3.38
Lesotho                        128         107         -21        3.36
Cote d’Ivoire                  129         116         -13        3.35
                           2010-11     2009-10        Rank     2011-10
Country                       Rank        Rank      Change       Score
Nepal                          130         125          -5        3.34
Mozambique                     131         129          -2        3.32
Mali                           132         130          -2        3.28
Timor-Leste                    133         126          -7        3.23
Burkina Faso                   134         128          -6        3.20
Mauritania                     135         127          -8        3.14
Zimbabwe                       136         132          -4        3.03
Burundi                        137         133          -4        2.96
Angola                         138         n/a         n/a        2.93
Chad                           139         131          -8        2.73

A Ukrainian website has printed an interview with me here about Syria’s role in the Middle East and its relations with the US. If you read Ukrainian read here.

WSJ [Reg]: Marking Ramadan’s End in a Big Way

DAMASCUS—As Muslims prepare to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, many restaurants across the Arab world boost their meat orders by a few crates. But every year, Damascus Gate restaurant—officially …

Arab regimes’ autocratic nature masks their vulnerability
Lack of public debate makes Arab societies less compliant to new laws – and explains the heavy-handed state enforcement
Brian Whitaker,  guardian, Thursday 9 September 2010

There is a popular assumption – especially in the west – that because Arab regimes tend to be autocratic and authoritarian, the state in Arab countries is also strong.

Yesterday on Cif, Ahmed Moor wrote about the problem of disbanding Palestinian militias in Lebanon. Why, you might wonder, doesn’t the Lebanese government just pull its finger out and disarm them? The short answer is that it can’t because it’s too weak.

Similarly, as I pointed out myself in an article a couple of weeks ago, most Arab governments are incapable of collecting taxes effectively.

There is a paradox here, because Arab regimes have an almost insatiable urge to control. They legislate and regulate endlessly, they establish large armies and security forces and employ vast bureaucracies – and yet their ability to exercise power and influence the behaviour of their citizens is far more limited than it looks.

Regime survival is of course the top priority, so it’s hardly surprising that the power of the state should be directed towards controlling dissent, and that this is the area where its might is deployed most forcefully and effectively. But exercising power in this way is often mistaken for a sign of strength when in reality it is an acknowledgment of vulnerability. As the late Nazih Ayubi noted in his book, Over-stating the Arab State: “The Arab state is therefore often violent because it is weak.”

The Egyptian state, for example, may be perfectly capable of arresting demonstrators by the lorry-load, but it has also been trying for 10 years to persuade its citizens to wear seatbelts in their cars, with little success. For more than half a century, off and on, it has also been trying to stamp out female genital mutilation – again, without making much of a dent in traditional attitudes

In his groundbreaking book, Ayubi drew an important distinction between strong states and hard states. Unlike a strong state, a state that is hard may also be weak. A hard state tends to be highly centralised and interventionist, seeking (though not necessarily successfully) “to enforce a detailed, standardised regulation of the economy and the society”….

This is not to suggest that western systems are perfect, but to show why, by comparison, Arab countries have such problems with compliance. In line with the generally patriarchal approach to government, Arab laws tend to be handed down from on high by diktat and the lack of critical scrutiny before they are approved often results in vague or ambiguous language that makes them more difficult to implement…”

Fears for Turkey Roil Vote on Constitution

Capital Intelligence assigns sovereign ratings to Syria for the first time

“Syria’s credit prospects depend upon the success of policy initiatives aimed at improving the investment climate, as well as on the implementation of further measures to strengthen the public finances and financial management. Substantial economic reform has taken place over the past decade and an accelerated pace of reform could lead to higher ratings over the medium term,” CI says.

Capital Intelligence (CI) said that it has assigned Syria a long-term foreign currency rating of ‘BB-’ (BB minus) and a short-term foreign currency rating of ‘B’. CI has also assigned Syria a long-term local currency rating of ‘BB’ and a short-term local currency rating of ‘B’. The outlook on all ratings is Stable.

