Arab Politics, Syria

What Does the Future Hold For Syria?

My good friend George Saghir, one of the best analysts of Syrian economic affairs, has written a thought-provoking essay for Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment, in which he argues that Syria is staring down the same shotgun barrel as virtually every other Arab nation. Unless it finds a way to radically increase economic activity and curb demographic trends, popular protests like the kind we have witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia are inevitable.

The solution? Syria must emulate Turkey, but this, George argues, will be much easier said than done:

For Syria to achieve Turkey’s per capita growth rate of the past 25 years, it must do two things: 1- It must grow its economy by a real inflation-adjusted 8.5% if population growth continues at 3.26%. 2- It can grow by a real inflation-adjusted 6.5% if it succeeds in slowing its population growth down to Turkey’s current level of 1.25%. Either option presents a formidable challenge and highlights the feat that Turkey has pulled off since 1980. Growing an economy at an inflation-adjusted rate of 8.5% is of course what China has been able to do recently (if you trust the country’s statisticians). Chinese planners have also been able to drop the country’s population growth rate to low of 0.63%.

I recommend you read the entire piece, and perhaps George will agree to write something about Lebanon’s economic/demographic challenges for QN. As far as I know, he’s much more optimistic about Syria’s little cousin.

UPDATE: When it rains it pours… Here’s another very interesting piece about Syria by Gary Gambill, editor of Mideast Monitor and one of the smartest commentators on Levantine politics. I make a point of trying to read and re-read everything Gary writes; even when I disagree with him, I find his commentaries to be extremely sharp.
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434 thoughts on “What Does the Future Hold For Syria?

  1. Saint:

    This is an interesting wiki read on Bahrain:

    Scroll to the bottom with the Table included.

    Look at the numbers of the “elected” representatives. Of the 40 seats, almost half already go to the “Shia”.

    But what is interesting is that, between the “Wefaq”, “Al Menbar Islamic Society”, and the “Asalah”, they have 32/40 seats. That’s 80% going to “Islamically” oriented parties.

    We still have to see what other Ocracy will come out of Egypt or Tunisia. Though I have heard it said that the Brotherhood in Egypt couldn’t muster 20% support if they tried.

    We’ll see.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 17, 2011, 5:24 pm
  2. Gabriel,
    Just some info:
    The correct number is 18 seats out 40 in the parliament. Parliament can be shut down by the king for no reason.
    The king appoints and fires all members of the upper house.
    the king appoints and fires the government,at will.
    The king can
    In Bahrain,Only parties that are Islamic oriented are tolerated. A secular or socialist would be

    Posted by The Prophet | February 17, 2011, 5:52 pm
  3. Yes, I know. I said almost half :D.

    The point is taken that ultimately it is a monarchy in Bahrain, and that there is the Shura, and none of this is democratic in nature…

    … but where direct elections produced results, it remains that 80% went to more religious groups. Bahrain is fairly liberal, and the Shura has been a proponent of things like womans rights.

    The list in the table includes two party that seem (I don’t know anything about them- except by the wiki-blurb) to be more secular in nature, but “democratically”, they received only 20% of the vote.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 17, 2011, 6:08 pm
  4. The point is that they are all dictators/monarchs. No freedom, no social Justice,and no democracy.
    Don’t believe that only Shiia are revolting in Bahrain.Anytime you have a n absolute rulers, injustice will prevail,corruption is the norm, the elite are filthy rich,freedom of speech is nonexistence,Democracy is a tailored tool to make the ruler look acceptable to the west.

    Posted by The Prophet | February 17, 2011, 6:28 pm
  5. Nabi:

    I’m not disagreeing with you. Just noting that what minimal measure of “democracy” exists seems heavily tilted towards illiberal parties.

    Perhaps this is reflective of monarchical or dictatorial rule. Perhaps not. How Egypt and Tunis unfold will help tell a better tale.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 17, 2011, 7:34 pm
  6. Ghassan,

    Sorry to ask this here, but I didn’t know how else to contact you. I am looking for a couple of simple economic numbers (that we have often debated before) for comparison’s sake:
    Growth rates and foreign debt as a percentage of GDP, for both the USA and Lebanon (or, if there’s a complete list somewhere).

    I’d much appreciate it if you could point me towards the answer 🙂

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | February 17, 2011, 8:34 pm
  7. BV,
    The gross national Lebanese debt is over $51 Billion as os Sept.
    The US national debt is $14.1 Trillion as of a n hour ago. The publicly held debt is probably around 8-9 billion.

    Lebanese debt is rated B while the US is still one of the few AAA.

    The debt in the US is expected to keep on increasing at a rate at least equal to the rate of growth in the GDP for some time to come.

