Tour of the Middle East- Part 5: Syria
– This series of posts will take you on a country by country tour of the Middle East, showing how economic and social development occurs in one of the most unstable regions in the world.
Since 2003, Syria has been in the international limelight for all the wrong reasons. When former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri was killed in 2005, a watchful international eye was put on the Syrian government for their presumed involvement. Since then, numerous sanctions have been invoked against Syria by a number of countries. Most notably, the United States has deemed Syria a state sponsor of terrorism and has spearheaded the isolation effort. Amid growing domestic unrest about the state of the economy, President Bashar al-Assad, in 2009, directed new initiatives in the attempt to lure foreign investment.
The 2009 Public Private Partnership (PPP) Conference in Damascus was designed to promote Syria as a place where foreign investment would be welcomed and could create a worthy return on investment. A number of projects related to infrastructure were proposed that would ultimately help to appease civil society. Chairman of the British-Syrian Society Fawaz al-Akhras, who hosted the conference, stated that:
“public-private partnership is a complicated issue, [and that] stressing this partnership must be placed in the proper economic, social and political context in order to allow foreign investments and build the Syrian infrastructure to meet the requirements of the process of modernization and rehabilitation.”
Deputy Prime Minister of Syria, Abdullah Al Dardari considered the current socioeconomic environment suitable to advance the platforms that would modernize Syrian infrastructure and economics. Domestically, private-public partnerships have had some success and are starting to catch on as a secure way to give back to society. MTN and Transtek have recently paired up in an effort to digitize NGO archives in an attempt to expand the presence Syrian civil society. Domestic efforts like this have boundless opportunities in Syria. In Contrast, the global success of the PPP conference initiatives would come in large part to having the United States lift sanctions.
Furthermore, while these sanctions are mostly product specific, many corporations do not want to anger the United States by getting involved with Syria in an investment capacity. Syrian officials have also seen relationships that were formed prior to 2004 dissipate in light of the stance that the U.S. has taken against Syria. President Obama reached out to President Assad of Syria in 2009 to mend ties and create a path to absolve the Syria Accountability Act, the name that the sanctions are broadly known as. However, with the recent developments of the Arab Spring
and President Assad’s staunch stance against reform and hearing what his constituents have to say, progress with the private-public sector has come to a screeching halt. In order to achieve goals like international investment, Syria will need to introduce a transparent government that can assure the world that change has come to stay.