CI notes that Syria’s sovereign credit profile is characterised by comparatively strong solvency and liquidity indicators and a demonstrable commitment to gradual economic reform. Less favourably, political risk is a more material concern compared to many higher rated sovereigns, the economic structure and institutional frameworks are relatively weak, and the financial system underdeveloped. In addition, the government is exposed to potentially significant contingent liabilities because of the dominant role of the state in the economy. Syria also faces major longer-term risks associated with declining oil production and a fast growing workforce.

“The overarching strategy for overcoming these challenges is focused on completing the transition to a market-based and more open economy. But this will require many more years of sometimes difficult and politically-sensitive changes and hence there is a risk that the reform process might falter,” CI said.

“Syria’s economy has been only moderately affected by the global economic downturn, mainly because of its limited linkages with the international financial system, and is well-placed to return to trend real output growth of about 5 per cent in 2010-11 as its main trading partners recover,” it added.

New Syrian Brotherhood Leader: Continuity or Change?
Najib Ghadbian September 8, 2010
Arab Reform Bulletin

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s recent selection of a new General Guide is generating speculation about the group’s trajectory after a period in which it gave up most opposition activities. Muhammad Riyadh al-Shaqfih, elected in July after former Guide Ali al-Bayanouni’s third term, served as a Brotherhood military leader in the 1980s and was unknown outside its ranks. While al-Shaqfih and his predecessor assert that there will be continuity in organization policies, a change at the top inevitably raises questions about a possible shift in the group’s strategies toward the Syrian regime…..

Comments (21)

majedkhaldoun said:

Eid Mubarak

September 10th, 2010, 11:00 am


Jad said:

Eid Fitr Mobarak to all Syrians and non Syrian, (at your request Shami)

September 10th, 2010, 11:34 am


Shami said:

yen3ad 3alek jad effendi.kelak zo2

September 10th, 2010, 12:24 pm


Jad said:

Dear Shami,
Inshalla nshofak 3rees and father in the next Fitr, please send your family and your ‘beloved’ ones all my best 🙂

September 10th, 2010, 2:29 pm


Yossi said:

Eid Mubarak and Shana Tova as well (Happy New Jewish Year) to all SC regulars. Let’s hope that against all odds this will be a year of peace and prosperity to our homelands and adopting countries…

France working to resume Israel-Syria talks

President Sarkozy’s emissary to meet with President Assad in Damascus next week, discuss renewal of negotiations with Jerusalem. US special envoy Mitchell to visit Syrian capital as well for update on progress made in direct talks between Israel, Palestinians

Roee Nahmias
Published: 09.10.10, 11:53 / Israel News

Peace talks with Syria in the horizon? French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s emissary Jean-Claude Cousseran will visit Damascus in the coming days, where he will meet with Syrian officials and discuss the resumption of peace talks with Israel, Lebanese newspaper as-Safir reported Friday.

According to the report, Cousseran will arrive in Damascus early next week and meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

Cousseran’s efforts will focus on understanding the Syrian stand in terms of “ways of action on the Syrian channel” and helping “restart this channel by pressuring the Israeli side to enter negotiations.”

According to estimates, France will seek the aid of the Turkish mediator from the latest round of talks between Jerusalem and Damascus, at least at first.

The Lebanese newspaper reported that should the efforts bear fruit, the main sponsor of the talks would be the United States. In the meantime, however, the American administration is focusing on the Palestinian channel, letting France operate on the Syrian channel.

The newspaper added that US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell would arrive in Damascus next week to brief the Syrians on the direct talks launched between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington and ask for their support.

According to the report, Mitchell will stress the American administration’s commitment to restart the process on the Syrian channel. Sources in Damascus told the newspaper, however, that they did not expect “effective efforts” on this channel before the US Congress elections in November.

September 10th, 2010, 3:00 pm


Shami said:

Habibi Jad ,i’m already happy married man since 5 months ago ,all my best wishes for you ,your familly and friends.

