Monday, August 28, 2006

A Personal Memo - By EHSANI2

I have just returned from a three-week vacation to Syria. I must admit that I have struggled to think of something incisive to write about. What possible insight can I offer readers of this forum I thought? Given my personal interest in economic matters, it made sense for me to concentrate on this topic first. I will conclude my note with the inevitable discussion of non-economic issues as well. I warn the scores of regime supporters here: The truth is sometimes painful to hear.

One tends to often read statements like “Syrians” are behind Bashar and are keen to maintain the status quo. Others may offer a different picture by proclaiming that “Syrians” are very unhappy with the regime but are afraid to say so in public.

But which “Syrians” are we referring to here?

In the personal opinion of this writer, Syria is made up of two separate countries: Syria 1 which contains close to one million people and Syria 2 which contains the remaining 19 million.

Syria 1 is made up of the affluent, highly connected industrialists, merchants and very high Government officials. Given the high standard of living of this group, one would expect them to support the regime and the current status quo. While most may admit that that progress has been slow, they are quick to point that given the circumstances, the country is on the right track. They highlight their latest cell phones, home and office Internet connections as well as their brand new cars as irrefutable signs of the economic and social advances that the country has been experiencing as of late. My suspicion is that most readers of this forum fall in this group. My Syrian friends and I certainly do too. Seen from their prism, the Syrian economy seems prosperous judging by the superb outdoor dinners, number of servants, lovely homes, fancy cars, latest cell phones, rising land values, and monopolistic businesses.

Life could not be more different for the 19 million people of Syria 2. As I opined in the past, Syria’s Baath has caused enormous economic damage to this country. It is clear that this silent majority has suffered the brunt of this grave economic mismanagement. This is evident in this group’s salary levels. If they were lucky enough to have jobs, salaries of this group is likely to be around Syp 10,000 ($200) per month. Their average family size is 6-7 (four to five children). They all seem to feel that what they really needed was an extra $100 per month before things would be “fine”. Almost a year ago, the Government has stopped offering new jobs in its vast public sector. You now need a huge connection to land such a job. What was truly amazing to me was how valuable people considered a job with the Government. A stable income of $200 was the envy of those aspiring to find such positions. Taxi drivers were an interesting case to study. 90% of them do not own their vehicles but are hired to drive it for close to 8 hours a day. Asked how much they expected to make on a daily basis, the level of Syp 300 ($6.0) was often cited. When asked how many children they had to support with this salary, an average of five children always seemed to be the answer. This does not mean that members of Syria 2 do not move up the income ladder. Highly technical machine technicians cited to me figures approaching Syp 20,000 ($400). Private Bank employees (newly commissioned ones) expected closer to $500 a month. Our highly connected and very entrepreneurial area “Mukhtar” is able to draw in close to Syp 40,000 (he sells gas cylinders on the side). Though not statistically accurate, it is my observation that close to 19 million lives in this $200 to $400 per month world.

What can $200-$400 buy this group is the obvious next question. It is perhaps best to answer this by offering these anecdotes:

A close friend of mine has recently started a small chain of coffee shops (call it a Syrian Starbucks). I frequently visited it during the past 3 weeks. A double espresso was my usual order at a cost of Syp 150 ($3). Two such orders a day cost me what my taxi driver earned in 8 hours of driving in a boiling non-air-conditioned Iranian or Chinese-made vehicle. Remember that this had to cover his cost of shelter, food, medical bills, and school supplies for all 6-7 members of his family.

Eating out in Syria is relatively cheap. Before I left the country, my wife and I invited 10 of our best friends out for dinner. The food was amazing. The bill was Syp 8,000 ($160). Given what I would have paid for this overseas, I considered the outing an excellent value of money. For the record, my poor taxi driver will have to drive for 27 days to be able to afford this meal (his family can expect no money in the meantime).

I am sure that lots of readers are going to argue that every country has its haves and have-nots. So what is special about Syria they might ask?

What distinguishes Syria is how its middle class has been squashed by the horrific economic mismanagement by the country’s economic leadership. $6 a day for 6 people (average family size) is the unmistakable result of this catastrophic system.

Every time I asked how they could possibly get by with such low income, the answer was “We have gotten used to it”.

A note on politics:

Contrary to what many people on this forum think, most of the people that I spoke to seem to think that the Hariri investigation is a massive cloud that continues to hang over the regime’s leadership.

Another thing that struck me was the low confidence that most people have in the personality of their young President. Even his loyal supporters seem to admit that he lacks the charisma and purpose of his late foxy father.

As for the regime’s ability to hold on to power, I found absolutely no evidence to indicate a weakening in the regime’s grip. Internal dissent was nonexistent.

Why have the 19 million people decided to accept living in such conditions?

I think the following quote by Karl Marx can answer this question best:

“The great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.”


This visit to Syria has convinced me that the country’s economy is in a far worse position than currently believed. When Syria becomes a net oil importer by 2010, the current economic challenges will multiply. A very small minority of Syrians will continue to benefit from the current system and hence get even richer in the meantime. My own close friends are some of the richest people in the country. A number of them made hundreds of millions following the recent climb in land values. Money laundering was thought to be the main explanation behind the incredible advance in real estate. While it is easy to assume that Syria 1 is the reality of the situation, the truth is otherwise.