    The easiest way to handle the debt problem is through inflation. That will not work for Lebanon, at least not as well as it might for the US and others because not all of our debt is denominated in LL. I still think that denominating Lebanese debt in US dollars was a mistake and furthermore Lebanon has met its obligations only by not spending domestically. This simply means that the Lebanese public is paying for these international commitments through the nose.In other words the Lebanese cabinet has no funds to spend on any social projects or domestic initiatives since the bulk of the budget is earmarked to debt service.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 17, 2011, 9:35 pm
  8. BV,
    Another metric that might be of benefit is that interest represents 6.31 % of the proposed federal budget for 2012 in the US while debt service in Lebanon is about 40% of the budget.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 17, 2011, 11:35 pm
  9. @GK 385,
    Four weeks is not a long time to wait, but I do believe that it is too late. Most of my generation and especially those like me who do not adhere to any political party or tayyar will be home on March 14. I sure hope for Mr Hariri and M14 that they will be able to amass enough people, but somehow I do not see it happening. But as you said “four weeks is not a long time to wait”.

    Posted by marillionlb | February 18, 2011, 3:37 am
  10. Bahrain … there goes Saudi Arabia’s favorite neighborhood Pub!

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 11:30 am
  11. Here a mental exercise for you Armchair Generals:

    If … the Syrians took to the streets to topple the regime, what can we expect emerging in Syria?

    What do the Syrians want?

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 2:45 pm
  12. I don’t think even the Syrians know what they want.

    This is the biggest problem with the current generation of Arabs. These are at least 2 generations that have been born, grown up, and come along knowing absolutely NOTHING but a one-color, one-flavor system. Be it in Syria, Yemen, Libya or Egypt.
    I think in large part, beyond some vague notions of freedom, these folks probably have no real idea of what they want and what will work or won’t work for them. There’ll be a lot of growing pains in the Arab world before it matures and figures out what it wants and what it can shape itself to be.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | February 18, 2011, 3:14 pm
  13. Perhaps it may be more germane to focus on what is happening to regional stability NOW in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt et al rather than wishful thinking scenarios about Syria.

    …..and of course, what’s up with the dear freaking-out neighbor in the south.

    IDF Spokesman: We’re Headed for War

    Reported: 21:48 PM – Feb/17/11
    Follow Israel news briefs on and

    Spokesman Avi Benihu of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Thursday evening, “I wish that my successor will be a spokesman for piece talks but it looks as if we are not [headed] in that direction and, in fact, [headed] in the other direction, to war.”

    Brigadier-General Benihu’s comments came during the launch of “The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Announces”, a book about the role of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office through the years. He dwelt on the special work and requirements of the IDF Spokesperson at this period in time of internet, Facebook and other social networks.”

    Posted by lally | February 18, 2011, 3:48 pm
  14. Lebanon is Hassan Nasrallah’s Berlin wall.

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 4:00 pm
  15. You see QN, I finally got down to this post’s header.

    What does the future hold for Syria?

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 4:23 pm
  16. Without doubt people in the Middle East remain hostage to regimes that were cut out for them by forward thinking colonialists …. and not humanists.

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 4:35 pm
  17. RTOTD@414

    So, Bibi + Barak = Ronnie Reagan?

    Posted by lally | February 18, 2011, 5:01 pm
  18. No lally … Reagan gave birth to Bibi + Barack according to Noah’s arc.

    The Bible believing Gipper toppled the non-believing Communist basterds after all … right?

    It was belief in the almighty that got the wall down against the commie basterds.

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 5:17 pm
  19. BV,
    youre absolutely right about the Arab masses not knowing what they want. But who needs to know about political theory and economic policies to demand CHANGE. They, in all likelihood want a piece of ass!!! from their confinement, they glimpse the outside world via satellite TV and the internet, they realize what theyre missing out on.When they see the royal families engage in debauchery while preaching piety to the masses,they see the hypocracy, and….they want a piece of that ass!!!
    thats all it comes down to…asking for what everybody else already has…
    Haifa Wehbe is a revolutionary!!!!!

    Posted by Maverick | February 18, 2011, 5:29 pm
  20. RTOTD.

    Twas LBJ that sowed the seeds.

    Posted by lally | February 18, 2011, 5:45 pm
  21. And that’s plenty fine right now.
    Don’t expect the Arab world to grow up in a week or a month or a year.
    At this point, demanding change is already a big step. The rest will follow over time.
    It’s very much like raising children, for those of you who have kids.
    The experience of growing up itself helps shape the direction in which one matures. Mistakes, choices and all.
    One cannot expect a populace that has known nothing but dictatorship to know what it wants next. But the process (and mistakes) of trying to govern themselves will end up shaping their thinking, their aspirations, etc.
    And much like with children, it may be scary to watch a child grow up, and make mistakes (for the parent), but in the end, we’re all the better for it.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | February 18, 2011, 5:47 pm
  22. Any chance Hassan Nassrallah will be advertising Louis Vuitton travel baggage on the back page of Time magazine one day?