September 10th, 2010, 6:53 pm


Elie Elhadj said:

Eid Ramadan Mubarak and happy New Jewish Year to all SC readers and commentators.


Thanks for showing Syria’s benchmarking on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. It is not an impressive showing.

The list of negatives you listed is formidable. It is extremely challenging to rectify. Huge sums of money, years if not decades of dedicated had work, and fundamental changes in the laws and the tenets of the country’s system of governance will be needed if Syria is to improve the “extent of staff training” (at 139, ranked last ), “company spending on R&D” (137), “university-industry collaboration in R&D”, “prevalence of foreign ownership”, “female participation in the labor force” (136), “transparency of government policy making”, (133-134), “strength of auditing and reporting standards”, “reliance on professional management”, “the legal rights index”, “burden of customs procedures”, and “internet access to schools” (131).

I would like to comment on what might be compromising the score of a very important factor; namely, “transparency of government policy making”, which in turn has the added effect of creating the environment that compromises the “strength of auditing and reporting standards”. Then, I would like to make two policy suggestions. Finally, I would like to supplement EHSANI’s list by showing Syria’s scores on the World Bank’s six Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) for 2008.

Syria’s system of governance, undemocratic non-participatory (save for a narrow ruling group), does not lend itself to promoting a culture of transparency in government policy-making let alone instituting strong auditing and reporting standards. In the absence of an independent parliament with robust watchdog committees to bring to task every and all cabinet ministers (including the defense minister and security chiefs), opposition political parties, a free press, environmental and other egalitarian non-governmental organizations it is impossible to introduce a balancing perspective into government’s setting of national priorities, government’s allocation of scarce resources, transparency in the nation’s finances, and enforcing the law equally on all, including members of the ruling group.

Compounding pressure on Syria’s modest resources is the country’s huge 3% annual rate of population growth:


With such a high population growth rate, it would be impossible to stop the current deterioration in public services or enhance per capita GDP unless a sizable and sustained investment for years to come, may be decades, will be made to improve the country’s infrastructure starting with a constant flow of clean household water, efficient sewage treatment systems, uninterrupted electricity supply, communication networks of all kinds, upgrading and increasing the number of hospitals, universities, schools etc.

To meet the challenge, a re-allocation of Syria’s modest resources is inevitable. A root and branch rethinking of national priorities is urgently needed.

At the top of the list is military spending. Syria’s military should receive a much smaller piece from the GDP pie. Despite the tens of billions spent over the past four decades (true figures were never released), Syria’s military has failed to become a factor in the regional balance of military power. Its poor performance against Israel confirms. This particular imbalance will not change even if Syria allocates all of its GDP to the military.

Smaller military spending would release badly needed resources to invest in raising the value of Syria’s human capital. In a generation or two, better educated, healthier, and more professional soldiers will replace the current stock of poorly educated rank and file.

Investment in irrigation agriculture, which uses huge volumes of Syria’s finite water resources should be shifted to investing in low water using manufacturing industries based on rate of return criterion instead of political convenience or personal interest. Foreign currencies generated from exporting manufactured products, or from reducing the importation of manufactured goods, would be used to import foodstuffs. Agriculture in arid/semi arid Syria should be left to rain fed lands, with investment in modern technology to improve the yield and quality of rain fed produce. It should be remembered that irrigation schemes have left the water balance in five of Syria’s seven basins negative. In addition to the billions of dollars wasted on white elephant irrigation schemes, what a terrible loss of water that is!

To deal with EHSANI’s list, tons of reform measures may be added, including, yes, a modern family law to replace the current Sharia’s based primitive seventh century personal status law to elevate the legal standing and societal treatment of Syria’s women so that they may become able to make a better contribution to the economy. Also, reforming the educational curriculum is important to emphasize modern science, enhance intellectual reasoning, encourage probing into taboo subjects, and the teaching of ethics and comparative religious thought to all students in place of current textbooks.

