Syria — June 2005

Sociopolitical Situation

Syria, after trying for decades to maintain its strategic position as a regional player in the peacemaking decision in the Middle East through political and military control over Lebanon, lost its last card on 14 February following the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. This led to a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon on 15 April after 29 years of military presence and 15 years of full control of all aspects of life in Lebanon.

The withdrawal was followed by the return of more than 600,000 Syrians that worked in the fields of agriculture, construction and other sectors in Lebanon thus depriving the Syrian economy from an important source of hard currency.

At present, the main objective of the Syrian government is to maintain stability within Syria in view of the deployment of American troops on its border with Iraq on one hand and the expected political takeover of Sunnite leadership in Lebanon by Hariri’s son on the other. The Alawite regime will be challenged to maintain the Sunnite majority dormant inside Syria.

The Syrian economy is based on commerce, agriculture, oil production and services. A variety of factors hampered the economic growth, including the dominant state role in the economy, a complex bureaucracy, security concerns, corruption, currency restriction, lack of modern financial services and communications in addition to a weak and corrupt legal system.

Economic growth was estimated at less than 2.3% last year. The government has implemented modest economic reforms in the last few years including cutting interest rates, opening private banks, consolidating some of the multiple exchange rates and raising prices on some subsidies and food stuff. The long term economic constraints include a decline in oil production and exports (which represent 84% of the Syrian export) and pressure on water supplies caused by rapid population growth, industrial expansion and increased water pollution.

The monetary situation is balanced with a public debt representing 32% of the GDP in 2004 and a military expenditure of only 5.9% of the GDP.

Religious Situation

Syria promotes liberal and tolerant views of religious differences especially since it has been ruled by leaders belonging to a religious minority, the Muslim Alawite sect, for more than 40 years.

The Islamic education in Syrian schools is traditional and rigid. It is likely that should the Alawites lose power and be unable to protect religious minorities, the education in government schools will no longer support policies of religious inclusion and tolerance.

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