The vast majority of the population is likely to suffer even further going forward. Though inconceivable, their children may fare even worse than their horrific $6 payday. The population explosion has resulted in scores of unemployed men walking its major cities. Those residing in the rural part of the country have fared even worse. Their decision to locate to the big cities has made things even worse. It is my conviction that this regime cannot reform fast enough to arrest the decline in its economy and the standards of living of its citizens. Bashar’s last interview with Dubai Television was striking. His admission of complete isolation from the other Arab leaders was rather shocking. It is my opinion that the Hariri investigation may unsettle this regime to the point where its survival beyond one more year could well be questioned. My friends in Syria 1 sure hope that I am wrong. The potatoes that make up Syria 2 are hopeless, powerless and confused. They have been squashed for 43 years now. They have learnt to accept their fate. They know no better. I have heard and read all the commentary that Syria has won the recent battle. Most Syrians on this forum and inside the country have rallied around their leader and the flag. This is to be expected in such times. This writer, on the other hand, sees things differently. He sees a country in decay. A majority that is deep in poverty. Soaring unemployment is unavoidable. Significantly falling standards of living is inevitable. This is the picture of Syria that most refuse to hear. Their nationalistic genes have blinded them to these obvious facts on the ground. Regrettably, our once proud nation is in a state of despair and decline.


At 8/28/2006 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...

What an excellent post by Ehsani2.

The government will now try to show some humility in order to regain some dignity after committing a series of appaling blunders in the last three years.

No one can forget or forgive because misery is a daily reality and nothing they say or do will change that. There is no question that the regime remains in control. Economically, they just don't get it. Reform and political corruption simply do not mix. Stamping out corruption means self-destruction. And so we stagger along toward the next coup. What a waste of people's lives and potential.

At 8/28/2006 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed enough eating Kebab and mamounieh in Aleppo every day.

As for your conclusions. Please remember that a large part of Syria2 lives in the countryside where in Syria at least, they have their different scales for income and expenses and expectations.

I enjoed readng your analysis, but you only uncovered the alarming trends. You are assuming that nothing positive will be introduced into the equation ... that things will simply go downhill from today until 2010 when Syria starts emporting oil.

At 8/28/2006 04:09:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

When I was in Syria in may and june I met people in Malki,damascus ,they are well to do people, they believe that The regime has nothing to do with Hariri murder,when I explain to them why I am convinced that Bashar ordered hariri killing, their answer was almost the same, if the investigations lead to bashar they will revolt against him,for that I think september is bad month for Bashar.

At 8/28/2006 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

check this out

i dont buy it, they will probably cancel it on the basis that he will face the death penalty if they send him back

At 8/28/2006 04:31:00 PM, Blogger ActiveListener said...

Ehsani is speaking terrible truths. He wrote: "What distinguishes Syria is how its middle class has been squashed by the horrific economic mismanagement by the country’s economic leadership"

Here we have the sickening warning signs of a failed state in the making.

Those in Syria 1, excluding those that turn out to be remarkable social entrepreneurs, will find they have helped and hastened in the trashing of their own nest.

There are plenty of examples around the world of that class skulking and pining in stunned exile.

At 8/28/2006 05:06:00 PM, Blogger why-discuss said...

I was in Syria 2 months ago and I have been there 2 years ago too. This time, I have noticed a boom in the touristic field. In Tartus a huge project to build hotels and chalets will finish in 3 years.
Hundreds of iranian tourist agencies are renting hotels year round. Arabs, including rich iraqis are flocking. Syria, once re admitted as a "normal" country has the potential to become a touristic paradise. The syrians are hospitable, the country is vast, extremely beautiful and offer a variety of climate and is very safe.
I am not so pessimistic as I am sure most arabs from the gulf will come to Syria, invest and spend money. Lebanon is small, instable, expensive and saturated. I am sure europeans and american will come too once things settle politically. I just hope that that will benefit Syria 2 people..

At 8/28/2006 05:40:00 PM, Blogger Pacta said...

So Syria might be on its way to becoming a must for tourists but in the meantime, since the ceasefire went into effect, about 150 000 Syrian "potatoes" have crossed the border into Lebanon looking for jobs. Lebanon might be too expensive for the rich Gulf tourists and at an all time low, it still offers more jobs to dirt-poor Syrians than Syria has ever created for its citizens. On top of that, Syrian workers crossing into Lebanon have to pay 800 Syrian pounds when leaving Syria and not a piaster to enter Lebanon and get a 6-month permit.

At 8/28/2006 06:09:00 PM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

This is not at all new information. I wonder why Prof. is believing it now, and not before! Because Ehsani2 said it?

Anyway, what is the solution?

I see no hope as we are stuck between a retadred regime that is criminal at the same time, and those who are more criminal than the regime who will say anything and associate themselves with any body or any devil to come to power, the Damn Moslem brotherhoods.

What is it that we can expect from a country that Hafez Assad had ruined prior to passing it to his son? He brought to us all kinds of sicknesses including among others, sectarianism, tribalism, thievery, dishonest, and a bribery system of government? Did he do what ever he did by design, or by just mistakes ?

I think he destoryed Syria by design, and he was not alone, of course, but what do we do now? I certainly do not wish to see a change in a criminal regime to bring the Moslem Brotherhoods or their associates to power, and given a choice, I would opt for Bashar.