I would like now to show the scores Syria achieved on the World Bank’s six Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) for 2008:


The list magnifies the challenges Syria faces to reform its system of governance.

To put Syria’s score in perspective, I’ll state first the score that a high achiever like Austria attained then Syria’s score:

Voice and Accountability: 94 (Austria), 5 (Syria)
Political stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism: 96, 27
Government Effectiveness: 1.71, -0.67
Regulatory quality: 94, 13
Rule of law: 95, 34
Control of Corruption: 94, 12


September 11th, 2010, 10:08 am


Majhool said:


Great post thank you

Since you advocate calling a spade a spade, do you think that the Syrian regime is sectarian? i.e. based on or advocates the interest of certain sects. Also, in your view, how much of an impact the minority rule has on provoking sectarian feelings and islamist ideology among sunni Syrians? Some point out that the introduction of Asma Akhras into public life have been effective in tempering these feelings.

September 11th, 2010, 11:18 am


jad said:

Dear Dr. ELie,
As usual, excellent article, Thank you.
The main 3 issues Syria needs to concentrate on are It’s Human Resources, Natural Resources and Justice System.
and as you wrote we need to start with building a strong justice system that we all believe in and trust instead of the corrupted one we have at the moment.
Encourage Syrians, (Men and Women) to free their imaginations and start giving what they are capable of not what they have to do.
Save and protect Syrian environment and natural resource by all means, natural resources and Syrian land are not only for our generation to use, they are our main and only treasure that we must save and keep for the coming generations.
Thank you and Ehsani again for pointing out our country’s weak points, this is always the first step in evaluating of what we don’t have and were are our problems, so we can work to fix them one by one.

Dear Majhool,
Justice, doesn’t and shouldn’t have any religion or sect
Economy, doesn’t and shouldn’t have any religion or sect
Environment, doesn’t and shouldn’t have any religion or sect
so our Syrian fellow, he/she shouldn’t have any religion or sect when he/she wants of improve Syria.
We all need to work on that if we truly want Syria to be for all and every Syrian regardless of his/her religion or sect, we have plenty of bad example and memory of what will happen when we spread this dangerous sectarian way of thinking.
I’m not defending the regime at all but I don’t see the point of what you have behind your questions to Elie and I don’t see any reason to include the first lady in your comment, unless you are separating Syrians between Sunni and Alawi and asking for this specific issue as the main problem not the horrible mismanagement we have.

September 11th, 2010, 1:04 pm


Ghat Al Bird said:

Interesting revelation in time for holidays.


September 11th, 2010, 1:23 pm


Majhool said:

Dearest Jad,

I am in full agreement with you that justice, economy, etc.. should not be driven by sectarian interest. In fact that’s the my wish.

To get to this point we have to address secterian politics, right? So first we have to acknowledge it and talk about it, no?

No need to dig as to my motives. I fear that sectarian monopoly on power in Syria make islamists stronger. and make our political system unstable.

Its actually not fair that you question my motives when you and others can answer the questions in very technical, factual, and professional way.

September 11th, 2010, 2:34 pm


Jad said:

Dear Majhool,
I’m in agreement with your two questions in your last comment.
My intention wasn’t questioning you at all, 
it was a general points from my side about your comment to Dr. Elie.
I apologize if it was understood as a comment about you personally. 
It wasn’t. It was a statements in the form of questions that’s all 🙂
have a nice evening Majhool afandi 🙂

September 11th, 2010, 3:45 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

You always has good,informative article and point to important issues,thanks:
But I have to respond to the suggestion that military spending must be reduced, Syria is front and resistant state against the evil enemy,Israel,the cause of most evil in the middle east,while we can not achieve balance of power,due to huge american aids to Israel,both in money and intelligence and other ways,Syria must keep military spending high ,we need to strengthen alliance too,if it was not for Syria Israel would have won long time ago, I do think that Syria must get aids from rich Arabic states to strengthen the military more.
Tomorrow.we will hear from urkey a very important news.

