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SYRIA

 
  
   

Key Economic Data 
 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $ 21,900 19,500  17,896 64
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,130 1,040     950 131
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Syria

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
185,180


Population
17,585,540

Capital
Damascus

Currency
 Syrian pound (SYP)

President 
Bashir al-Asad

 

Update No: 010 - (01/09/04)

Syria's Lebanese Achilles' Heel
As if Syria had not received enough warnings form the United States over its presumed - often made to seem intentional - lack of security along the border with Iraq and allowing foreign fighters to cross into US occupied Iraq. 
The United States also advised Syria that it and other outside powers (Iran) should stay out of Lebanese presidential politics. 
The current Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of Syria, has hinted that he is seeking to serve as President for another 6 years. 
Lahoud will need parliament to amend the constitution to allow him to do so. 
The United States fears that this decision is being motivated by Syrian desires to maintain a strong ally in Lebanon. 
The United States has implied that they would accept the renewal of Lahoud's term, but only if this takes place independently of Damascus. The decision rests with the Lebanese people. 
Mr. Lahoud explained his decision to remain in power saying that he wanted more time in order to complete his domestic agenda founded on reducing corruption, reforming the economy and strengthening the independence of the judiciary. 
The objection is not surprising. US officials have criticized Mr. Lahoud's government for quietly encouraging, if not directly supporting, the continued presence of thousands of Syrian troops in Lebanon, while refusing to disarm the military arm of the Hezbollah party in southern Lebanon, which the United States considers a terrorist group. 
In the recent past, Syria has in fact supported extended terms for Lebanese presidents with close ties to itself by approving constitutional amendments both in 1995 to extend the term of former President Elias Hraoui, and again three years later when they approved Mr. Lahoud to run for office even as he was still actively serving in the army.
The most vociferous opponents of the proposed constitutional amendments have been members of the once dominant Christian Maronite community. 
The Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir stated that the country's constitution is not just an ordinary law that can be altered as politicians see fit, and that previous changes have not been very good for the country. 

Nevertheless, opposition to the constitutional extension and to Syria's involvement in Lebanese politics has also been expressed by Lebanon's Muslim leaders, who have raised their concerns over Syria's control. 
The heads of the Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities, 'muftis', Rashid Kabbani and Abdul Amir Kabalan respectively, issued a joint statement toward the end of August, which strongly advocated respecting the constitution regarding the election of the president of the republic. 
The muftis stressed that the results of the presidential election should reflect the will of the Lebanese people and not that of Syria. 
The Lebanese constitution provides for a delicate balance of power split along religious lines. 
As it currently stands, the constitution demands that president, who is always a Christian, is elected by parliament. 
The muftis' and the Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir fear that a change in the constitution would effectively terminate democracy in Lebanon. 
Ostensibly, the religious leaders are implying that Lebanon would edge ever closer to Syria; however, while Syria has not succeeded in implementing the many economic and political reforms envisaged at the outset of the regime of Bashir Al-Asad, it is clear that an economically independent Lebanon is useful to Syria. 
Syria is relying on Lebanon's banking expertise to initiate reforms within its borders, while Syria has been trying to attract Sunni and Christian Syrian businessmen, who migrated to Lebanon after the 1965 Baathist coup, to invest in Lebanon and to bring capital to favour investment. 
Fears of a Syrian backed constitutional amendment in favor of Mr. Lahoud's extension were prompted by President Bashar Asad's meetings in Damascus with several leading Lebanese politicians.
Interestingly, the same muftis that have expressed their concern had refused to back the Maronites in 2000, when they called on Syria to withdraw the thousands of troops it maintains in Lebanon. 
Syrian soldiers have been in Lebanon since the 1976 civil war. The muftis' statement was not welcomed in Damascus. 
There are rumours that the full statement was apparently censored shortly after it was broadcast on radio and television. 
Syria may well be using the Lebanese card to force Washington to re-consider its recent policy toward Syria. Lebanon has become a bargaining chip of sorts. 
Syria might be willing to give up claims over Lebanon if the United States agrees to review the Syrian Accountability Act. 