At 8/28/2006 06:26:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...


nice to see that you have become a Marxist and a class warrior... ;-)

While reading the headlines in today's Daily Star, I couldn't help but notice this funny coincidence:

"US awaits Lebanese leadership and plans for disarming Hizbullah"

"March 14 Forces call for Hizbullah's disarmament, avoidance of further war"

Katherine Zoepf has an interesting new article on the Islamic revival in Syria, a phenomenon that comprises "Syria 1" and "2":

In Syria, a quiet Islamic revival

At 8/28/2006 07:46:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

You're optimistic when you say that the average Syrian earns between 200 and 400. Syrians working in Lebanon (at least those who are still here) work for $300 a month, at most. Lebanon is more expensive than Syria, so their net income is even lower than that.

It is logical to assume that Syrians working in Lebanon have a higher net income than Syrians living in Syria, otherwise their semi-exile wouldn't be worth it.

At 8/28/2006 07:53:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"The vast majority of the population is likely to suffer even further going forward. Though inconceivable, their children may fare even worse than their horrific $6 payday. The population explosion has resulted in scores of unemployed men walking its major cities. Those residing in the rural part of the country have fared even worse."

It is worth noting that Syria, like Egypt but unlike Lebanon, Algeria or Tunisia, has not a sizable emigration living in Western countries, mainly because Syrian masses have been denied the right to learn non-Arabic languages.

The arabization policy may backfire against the regime in a few decades, as emigration relieves demographical pressure from a developping country and is an important source of income. Moreover, it is not possible to have decent universities when teaching in Arabic.

At 8/28/2006 09:27:00 PM, Blogger why-discuss said...


yes, syrians are going back to Lebanon to rebuild it and to be used as cheap labour by lebanese exploiters. It is caviar vs potatoes..
Maybe Lebanese who are anti-syrian should get chinese workers for even cheaper.

At 8/29/2006 02:05:00 AM, Blogger Pacta said...

why-discuss, then one must think that the huge construction projects in Syria, hotels, chalets and what not for the caviar iraqis and emiratis, pay even less than in Lebanon.

At 8/29/2006 03:20:00 AM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

Nice post Ehsani.

However I will remind you, however lamentable our people's situation is today--you said so yourself that “We have gotten used to it.” I have been to the villages, I have seen the poor and the horrid situation they live in. They may live poor lives, but for the most part they are a happy people who have hope things will get better.

Now take your description of life in Syria and go read any article about life in Iraq. There are horrors in life that are much worse than living in poverty. Fear of rape, torture, killing, looting--these are all incredible acts that Iraqis must now live in because of an American attempt to 'liberate' them.

Let me again compare Syria to the pro-America regimes in Egypt and Jordan. I will make a guess that their own 'Egypt 2' and 'Jordan 2' also live in quite lamentable conditions. This is constant trend then throughout the Levant.

So for those proud Syrians that will try to use Ehsani's personal memo to call for regime change--remember our problem is a far greater one than simply removing the Assad regime. We have no guarentee that in doing so we are just opening the gates of Hell like Iraq, or may just be ushering in a new regime that still leaves the people poor but only answers to an American master. To repeat, there is no silver bullet.

Ehsani you believe this regime cannot reform fast enough to arrest the decline in its economy and the standards of living of its citizens. I sure hope it can because I believe that Syrians coming up with an alternate regime under the present conditions would not arrest decline either. Rather, an alternate regime would only spark a struggle for power that would smash the small hope for progress that 'Syria 2' clings to. It would smash the security of 'Syria 1' and in turn turn the petro-dollars presently coming into our country back around.

"Internal dissent was nonexistent." Ladies and gentlemen for better or worse the regime has left us with no option than to stick it out with Bashar and Company. We must try to reform from within, stamp out corruption from within, build a meritocracy from within. At the present time, I see no other way that doesn't lead us from taking small steps forward to one where we take giant leaps backwards.

At 8/29/2006 05:53:00 AM, Blogger A Syrian In The Far East said...

Great and much-needed analysis, Mr. Ehsani2.
Allow me to add to your analysis by further analyzing the group you called Syria2 from what I know:

Economically speaking, Syria has many groups of social classes, but for the sake of simplicity we can roughly sum them up in the following 4 groups:

Syria1: The Big Shots Class: You have perfectly described them. You find them socializing at all the new fancy cafes and restaurants in Aleppo and Damascus. They might number up to 1 million as you said if you consider their families and affiliates and if you add to them the Syrians expatriates (not the permanent immigrants) outside the country at a similar economical level.