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 7:31 pm
  23. La libertad llega finalmente a Tunis.

    The coming years will be interesting as we see how things unfold.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 18, 2011, 8:07 pm
  24. Angel Gabriel,lol
    I Wonder why would a polish priest be in Tunisia at such a troubling time for that country, especially when Tunisia is not known to have a Christian community to be serviced?

    Posted by The Prophet | February 18, 2011, 8:38 pm
  25. Ya Nabi,

    Ur looking out for the priest…

    My concern is for the poor whores.

    They always go after the hoors, fags and liquer stores, don’t they 🙂

    Posted by Gabriel | February 18, 2011, 8:45 pm
  26. Gabie,You are NO
    Poor, but don’t live in company of poor men,
    Yet whore are the most honest girls,They present the bill right away….lol

    Posted by The Prophet | February 18, 2011, 8:54 pm
  27. And you give 30 day credit.

    Cause you’re ugly.

    Posted by RandomThoughtOfTheDay | February 18, 2011, 9:00 pm
  28. Israel created the trouble in Egypt and Tumisia as a diversion. The real objective was to steal oil and gas off the Lebanese coast. They found more gas north of the Naqoura coast line than to the south of it,

    Click to access Noble-Energy-Presentation.pdf

    Now they will start drill horizontally from the south while every one’s eyes in Lebanon are fixated on events in Egypt and elsewhere with the help of bunkered HNA.

    HNA has been assigned (by the Israelis) the role of giving regular sermons about the rewards of ‘resistance’ and the need to master the technology of bunker ‘drilling’.

    Posted by anonymous | February 18, 2011, 10:05 pm
  29. “Israel created the trouble in Egypt and Tumisia as a diversion.”
    gotta be the quote of the day.
    This boogie monster/super intelligent entity called Israel is the architect of the Matrix and we are all plugged in unawares. The conspiracy theorists are Neo- revolutionaries trying to wake us up.
    love the analogy,spot on. Just hopefully, the growth will be at an upward slope no matter the drawbacks,wake me up when they hit puberty.

    Posted by Maverick | February 18, 2011, 11:17 pm
  30. That’s right!!

    The sooner you get unplugged, the sooner you wake up and the sooner you hit puberty.

    Or, if you cannot beat them in the game then join them.

    Posted by anonymous | February 18, 2011, 11:44 pm
  31. Prophet,

    This is for you: today the US vetoed a UN resolution that would have deemed Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal. The US was alone, besides Israel to vote against the resolution. This is at a time of widespread protests in the ME against mostly US-backed dictators. Only today in Egypt a couple of million Egyptians prayed behind Qardawi and pledged their commitment to “March on Jerusalem” in repeated chants. Do you really think that Obama really cares about the Egyptians, the Palestinians or the Bahrainis? I know I am sticking to you right now in light of Obama leaving you teary-eyed in his last speech about Egypt’s revolution 🙂

    Here’s the link:

    Posted by Saint | February 19, 2011, 1:20 am
  32. Given the cascading events in the region and Israel”s dangerously growing confusion, the Administration had no choice but to veto. Obama threatening (?) Abbas et al with “repercussions” if they failed to tug forelock was a nice touch.

    Things are looking rather touch-N-go

    On a related note, Haaretz presented a reader Q&A re Egypt with the wise Zvi Bar’el that concludes:

    “Q: Close your eyes – imagine an “existential crisis against Israel in real time.” You have time for one phone call to a regional country… Which would it be and why?
    Sally Cummins

    A: I would call Qatar because so far it has demonstrated an ability to solve crises in the area more than any other country.”

    Posted by lally | February 19, 2011, 2:02 am
  33. @Saint:
    “This is at a time of widespread protests in the ME against mostly US-backed dictators”

    Out of the 3 main regimes not supported by the US, (i.e., Qaddafi, the Iranian regime and Syria) two are facing/have recently faced widespread protests and the third brutally crushes dissent. Regardless of the peoples’ feelings towards the US, these uprisings are primarily about the masses being fed up with their dictators and ailing states. Not much more than that…

    Posted by R | February 19, 2011, 6:17 am
  34. Everyone in the Arab world is looking at Turkey as a model but imitating it will certainly not be easy!!

    Further, Turkey itself is at a crossroads as I mention in my blog

    Posted by michaelakerib | February 20, 2011, 12:42 pm

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