Syria — January 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

Syria’s isolation, after years of international political boycott, seems to be ending. In the past six months, the regime has taken giant steps to regain Syria’s role as a major political player in the Middle East. While the United States continued to view Syria as a terror state, France renewed high-level ties that went into a deep freeze after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, who was a personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac. As a result, the Syrian president was welcomed in Paris in July. Since then, Damascus has received many high-level European diplomats and heads of state.

Syria remains the most secular state in the region, playing its own role in battling Islamic fundamentalism and in collaborating on the “war on terror.” The biggest change that may be expected toward Syria under the new US administration is in the context of Syrian-Israeli peace talks. Syria and Israel have entertained low-level talks under Turkish auspices since the spring of 2008.

Economically, Syria is gradually moving from a state-controlled economy to one with market freedom in which privatization plays an important role. The economy’s liberalization applies more to the banking sector for the moment. The GDP growth rate was 4.4% in 2006 and 3.9% in 2007. The strong regional political instability (Syria’s proximity to Iraq, Syria’s role in Lebanon, and tensions with Israel) is discouraging foreign investments. The IMF forecasts a growth rate of 3.7% in 2008. Inflation was estimated at around 7% in 2007. The unemployment rate remains high, more than 10%.

The presence of more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees burdens the Syrian economy. Prices of food and basic commodities have doubled. Real estate prices have risen by 40% due to increase in demand. Iraqi refugees have become a competitive element in the labor market; more than 34% of these refugees do not have the financial means to survive economically for more than one month following their arrival in Syria.

Religious Situation

Christianity in Syria is ancient. Throughout Byzantine times, and well into the era of Islam, Damascus was a center for Christian learning. The writings of such Syrian divines as St. John Damascene helped define the Christian faith, and are still taught in seminaries throughout the world.

No government-sponsored acts of religious persecution have been witnessed in Syria, and no prisoners are being held because of their Christian beliefs. Syrian identity cards do not list religion, a fact that makes Christians feel more secure in Syria than in many other countries in the Middle East. Major Christian celebrations such as Christmas and Easter are official national holidays. State-run television channels even run Christmas programs. At the Easter holidays, hundreds of thousands of Christians take to the streets of Damascus for joyous processions.

Today, Christians in Syria constitute up to 10% of the population, an estimated 1.3 million people. In the last few years, many Christian communities have received land donations from the Syrian government to construct new churches, schools and religious institutions in newly classified urban areas, such as Homs, Aleppo and northern Syria. It is hoped these activities will help the church to further strengthen its presence in the country and discourage emigration.

Recent Posts

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español