Syria2: The Lower-Mid Class: These are:
a. Young people who found jobs in the new enterprises that Syria1 group have created. Their income average 250-300dollar.
b. Self-employed skilled workers, who also benefit considerably from the wealth of Syria1 group and their property enhancement projects, and of course from the rest of Syria2 groups.
c. Government employees of older generations (above 35 years old), who have many other benefits, legal or illegal, from their jobs besides their salaries. Or have incomes from properties left to them by their parents (rental, etc.,). Their diverse income totals up to 300dollar and above (as the Mukhtar you mentioned for example). Retired officers who received government houses and at-job mid-rank officers of army’s “luxurious units” (Republican Guard, Special Units, etc.) fall into this group as well.
d. Farmers and Employees who depend on land-farming-income besides their salaries. These are rarely found in Damascus as land farming is scarce but can be found in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Costal Area and Jazeera.
e. Expatriates in the Golf mainly, and all over the planet (as far as the far-east), who are not settled in their diaspora and still hold the Syrian passport only, and as such still go back frequently and are still involved in the society (in comparison to settled immigrants with other passports, who go back as tourists)..
Syria 2 group is what you may call the new middle class, of course in terms of being economically in the middle between Syria1 and Syria3, although closer to Syria3 and hence the term Lower-Mid Class. There income allows them to live somehow comfortably in Syria (including a visit to the likes of your friend’s coffee shop once or twice a month). Especially that they often use their connections to provide their family members with similar jobs to increase the income, most of them are already living in a house or an apartment left to them by their parents, and they do not have usually many children.
However, their income, time, way of life, and the surrounding cultural and political environment do not allow them to develop intellectually into a liberal middle class who can lead the changes in the country.
Because they are afraid of abrupt change, they mostly share Syria1 group with their desire for the present situation to stay as it is or, at best, desire that the situation enhances gradually. Religious tendency is strong but not as genuine as it might seems since it is mainly derived by economical and political reasons.
I would put their number between 5 to 6million.

Syria3: The Two-Job Class: Are lower-class employees who can not benefit from their position, and people without education, who strive in more than one job to make ends meet. Here is where the Taxi drivers in your story fit. Those are making around 75 to 150dollar, but usually have many children and large families that makes this income disappear way-before the end of the month. They often depend on the work of many members of the same family, including children. Many force their children to quit school and work with decimal wages to release themselves form their burden. They also benefit form the “benevolence” of the groups of Syria1 and Syria2 through religious and social charities.
They are as you described exactly; politically indifferent. Too tired, too exhausted and disoriented to even think whether there should be regime change or reform, or even a nuclear war with America. As you mentioned, all what they hope for is an extra 100dollar at the end of the month. They are easily manipulated and consist a fertile ground for the only activists that are allowed under the regime, the so-called moderate religious activists. Although, when you are in the circumstances, education-level, and poverty of this class, crossing the line between moderate and extreme is not so difficult. Their religious affiliation is therefore harder to reverse than Syria2 group.
This group is the one that would suffer the most from the an increasing unemployment rate, and the one most threatened of even further falling of living standards.
They make-up the bulk of the population, numbering up to 11million.

Syria4: The Forgotten Class: If you want to know who this group of people is, then you should watch the new daring and courageous Syrian documentary (Al-Hajar Al-Aswad) by novelist Khaled Khalife and director Nidal El-Dibes (independently financed by private funds and UNESCO, 2006 production). If you say that you were shocked how people are poor when you talked to Taxi drivers, then you will probably have a heart-attack if you see this real-life documentary.
These are the real slums of Syria, dead-poor people with no education, no stable jobs, and no real life outside the prison they frequent and the slum areas they live at, which most people of Syria1 and Syria2 had never put foot in, or even live in denial to the reality of the existent of these areas. I had the chance of going there many a time, back when I worked in the country, due to my engineering work nature.
They are migrants to the outskirts of large cities (mainly Aleppo and Damascus) who came from originally-dead-poor areas in Reef-Dimasheq, Reef-Halap, and Northern-Jazeera mostly. They are the lower class between Kords, Ghajar, misfortunate poor refugees from Palestine and Jolan and elsewhere, and other groups who have been historically neglected by all governments, not only under Baath rule. Although the sky-high birth rate makes their problem more obvious now.
Among them are adults and kids without civil registrants and who have never seen schools. Many live on garbage-gathering, begging, shoe-shining and other left-over semi-jobs, in addition to illegal activities, and as maids and day-workers. A considerable number of our workers in Lebanon are consisted of this group. (Mr. vox-populi: I hope this make sense now why they appreciate the 300dollar maximum they make in Lebanon).
They have, understandably, no political opinion, and are unlikely to be mobilized or be influenced by any religious ideas in my opinion. Anarchy is a much more likely orientation for this group.
They number roughly 3million (1million alone in the Hajar Al-Aswad Area near Damascus).

From the above, it can be seen that the situation is not as threatening to the regime as the 19-to-1 classification that Mr. Ehsani2 suggested in his original article. In deed, a 19-to-1 would have resulted in something similar to the eighteen century bread-revolution in France. But things are not so bad to a considerable bulk of the population (6+1 out of 20).
An excellent comment was made by Mr. Engineering-change about the situation in neighboring countries. If anyone is disillusioned about the situation in Egypt, Jordan, or even Morocco, then I invite you to go there, beyond the tourist resorts areas of course, too see that reality is much worse than Syria. Yet no one thinks that the regimes there are endangered.
Also, Mr Ehsani2 cites “nationalistic genes” to be responsible for not seeing the deteriorating status. Allow me to differ, here. It is the exact opposite; the lack of all nationalistic feelings is leading to this situation. The individuality and the indifference towards the interests of the country as a whole that we were brought-up upon, are making each person believing that as long as they can manage the life of themselves and their close family, there is no need to endanger the stability of the situation.

