سوريا, الخيار للمتسوقين وليس
أنجلوس تايمز - 23/4/2007
ان الإصلاح الاقتصادي لم يقد
إلى التغيير السياسي. ان
الانتخابات قدمت الكثير من
المرشحين و لكنها لم تقدم
الكثير من الخيارات البديلة.
Syria, choice is for shoppers, not voters
Economic reform has not led to political change. Sunday's
election offers many candidates, but few real
By Louise Roug, Times Staff Writer
April 23, 2007
DAMASCUS, SYRIA — On the streets outside Jadat al
Hashimi School, candidates in Syria's parliamentary
elections Sunday advertised their campaigns with
pictures and banner slogans.
But the plethora of posters belied the lack of choice
inside the voting booth.
Syrian voters who came to cast their ballots had no
meaningful alternative to the ruling party, which
largely dictates who has a chance to be in the next
"What's the point?"
asked one young woman rhetorically as she sidestepped
election workers near the school in central Damascus and
moved on without voting.
When Syrian President Bashar Assad came to power in 2000,
he promised political reform would follow a
liberalization of the economy. In the seven years since,
his government has opened the economic system, spurring
significant foreign investment despite U.S. sanctions.
But it has shunned serious political reform.
Though foreign fashion, flashy cars and boutique hotels
have arrived in Syria, there is little sign that
democracy is following any time soon.
Polling stations were all but deserted Sunday, although
the usual trappings of authoritarianism were still in
place: Schoolchildren toted pictures of Assad, and
members of the regime were greeted with chants.
In recent months, the government has moved to silence
dissent by jailing its critics, including human rights
activists and academics.
"The regime from the
beginning said they would make economic reform before
political reform, but the [political] reform has not
come," said a dissident who asked not to be named
for fear of persecution. "I don't think that
because you have Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent in
Damascus that you have freedom."
Just over two-thirds of the seats in the 250-member
parliament are reserved for members of the governing
coalition, the National Progressive Front, led by
Assad's Baath Party. The remaining seats are reserved
for candidates who are independent in name only.
Staying away from the polls is one way to protest,
observed the dissident.
At the Hashimi School, government officials and reporters
outnumbered voters. By noon, only about 70 people had
cast their votes there, as fashionable Syrians jostled
for space at sun-drenched cafes nearby.
Though there have been no signals from Assad's government
of changing political course, the growing economy is
altering Syria in other ways.
On a recent afternoon outside the newly built Four Seasons
hotel, a young couple hopped into their red Ferrari and
sped toward the old part of the city. Nearby, shoppers
in a mall browsed through items that included a $2,000
red Cavalli leather jacket, gold embroidered Galliano
jeans and a rack of wispy Versace dresses.
One consequence of the foreign investment is that other
countries are gaining leverage. Political observers
believe that Saudi Arabia wants to break the political
alliance between Syria and Iran and will be using cash
as a crowbar.
The Four Seasons, for example, is owned in part by Saudi
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
The Iranians in turn have invested hundreds of millions of
dollars in Syria, launching several high-profile
projects, including the production of a Syrian-Iranian
car, the Sham, which Assad recently test-drove alongside
Iranian First Vice President Parviz Davoudi.
Syria also just signed a free-trade agreement with
neighboring Turkey. Following privatization of the
banking sector, the Lebanese are setting up shop all
over Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Since a 2005 conference of the Baath Party, the government
has privatized previously state-run sectors, abolished
tariffs and dismantled other restrictions to stimulate
The regime and its supporters say that they can't unleash
political reform too quickly.
"I don't expect political
reform in the near future," said Sameer Saifan, a
businessman close to the government who has advised
officials on economic reform.
Last year, the GDP grew 5%, Saifan said. The country's
exports also have grown tremendously — to $10.8
billion last year from $2.5 billon in 2005, according to
a statement by Prime Minister Naji Otari in the
state-run paper Al Thawra. However, it is difficult to
independently verify the government's statistics.
The average annual income in Syria is about $1,200,
according to the most recent World Bank figures,
although many analysts believe it is somewhat higher.
Observers point out that an unequal distribution of the
new wealth could spell political trouble in the future,
highlighting other obstacles on the road to unregulated
A key challenge to the Syrian economy is the country's
reliance on oil. According to the World Bank, half the
government's revenue comes from oil, but analysts
predict that Syria will run out of the resource by the
Observers also point out continued instability among
Syria's neighbors, notably Iraq and Lebanon, as well as
Washington's continued policy of trying to isolate
Observers note that investors outside the region still
look askance at the Syrian market.
"For the Arab investor, Syria
is fine. But I don't think Westerners are ready,"
said Hadi Hindi, a British businessman. "Westerners
need freedom and safety…. Here, all these things are
لهذه المقالات لا يعني أنها
تعبر عن وجهة نظر المركز كلياً
من حق الزائر الكريم أن ينقل وأن ينشر كل ما يعجبه من موقعنا . معزواً إلينا ، أو غير معزو .ـ