Thu 24 Sep 2020

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Why do businessmen race to be members in the People’s Council of Syria?

The most prominent businessmen, who won membership in the People’s Council of Syria for the year 2020 (Enab Baladi)

The most prominent businessmen, who won membership in the People’s Council of Syria for the year 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Zeinab Masri

Even though the United States of America applies sanctions against economic activities, which lend support to the Syrian regime, within the framework of the “Caesar Act,” which came into effect on 17 June, the elections for the People’s Council of Syria (PCS) have seen a race among Syrian businessmen to win one of its seats. 

Their race to win a membership in the PCS raises several questions about the political and economic gains that a Member of the Parliament (MP) can achieve. 

“Financial junta”

The description of a businessman does not apply to most of those who nominated themselves for the PCS elections because they are “fronts for money-laundering operations, the head of “the Syrian Economic Task Force,” Dr. Osama al-Qadi told Enab Baladi. 

Al-Qadi believes that these candidates are a “financial junta,” that is; a corrupt financial class that was able to bring the Syrian economy under its control, because of its agreement with the “corruption system” in the Syrian regime, and its connection to it through a complex network of utilitarian relations. He noted that the survival of this class depends on the survival of the system.

It cannot be said that the people who have run for the council are businessmen, because corruption is rampant in the relations binding them to the security system of the Syrian regime, and their financial sources are mostly suspicious, according to al-Qadi. 

This group of people, under the name of businessmen, are competing in order to win the council elections. In fact, this race can be interpreted as a race for power; they are doing their best to empower their network and relationships with the security services, the Syrian regime itself, and with “the corrupt system.”

Besides, al-Qadi added that “these businessmen” cannot expand their business without the support of the regime. They need to obtain exceptions and licenses to establish companies, a power of attorney, specific administrative procedures, and credit lines from Syrian banks for certain people at the orders of the heads of security branches, and senior officers, in addition to the support of the presidential palace. 

Dominating the economic scene

Karam Shaar, a Syrian economist, and senior analyst at the New Zealand Treasury, highlighted that the Syrian regime uses parliament membership as a tool to thank its supporters. For this reason, business people compete for being MPs, because it shows that the Syrian regime is interested in thanking them rather than others, which shows the centrality of their role in society, and creates new economic opportunities for them.

On the other hand, Dr. Osama al-Qadi said that the businessmen actually race to lead the “Syrian economic scene,” but not for parliamentary immunity, stressing that “there is no immunity for any MP,” according to his opinion.

The Syrian regime can imprison anyone it wants in one of the prisons of its security branches. Not to mention that the MPs cannot refuse any order to any security or intelligence branch inside Syria. Besides, it is easy to remove the parliamentary immunity or change the constitution or its articles, due to Syria’s lack of access to law and justice, according to al-Qadi.

He pointed out that the MPs benefit from security protection under several titles, including the satisfaction of the Presidential Palace and the ruling system, as is the case with other ministers and officials.

The Syrian researcher Karam Shaar pointed out, in an interview with Enab Baladi, that the diplomatic immunity of MPs is limited to issues related to the parliament, and does not fully extend to personal, civil or criminal lawsuits. Because all MPs are ideologically supportive of the regime, parliamentary immunity is almost losing its meaning, as he put it.

The MPs, according to Article No.21 of the council’s bylaws, enjoy immunity throughout the parliament’s term, and it is not permissible, except in cases of flagrante delicto, to take any criminal measures or execute any criminal judgment against any member, without prior permission from the PSC.

Indirect gains

Shaar believes that the costs of travel and attending parliamentary meetings exceed the direct financial gains from the PCS membership. On the other hand, the PCS membership does not legally facilitate the import or export of goods or the establishment of any profitable organizations; the businessman’s gains from his membership in the PSC are crucial, and all of them are indirect.

Shaar said that these gains give an image among businessmen that an MP is so important that the Syrian regime assiduously courts him through his membership in the council. Being an MP and a businessman at the same time means that this person is too “important,” as described by Shaar. This increased opportunities for partnership and cooperation with other businessmen.  

Businessmen topped the list of the winners in the PCS elections, such as Hossam Ahmad Qatirji, Bilal Muhammad al-Naal, and Samer Mohammed al-Debs. On the other hand, names of high weight were absent from the PSC; some left the race of the PCS elections either because of losing the elections, as the president of the “Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry,” Faris al-Shehabi. Other candidates withdrew from the race just before it started, as Syrian businessman, Muhammad Hamsho.

Fares al-Shihabi, a former MP, expressed his “remorse” for not withdrawing from the election race shortly after his loss, considering that his loss was “for lack of blind obedience to the growing system of corruption.”

After al-Shihabi lost his list in favor of the “al-Asala” list, which includes Hossam Ahmad Qatirji, Najdat Anzour, and Hassan Berri, he said that he was eliminated by a conspiracy he described as “malicious and explicit and by dirty and scandalous means,” aiming, as he put it, to take revenge on him and weaken the “huge” industrial block he represents.

Al-Shihabi attacked the government’s performance several times and exceeded the permissible limit in criticizing government performance, which created an intense atmosphere in industrial circles in particular and the Syrian society in general, according to Shaar.

He believes that little criticism of government performance is acceptable and likable because it shows the regime is somehow democratic. Still, much of it creates a state of tension and dissatisfaction, which poses a threat to stability, especially in difficult times.

 

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