Needless to say that even if the present situation is stable enough for the regime to survive, it should be alarming to any Syrian who cares about Syria and its future. While the political and cultural aspects are in complete stagnancy and economical situation is moving at snail-speed, individuality and religion are the only things that are thriving at the speed of light.

I encourage other commentators to enrich this subject with facts and incidents they know. It is a very important subject if we want to better assess the future trends of possible change in Syria.

At 8/29/2006 05:55:00 AM, Blogger Akbar Palace said...

Regrettably, our once proud nation is in a state of despair and decline.

I suppose if Syria were to stop supporting terrorism and make peace with the rest of the world, your proud nation may be able to work its way out of despair and into a bright future.

What are you waiting for?

At 8/29/2006 07:47:00 AM, Blogger Idaf said...

"Syrian In The Far East". Thank you for the excellent, balanced, realistic and unbiased analysis of the situation. You have just saved me a good 20 minutes writing the exact same analysis you have just eloquently wrote.

Unfortunately, while he is well intentioned, Ehsani's analysis is overly simplistic and I would also add that in some parts of it was naive. His assessment methodology is flawed and his comparisons clearly indicate that his research is conclusion-driven (ie. He had a conclusion beforehand then gathered the empirical data that fit his predetermined conclusion).

I would add the following to your excellent analysis Syrian In The Far East (let me be the first to call you SitFE for short!). Based on most of the UN’s and World Bank’s reports on internal poverty situation in the Middle East, regardless of the economic indicators used, Syria comes on par with Turkey and Jordan, always slightly better than Egypt and Morocco and not that far from Lebanon. Compared to the pro-US Egypt, Morocco and Yemen, the lowest part of “dead-poor” segment in Syria is very small. Your 4 segments, while better capturing reality are also overly positivistic. The real picture is not a Syria(1), Syria(2).. Syria(N) but rather a full continuous spectrum of economic levels that is actively alternating and changing in nature month after month. While the lowest part of the spectrum is “dead-poor” as you correctly mentioned, the good news is that the whole spectrum is actively and constantly changing, mostly to the better since the last 5 years (more on this bellow).

The main points missing in Ehsani’s analysis are the following:
1- He dismissed the very important question of “how much the overwhelming majority of Syrians could buy with the 300SP that bought Ehsani the 2 double espressos a day”? The 6 dollars would buy an average family of four in Syria all its daily necessities for days (rice, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, dairy, etc.). Such factors should be considered to have a more realistic assessment of poverty in the country.
2-He also dismissed the very important factor of the “refugees”. The continuous influx of refugees that have been coming to Syria from Iraq and Lebanon (Thanks to US and Israel) in the last 3 years is overwhelming to any economy (the number of Arab refugees in Syria count for almost 1.5 million). The fact that they mostly fall in the lower economic segment in the Syrian economy, the number of jobs they occupy and their impact on the Syrian economy does not make things better. Specially given that unlike all Arab countries, in Syria refugees have almost the same rights as citizens (jobs, free education, health care.. etc.).

The tens of thousands of good paying jobs created in the last 5 years in the ICT sector (telecoms, IT companies..etc), financial sectors (banking, insurance ..etc) and most importantly in my opinion in the education sector (private universities, private schools.. etc) have had a huge impact on all of the economic spectrum in the Syrian society, even in the “Syria4 level” as you put it. We are talking here about jobs that pay 400-500$ for entry level positions (fresh undergraduates). For the past 3 years, the trend has been that these sectors were even better paying than the very competitive banking sectors in Jordan and Lebanon to the extent that hundreds of skilled Lebanese and Jordanians were leaving their jobs in Amman and Beirut and coming to Damascus. My friend, a senior banker in Jordan said that because the new banking sector jobs in Syria started in higher-paying rates than Jordan, the Jordanian banking sector had to raise the pay to all employees starting 2004/2005 to limit the skills and brain drain towards Syria while more new banks are opening all around the country.

The most important trend that really surprised me was the education sector. Private universities are paying OK by Syrian academia standards (700-1200$ for faculty). But the real surprise is the basic private education institutes mushrooming around the country. From KG to high schools, private schools are booming. The pay the teachers and faculty are receiving is at least 3 to 4 times of that in the public schools. The one missing industry though is the media industry in Syria, if people handling dealing with the employment rates in Syria want a real revolution in the job market, the media sector should be liberated. This would create tens of thousands of jobs. Moreover, in few years time, Syrian media people with their unrivaled Arabic linguistic skills in the Arab world (this is a widely agreed in the media and education sectors in the Gulf) would surely overflow and replace the unskilled people (with their pathetic Arabic) we are having in the Arab media outlets today.

What we are seeing here is a typical ex-socialist economy shifting towards a knowledge economy. There would be lots of casualties; many people would loose their government jobs (that they used to get paid for without doing a thing), but the newly created well paying jobs are greatly helping overcome the side-effects in a family-based society such as Syria.