September 11th, 2010, 7:00 pm


Majhool said:

Thanks Jad, BTW, you are in CA no??

September 11th, 2010, 10:52 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Your questions in 8 are direct!

Jad (in 9) said: “I don’t see the point of what you have behind your questions to Elie”.

Nonetheless, I’ll reply.

You said: “do you think that the Syrian regime is sectarian? i.e. based on or advocates the interest of certain sects.”

For a proper reply, and at the risk of being boring, a bit of history is helpful, especially as relates to the change in Syria’s power structure during the twentieth century.

Syria’s Sunni wealthy urban families and notables enjoyed a privileged position under the stratified society of Ottoman rule (1517–1918). The French mandate (1920–1946) changed that. Syria’s urban elite supported Sharif Hussein’s revolt in 1916 in the hope that they might govern an independent Syria should the Ottomans get defeated in WW1. However, they failed to achieve their dream after Turkey’s defeat. France and Britain had secretly agreed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement to govern natural Syria.

Syria’s embittered urban elite led the nationalist resistance against French rule. France had, as a result, to rely on Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities to govern. The French recruited infantry and cavalry units composed exclusively of Alawites, Armenians, Circassians, Druze, Ismailis, and Kurds.

After the nationalists forced France out of Syria in 1946, Damascus’ early governments were composed of mainly the country’s urban notables. The new leaders resented a Syrian army composed of ethnic and religious minorities, left behind by the French. Between 1946 and 1948, they reduced the size of the army from 7,500 men to 2,500 men (Philip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945, Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 81). Army commanders reciprocated the resentment, and the army became politicized. During the next fifteen years, many young Alawites joined he Homs military academy for free education and board. On March 8, 1963, Hafiz Asad and his comrades seized power.

For centuries the mountainous region that was home to the Alawites was destitute. Poverty was so abject that poor Alawite families were compelled to send their daughters, sometimes as young as ten years of age, to live and work for paltry wages as housemaids in the homes of affluent non-Alawite families in nearby cities. While other parts of rural Syria were also poor, the Alawite region was the worst; villages had no electricity, running household water, or sanitation. Elementary schools were scarce; intermediate schools were rare; and high schools were only available in large urban centres. Hospitals were nonexistent. Most villages were accessible only by horse or donkey. The region’s main source of income was tobacco, but the high brokerage fees charged by wholesalers in Latakia left little profit for the growers.

It is not surprising, therefore, if Mr. Asad Sr. would act to rectify decades of suffering and neglect by Damascus of his people.

Syria’s Sunni urban elites resented their loss of power, particularly to the downtrodden adherents of a sect viewed by most Sunnis as heretics and nefarious. Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) condemned the Nusayris (Alawites) as being more dangerous than the Christians, and encouraged Muslims to conduct jihad against them (Patrick Seale, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995, p. 10).

Within Syria’s generally moderate Sunni community an activist orthodox minority gathered around the Muslim Brothers organization. The aim of this minority has from day one been the removal of Alawite rule by force. As you know, this minority wreaked havoc, particularly, between 1977 and 1982 when they assassinated, burned, and robbed. Among their 300 or so victims were some of the best-known military and intellectual symbols of the Asad regime. Then came Hama in 1982.

Facing Sunni militancy Mr. Asad handpicked trusted Alawite commanders for the security services and the military. Sunnis were given many senior positions in the cabinet and elsewhere, though not in the security services.

As a tiny ruling minority facing mortal danger at the hand of Sunni jihadists, Alawite officers must cling together. The relationship between the president and his commanders is one of mutual dependency. The allegiance of the commanders to the president must be personal and total. The officers protect the regime in return for wealth and power. The president has little choice but to tolerate the excesses and the sleaze of his protectors. Corruption is the glue that keeps the power group in such a system of governance together. Remove the glue and the whole deck of cards crumbles.

Therefore, the answer is in the affirmative to your question: “do you think that the Syrian regime is sectarian? i.e. based on or advocates the interest of certain sects”. However, one should remember that this situation is a product of Syria’s Sunni realities.