The Missile Connection
As tensions persist all over the Middle East as a reaction to the intractable conflict in Iraq and Syria is being criticized for intervening in Lebanese affairs, Syria took delivery of Iranian missiles intended for Hezbollah. 
Syria and Iran are said to have been working on a join missile capability. 
The missile information has been publicized by a Syrian opposition group based in London, which added that Syrians are anxious over the chance that Israel will strike at an Iranian nuclear energy facility. 
Inevitably, if such an attack did take place, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon would fire missiles toward Israel fomenting the attack to cover Syria.
It has also been reported that Iran and Syria have already worked on a joint missile defence system. Iranian-Syrian missile cooperation has been admittedly close. 
Iranian scientists involved in developing the Shihab missiles in Tehran had gone to Syria at the beginning of the year 2004 to participate in the development of missile artillery based on the same source on which Iran relies - that is, North Korea. 
Should the missile story prove accurate, the United States will no doubt raise its concerns and continue to treat Syria as a pariah state. 
Indeed, while the missiles were being disembarked, the United States noted that Syria acquired components for centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. 
US Officials have already tried to link Syria to a nuclear smuggling network led by Pakistani nuclear chief Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold and delivered components for an unspecified number of Pakistani-designed P1 centrifuges to Syria. 

In turn, the centrifuges were to be delivered to Iraq. 
The United States also continues to suggest that Syrian President Bashar Assad has pursued a policy of exporting Islamic unrest to neighbouring Syria encouraging Islamists to relocate in Iraq and fight the U.S.-led coalition in that country. 
The sources, Syrian opposition in London, said Assad has assured these insurgents safe passage to and from Iraq in an effort to prevent Islamic unrest in his country. 
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian native and Islamic exile in London, said Assad's policy has been successful. Mohammed, noted that Islamic insurgents have not attacked the Syrian regime in about 20 years - Hama in 1982. 

While the accusations remain unproven and have been proffered, Syria has been continuing in a counter-diplomatic campaign to bypass the effects of US sanctions by strengthening ties with its neighbour Turkey. 
Both sides stressed the necessity to exchange visits, expertise, activate the ratified agreements as well as to establish joint investment projects and increase cooperation.
Syria is also interested in attracting Turkish foreign direct investment and in establishing a joint task force on seeking new sources of water, which is ever becoming a more strategic resource in the region. 
The Turkish Housing and Construction Minister Mohammad Nehad Mushantat and Ergezen emphasized the importance of boosting and deepening the existing relations between Syria and Turkey and activating the signed agreements particularly in housing projects, land and roads. 
Syria has also improved relations with Jordan. Syria and Jordan have often not enjoyed the best of relations despite the border proximity. 
In the 80's there were tensions because Syria supported Iran in the latter's conflict with Iraq whereas, Jordan supported Iraq. 
In peak periods of tension such as 1987, Iraqi oil used to be transferred to Jordan via pipeline and shipped from the port of Aqaba. 
In August, Syria improved ties with Jordan and agreed to conduct a greater amount of business and trade. 
Cooperation will extend in areas ranging from issues related to trade volume and flow of commodities between the two countries. 
The meetings aimed to develop cooperation in various fields, top of them security, combating drugs, organized crime, allowing some Jordanian commodities to enter Syrian market. 
The two sides agree to establish two joint cement factories and exchange expertise in the fields of agriculture, water, finance, and the Judicial apparatus. 

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Belarusian, Syrian parliaments sign cooperation accord

A cooperation agreement was signed between the National Assembly [parliament] of the Republic of Belarus and the People's Assembly of the Syrian Arab Republic. [The speaker of the Syrian parliament, Mahmud al-Abrash, was on a visit to Belarus], Belarusian television reported
The speaker of the Belarusian parliament's upper house, Henadz Navitski, said that Belarus regards Syria as one of its major partners in the Middle East. Interests of Belarus and Syria are multifaceted and lie in many areas, including economic cooperation and scientific and cultural exchanges. The two speakers also noted the need to step up work on establishing a joint venture to assemble [Belarusian] tractors in Syria.

Armenian premier, Syrian trade minister discuss cooperation

Stimulating multilateral Armenian-Syrian relations plays an important role in Armenia's Middle East policy, Armenian Prime Minister, Andranik Markaryan, said at a meeting with a Syrian delegation led by the trade minister and co-chairman of the Syrian-Armenian intergovernment economic commission, Ghassan al-Rifa'i. 
Markaryan added that although over the period of establishing diplomatic relations the sides have made efforts to develop trade, economic, scientific and cultural relations and bring economic relations in line with political relations, the economic relations between the two countries, however, could not have been regarded as satisfactory up till now, Noyan Tapan News Agency reported. 
Ghassan al-Rifa'i informed Markaryan about the second sitting of the intergovernment economic commission. He said that a number of important agreements on healthcare, communications, telecommunications, tourism etc. had been signed as a result of the sitting. He spoke about Syria's plans to establish a special working group to monitor the fulfilment of these agreements.
Noyan Tapan learnt from the government's press service that the sides hoped that the forthcoming visit to Armenia by Syrian Prime Minister, Muhammad Naji al-Itri, would give an extra impetus to the development of the bilateral relations.


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