Finally, one comment to the Lebanese friends in this forum. Please DO educate yourselves more on Syria while commenting on its economy and internal politics. Most of your hate-generated remarks on Syrians and Syria (not the regime) make no sense to Syrians. I advise you to visit Syria and educate yourself if the topic is of that importance to you. Your remarks I read here only make you look stupid. And by the way, it should be noted that the same spectrum model applies to Lebanon. While this would shock many Lebanese who think Lebanon is only downtown Beirut, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in dead-poor situation do count in assessing the Lebanese social justice and economic situation. You also have to consider that if it was not for Hizbullah’s social welfare, scholarships, healthcare programs and the thousands of jobs created, at least 30 percent of the country would have also been living in the “Lebanon4” segment (similar to what was going in the pre-civil-war times: 1940s-1975). YES, Shiites are also Lebanese citizens and Lebanon is not just the shiny downtown Beirut!

At 8/29/2006 09:02:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

What is mamounieh?
Ehsani you paid $20 dollar a person,that is what we pay here in Denver in very good restaurant,it is not cheap,houses and car are expensive in Syria.

At 8/29/2006 10:02:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


Yes, I am assuming that “nothing positive will be introduced into the equation...that things will simply go downhill from today until 2010 when Syria starts importing oil.”
Indeed I want to reiterate my strongly held view that this regime is incapable of arresting the steep decline in this country’s economic fortunes. If anything, I think that the situation is even direr than I am describing it.

A Syrian in the Far East,

Thank you for taking the time to further elaborate on my simplistic 1 versus 19 classifications. My main purpose was to draw attention to the fact that some of the readers and commentators of this forum may have an incomplete picture of the true state of the country’s economy. Being members of Syria 1 may leave us with a biased view of how the country’s economy is currently faring. Your note helps us understand how things are even worse than what I described. Indeed, levels of unemployment of 20% and higher are enough to highlight that my description covers those lucky enough to have a job in the first place (vox..Here is part of the answer to you question. A Syrian in the Far East also answered you).

t-desco is happy to see that I have become a “Marxist and a class warrior”,

I am afraid that I am going to disappoint you and claim innocent of the charge. As I have long advocated, only through capitalism do nations prosper. Indeed, it is the Baath party’s original ideals of socialism and class warfare that have left us with this rotten decay.

This brings me to an important point that Engineering change made,

One of the recurring themes on this forum is how every discussion of Syria’s shortfalls leads to an inevitable reference to our neighboring countries. When one criticizes a state of affairs in Syria, the immediate response is to point to similar situations in say Iraq, Jordan or Egypt. This is regrettable. The only way nations advance is when they compare themselves to those who are more successful than them. When the Cham Hotel first opened its doors many years ago, the late Hafez Assad was reportedly very impressed by the structure. People who knew the man describe how he had the tendency to use Al-Qurdaha (his birth place) as his reference point. I offer this example to highlight how easy it is to accept a faulty state of affairs when all one does is picking other similar examples as evidence of normality. Using this logic, Syria is an oasis when compared to the Republic of the Congo.

The true test is when one compares his actual performance against potential. When you child comes home with a D on his mathematic score card, should we take comfort in the fact that his friends also got a D? Syria has been blessed with an incredible geographical spot on planet Earth. It contains the oldest inhabited cities in civilizations. Its “potential” is massive.

Now to my good friend Idaf,

Of course my note is “overly simplistic”. Did you think that I am naïve enough to think that Syria 1 and Syria 2 covers it all? For you to suggest that Syria’s economic performance is at par with that of Turkey is preposterous. For you to claim that $6 would buy an average family of four in Syria all its daily necessities for days (rice, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, dairy,etc) is simply absurd. Your following point about the impact of refugees as a possible explanation is bizarre. Are you implying that the period before the refugees was great or that things will suddenly improve when they are gone? I particularly enjoyed your passionate description of the booming ICT, education and media industries. A liberated media sector would create “tens of thousands of jobs” you proclaim. You saved the best for last though when you introduced the concept of “creative destruction” to calm our fears as our country is now supposedly on the course of becoming a “knowledge economy”.

Cut it out.

This country’s economy is in shambles. Your country needs to create in excess of 300,000 jobs (not tens of thousands) every single year to merely stop its already alarmingly high unemployment rate from rising further. Given its demographics, this number is likely to rise sharply higher. The country’s population is set to double every 22 years. Unless something dramatic is done, job creation is likely to significantly lag those seeking jobs.

Final note:

History books are likely to judge this 43-year episode in this country’s long life as a complete waste. Some of you would perhaps attempt to sugarcoat it and point to various achievements that have taken place in the interim.

This writer begs to differ. Fear of the unknown has made us accept a faulty state of affairs for too long. Using this logic, the implicit assumption is that any change in leadership must be to the worse and will ultimately lead to disaster. What if this seemingly collective consensus was wrong? What if change will lead to a better future? Should we waste another 43 years before we find out?

Their record must judge leaders. If the last six years is any indication, Syria deserves a new leadership. I will sign off by offering this admittedly hypothetical scenario:

The current isolation of this regime is unprecedented in its modern history. By Bashar’s own admission, the Arab regimes are only communicating with his Government through their respective Ambassadors. If his Arab neighbors are not talking to him, what possible chance does he have in starting a dialogue with Europe or the U.S?

This storybook has likely reached its last chapter. The Hariri investigation is likely to be used as the tool to bring it to a close.

A lot of you will vociferously disagree of course.

Only time will tell who is right.