You asked: “Also, in your view, how much of an impact the minority rule has on provoking sectarian feelings and islamist ideology among sunni Syrians?”

The picture just painted should provide the answer. Yes, Syria’s narrow power pyramid, its non-participatory system of governance, and corrupt privileged officer class and Baath Party operatives and their cronies who habitually violate the law with impunity do provoke “sectarian feeling and Islamist ideology among Sunni Syrians”.

In my answer no. 25 to you, MAJHOOL:


I said that there are a number of measures Syria’s government ought to take that would quickly have a favorable effect to lessen the alienation and distrust that many feel today. Among these are the narrowing of the huge disparities of wealth in the country (tax top earners heavily) created through corruption (prosecute a few big cases) and violation of the law with impunity (throw in jail a few convicted major violators regardless how big they might be), raise the salaries of government’s lower earners and pensioners (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant irrigation projects), take serious steps to alleviate water and electricity shortages (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant irrigation projects) relax the state of emergency law, allow a bit of freedom of expression to opponents, reduce the degree of the cult of personality surrounding the Asad family.

Needless to say, the Asads are not new to excising compatriots. Upon seizing power in 1970, Hafiz Assad jailed Salah Jadid in the notorious Mazzeh Prison, where he remained without trial until shortly before his death in 1993. Closer to home, brother Rifaat Asad was banished in 1984. A similar fate should be exacted today against a few of the regime’s sacred cows for their illicit financial gains. Such action would go a long way to assuage peoples’ frustration and anger (just read some of the comments in Arabic on Syrian Website) and slow the current dangerous slide toward religious orthodoxy and militancy.

Syria’s accommodation of Sunnis has been exploited by the minority of Islamist activists. This minority, armed with boundless religious fervor and dogma is on a determined mission to cease power. To avoid another Hama, Syria needs to be more assertive in dealing with this group. That the Muslim Brothers organization and sympathizers started of late to call for democratic elections is farcical. No sooner that they would win the keys to city hall than they’ll declare that their mission is divine and throw the keys away. The Brotherhood proclaims Islam as a “creed and state, book and sword, and a way of life.” Its theme is, “Allah is our objective. The Messenger is our leader. The Quran is our law. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

You said: “Some point out that the introduction of Asma Akhras into public life have been effective in tempering these feelings.”

Mrs. Asma Asad is a credit to Syria. She imparts a wonderful image of liberalism, sophistication, modernity, and dignity. If Mrs. Asad’s introduction into public life has been effective in “tempering these feelings” that’s great. Images aside, however, the fact remains that under Syria’s personal status law Mrs. Asad’s witness statement or weight of testimony in a Syrian Shari’a court of law is equal to half of that of a man, who might be illiterate. Such abuse of women in this day in age is shameful and must be ended.


September 12th, 2010, 9:05 am


Majhool said:


Thank you for your answers. They are by far the most candid on the issue in SC forums.

However, I did not see power sharing with the majority moderate sunnis in your short list!! This approach of ( Pain relief bills) turn the majority sunnis into ahl Zemmah, or second class citizens!! I find it hard to swallow that you could advocate such a thing.

Also, Rif’at and Jadid were not sidlined because of their corrpution. It was done becasue they were competing for power.

The secterian nature of politics in Syria is by far the most destablizing force in the society and must be addressed. President Bashar, has done a steller job in making the majority feel at ease. However, short of a miracle this would not last for too long.

September 12th, 2010, 2:44 pm


Norman said:


Thank you , You do not just inform us but also educate us , It looks to me that most of the problem come from lack of foreign companies that can provide internship and training , with new companies doing work in Syria , that might change , the other part about lack of R&D and lack of cooperation between companies and Universities in R&D comes from the poor compensation that are given to University teachers that need to have private work to make up for lack of income from teaching , having better compensations and bonus system for innovations can change that ,

What do think about improving Syria’s ranking and how they should do that ,

September 12th, 2010, 9:30 pm



Elie Said:
“”Therefore, the answer is in the affirmative to your question: “do you think that the Syrian regime is sectarian? i.e. based on or advocates the interest of certain sects”.””