At 8/29/2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

First welcome back and thank you for the inside view and good insight, by drawing a bleak picture of the current economic and social situation in Syria, you brought to our attention the urgency and needs to start the truly painful cycles of changes to the country. It MUST be done. It can’t be avoided. I totally agree with you, the regime failed us in the past, and they promised to fail us in the future!! Dear Syrians deserve a better life style and better future for the new generations. This this 43-year episode MUST END

At 8/29/2006 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Ehsani, I will not "vociferously disagree". We discussed this before, and I realize you prefer to speak in Black and White terms, even when it comes to probabilities and predictions.

Majed, good question: Mamounieh is an Aleppo morning hot desert that tastes so good with white cheese.

At 8/29/2006 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I am in desperate need for a big huge cock to enter my asshole. I have the grease warmed up to help you get it fast and deep. Afterward I will suck your big dick really hard and clean it up thoroughly from that oozing shit that is stuck on it. If you are interested click on my profile and email me. My real name is Innocent Criminal, my last name I am not sure, my mother was fucked by 6 men when I was born. I guess you may call me bastard, that is my last name, it is my family name, I am not so proud of this name for sure.. Well now you have it, I am out of the closet and I am the big fagot, an Innocent Criminal would like to think. Although I am in fact a guilty Criminal AID spreader that have caused the death of Millions of being.

At 8/29/2006 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Innoceent-Criminal Scum said...

You asshole Innocent Criminal, you were honest letting me know that. You were honest about the AID thing and that is a relief, glad for that protection WOOOHHH. But you JERK, why did you lie to me about STD questions before you rammed my 12 incher hot, thick and drippy dick into your oozing shit filled asshole. Now my STD Doctor is saying that I have the CRAB, Clymedia and HPV you JERK. Are you going to pay for my medical bills and all the treatments costs from your $200 monthly wage, are you. What really piss me off is that you charged me for that fuck. Now, I am fuming mad, that to get into your oozing shit filled asshole to have little fun for my 12 incher hot, thick and drippy dick, it coasted me Two Fucking Dollars, JERK. You should be paying me couple of hundreds for that ramming action that you enjoyed so much, you were fucking swallowing the toilet bowl for Mary’s sake.

At 8/29/2006 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Amsterdam Fagot with BIG unit said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/29/2006 12:17:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

Nice comment Syrian in the Far East-- Thanks for the information.

Idaf, you mentioned that with respect to economic indicators Syria comes on par with Turkey and Jordan and always slightly better than Egypt. This is suprprising to me. I would think that we would be in a worse situation than all those three countries. If you happen to have to link to these reports you mention, it would be appreciated.

Ehsani, you imply that with new leadership that agrees with America's foreign policy we will be better off and you ask why I compare Syria to Jordan and Egypt. I compare Syria to these countries because they are that are most similiar to Syria in terms of demography, geography, and culture. Yet they do not share the same politics and are in not much of a better economic situation than us.

You say Syria is a country of massive potential. As sad as it is to say this, Syria is NOT a country of massive potential--not right now. Lets be realistic. A country of massive potential is China. India. Even Malaysia. All these countries have booming tech industries providing jobs to their less fortunate classes. These countries have a very well educated populace that all speak English very well and are ready for the global English speaking economy. How can Syria be called a country of massive potential? Our education system has been in shambles for many years now. We have a non-existant technology sector. Syrians are learning more English now in internet cafes than they ever learned in schools. I don't know which country you would rather compare Syria to.

At 8/29/2006 12:27:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Ehsani, the quip about your newfound passion for Marxism was just tongue-in-cheek, but I do hope that you show the same concern for the well-being of "Syria 2" when thinking about the social consequences of economic reform in the country.

"Syrian In The Far East", thank you for your very interesting remarks. For example your observation that "individuality and religion are the only things that are thriving at the speed of light". If I remember correctly, this seemingly odd combination was predicted by Olivier Roy in L'Islam mondialisé (Seuil, Paris 2004).

At 8/29/2006 12:33:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

Come commenters here seem to assume that falling under an American sphere of influence is the right way to go so that we do not end up on the 'wrong side of history.'

Let me remind those commenters that world does not begin and end with the USA. If America will not talk to us because of a faulty and failing foreign policy that--so be it. We should not beg and will give up on our just principles concerning the Palestinians and the Golan Heights.

While waiting for things to change in the US (at least for this current Bush white house to leave) our regime is doing us a great favor by realizing there is another great power rising in the East: China. It could be that China will one day be the next superpower, on par or even greater than America.

Here is an Oxford Business group report on Syrian cooperation with China:

Non-Aligned Investment

Damascus has been working hard to overcome economic and political barriers in efforts to boost international ties and attract investment from overseas.

While it has had some success in its traditional sphere, with a number of Middle Eastern corporations announcing plans for new projects in Syria, it is further afield that Damascus has been enjoying promising results. Most particularly, these have come with fellow members of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), an organisation often disregarded by the US.

With the US putting pressure on its allies to shun Syria, doors have been opened to countries that Washington has less sway over, with Damascus actively seeking to co-operate with those less likely to be influenced by the US or are even readily prepared to defy it.

One of the largest non-aligned investors in Syria is China, which is looking to expand its already substantial stake in the country.