I fully disagree with you Elie. The Syrian regime is not sectarian and it does not advocate the interest of certain sects. I, as a Sunni by birth, have traveled to many places inhabited by Syria minorities. I, to my surprise, found that Alawites villages, not counting few villas of senior military officers, are still some of the poorest in the country. Also, Alawites are still living in rundown ghettos around Damascus. Most Alawites can only work as low-paid soldiers or government employees after graduating from college. The Syrian economy and businesses are still controlled by Sunni families. That was the way Assad Senior planned it and that is still the way it is now. Also, most ministries are not controlled by Alawites. Assad Senior created many ministries and had the habit of rotating many community leaders into them (Sunni, Druze, Christians, tribes…). So in a way Assad Senior was very clever in making sure everyone got a piece of the pie (corruption for all). That was how he kept the piece and prevented the Muslim Brothers from getting full community support.

Yes, the military is mainly controlled by a close circuit of loyal and fattened Alawites officers. Then what do you expect? How can one prevent a constant internal threat of the military? Is it any different in Jordan or Saudi or Serbia or Tailand,…

September 13th, 2010, 3:31 am


5 dancing shlomos said:

included syria is an artificial state separated from jordan, lebanon, palestine, and possibly part of iraq. large coastline, major cities, tourist sites, holy sites, it was created to not be a success.

loss of the julan.

constant pressure, sanctions, threats of attack from the west and israel as the west measures syria by western standards.

how many millions of refugees from iraq?

an artificial country under constant attack/pressure cannot develop, evolve normally

September 13th, 2010, 12:06 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Your kind words are appreciated. Thanks.

You said to me: “I did not see power sharing with the majority moderate sunnis in your short list!! This approach of ( Pain relief bills) turn the majority sunnis into ahl Zemmah, or second class citizens!! I find it hard to swallow that you could advocate such a thing.”

I have re-read my comment no. 15 carefully in search of such a statement (for fear of ambiguity), but could not find a word to this effect, even remotely! Indeed, such a notion towards the majority of the population would be terribly unfair.

You said: “Rif’at and Jadid were not sidlined because of their corrpution. It was done becasue they were competing for power.”

Bringing those two cases was merely to show that the Asads are not strangers to dealing firmly with whoever poses serious threat to their authority.


You said: “I fully disagree with you Elie… I, to my surprise, found that Alawites villages, not counting few villas of senior military officers, are still some of the poorest in the country. Also, Alawites are still living in rundown ghettos around Damascus. Most Alawites can only work as low-paid soldiers or government employees after graduating from college. The Syrian economy and businesses are still controlled by Sunni families… Also, most ministries are not controlled by Alawites.”

I suppose your statement relates to my saying that: It is not surprising, therefore, if Mr. Asad Sr. would act to rectify decades of suffering and neglect by Damascus of his people.

Aside from this statement, there is nothing in what I wrote to imply that I believe that Alawite villages are the richest in the country or Alawites are living in rich neighborhoods near Damascus or most alawites only work in high paying military or government jobs after graduating from college. I did not say that the Syrian economy and businesses are controlled by Alawite families. Also, I did not say that most ministries are controlled by Alawites. Actually, I said: Sunnis were given many senior positions in the cabinet and elsewhere, though not in the security services. This last statement of mine (though not in the security services) agrees with what you said: “Yes, the military is mainly controlled by a close circuit of loyal and fattened Alawites officers.”

As such, I don’t see where we disagree.


September 13th, 2010, 1:28 pm


Ghat Al Bird said:

Statements about Muslims/islam are now unconfined to select experts.

As the saying goes every tom. dick, harry or peretz are now the knowledgeable ones:


September 13th, 2010, 5:07 pm


Post a comment

Neoprofit AI Immediate Venture Instant Prosperity