In late August, two separate Chinese delegations were in Syria for talks on proposed new projects. Representatives of the Chinese Technical Import and Export Corporation (CNTIC) were in Homs to discuss investing in a factory to produce glass in the city of Qariatein, to the east of Homs, and a cement factory with a daily capacity of 5000 tonnes.

During the talks with the Chinese delegation, the governor of Homs, Mohamed Iyad Ghazal, said there was "mounting Chinese investment in Syria" due to the fact that Chinese investors had become confident in the business atmosphere being promoted in the country....[go to link to read rest of article]

At 8/29/2006 12:50:00 PM, Blogger Chase said...

Excellent post Ehasani2

The mad Baathi regime, always living off victories on the regional arena, found itself in a difficult situation when both inside and outside stand in ruins

I was uncomfortable with the potato thing though. If we could say there's also Syria 3, for those who dwell in the bottom. You'd realize the fear and discrimination they live in by their unability to lead a simple conversation with you.

If it's Mukhabrat is out to get us, everybody else is out to get them. We are not potatos, we're just recycling the thing!

At 8/29/2006 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Chase said...


Maybe it would help to look at the greater picture. I suggest the following:

1- Syria is a new country, with very little experience. Democracy is difficult to built out of cotton farming, or say tourism?

2- We have tribal, educational and demographic issues. And obviously, cultural ones too. We had very little time to solve them and form a modern national identity.

3- The regime is not independent from neither Syria 1 or 2, rather it is a product of both of them. It is a face of the country and of our evolving process.

4- I understand the disappointment and the want to change. But can we label the Soviet Union as a 70 year long waste of time the moment it got old and outdated? I don't think so. It's an experience, and an important one. A part of Russia today. I know the comparison is somehow ridiculous, I hope you find the argument still viable.

5- If things going to get worse, it's the (only, usually) ticket to change. Otherwise, change is not always as thorough as we wish it to be. It is slow, and not always possible to identify (or identify with). Our good people, potatos or carrots, and according to the circumstances, will choose which way to go.

6- I still wonder how can we help push things for the best.


At 8/29/2006 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Chase said...

Another thing about the Syria number 3.

-Does anybody have rough figures, how many are living in the gutters in Syria? I mean those who dig in the garbage.

- What about drug dealers and addicts, pimps, theives and beggers?

-A third of the country population, around 7 m, live in Aleppo and Damascus.

-There are huge areas around both cities where life is so.. Latin American poor.

- Gabreil Garcia Marquis:"If shit would have any value someday, they'd be born without buttocks".

-They stole the plastic pots of plants from my mother's garden, leaving the plants themselves behind. Old plastic pots.

-A younger than me taxi driver, has six children, was not surprised I had none, said "yes, we are different". I made the mistake of trying to talk things farther, he was hurt. I was insensitive, but it took me time to understand why.

- A seven year old selling chewing gum, confided to me that he saw God driving a volkswagen.

-Another Taxi driver said:"Mostafa Al Tajer may God allow him into His vast Heavens"!!

At 8/29/2006 02:36:00 PM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

I received two very dangerous letters from the Reform party (Farid Ghadri). This man must be very unstable, and either he is obeying some orders from his Neo-Cons friends, or he is so ambitious that he will try anything to arrive!

The language that I read in these two letters is exceeds even the fananticism of the Moslem Brotherhoods. Is this what awaits Syria? If none of you have seen these two letters, and wish for me to post them here, please let me know. I just did not feel that I should post anything in Arabic in this English site.

At 8/29/2006 02:58:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

Ehsani, I believe you considered Khaddam Inc to be undersold at the IPO, so is it now a buy, sell, or hold?

At 8/29/2006 04:12:00 PM, Blogger Chase said...

ameen always,

It happens sometimes that Arabic is used here, why not?

If they were too ugly though, like Bassam Darwish and the ranting gang, I get the idea.

Interesting how the neocons end up showing what they're really like, supporting their own kind. To say the least, in their case rabies is not that obvious.

At 8/29/2006 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Fares said...

Sinking to New lows

At 8/29/2006 07:40:00 PM, Blogger Fares said...


I am glad you enjoyed your visit to Syria. Your analysis is great, very familiar to what I used to hear growing up in Syria in the 80s. I guess nothing change in Syria except turning for the worse economically and politically.

We really need to improve the middle class and crush the monopoly of the elites on all the big projects in Syria.

I am very amazed however to see the regime having seven lives just like cats.

At 8/29/2006 10:26:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Ehsani2,Ithink you were the first to ask that the Gov in Syria not to hire people it does not need ,they did ,now everybody wants a gov job ,they may work harder in this case to keep the gov job.the income of Syria,s employees will go up when there are more jobs ,it is suply and demand ,having higher salaries should not be the gov job but should be left to the market ,actualy lower wages is good for the Syrian economy as it will cause lower prices for Syrian products and improve export ,when the newly established banking System starts lending money to buisness owners to start new buisnesses more jobs will be created and hopfully the taxi driver will find out how much he can make by opening a coffee shop that he will borrow money and open one and hire three or four people or he can borrow and buy a car by financing it and make money for himself ,Syria is like anywhere else (you get ahead by working for yourself ). Syria,s gov can help by offering low interest rate lawns to Syrians in their first buisness adventure and Syrians from low income class.I think Syria has a better future than many thinks ,may be i am an optimest but i have faith in the Syrian people.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home