Al-Assad calls business owners outside Syria as “traitors”

President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad during his visit to the city of Adra - 9 June 2021 (a picture taken from a video of the Presidency of the Syrian Republic)

President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad during his visit to the city of Adra - 9 June 2021 (a picture taken from a video of the Presidency of the Syrian Republic)

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Enab Baladi – Ali Darwish

During his visit to the industrial city of Adra in the governorate of Rif Dimashq on 9 June, Bashar al-Assad praised his loyal businesspeople who stayed by his side, promising them to provide facilities.

 Al-Assad visited Adra only 37 days after his visit to the industrial city of Hassia in rural Homs and his “victory” in the presidential election that ended in late May.  

Al-Assad said that the reason for his visit to the city of Adra was to emphasize the primacy of the economy in the next stage, including how to overcome the obstacles facing the productive sector in general in Syria. 

During his recent visit, al-Assad deliberately praised businesspeople who supported his authority and simultaneously broadcast negative messages against businesspeople who left Syria. He pointed out that capital alone is insufficient in war conditions to “build the country and its economy,” and that “will and patriotism” are essential. 

Al-Assad promised his staunch industrialists the support of the state. He stressed that the state would stand by their side. “They deserve all possible support and encouragement because they are fighting an economic war while working. They are on the labor front.”

“Compatible or not”

The head of the Syrian Economic Working Group, Dr. Osama al-Qadi, commented on al-Assad’s statement, noting that the Syrian regime insists on classifying people into two categories: those who stayed and are loyal to the state and those who fled and pretend to be rebels.

Al-Qadi told Enab Baladi that al-Assad wants to send messages that the investors (business owners) who decide to stay in Syria “despite corruption, improper management of the Syrian crisis, the presence of foreign militias and armies, and the division of Syria into three areas of influence, are considered as “patriotic.” And while those who left Syria to save part of their fortune and keep their business productivity are seen as “traitors to their state,” just because they fled bombardment and war. 

Al-Assad’s statement indicates a shortcoming in his analytical thinking and sends negative messages to business people and industrialists, including his supporters. These messages show that the Assad regime’s mentality is repulsive and not inclusive, and the state is not for all the Syrian people. Such messages increasingly fragment and weaken the Syrian economy, according to al-Qadi. 

Al-Assad said that he was not surprised by what he considered the “national sense” of his loyalist businessmen and the ability of the productive sector to continue in the face of years of war and sanctions.

Al-Assad also talked about “the national spirit,” that he “was touched by those working [ hard for their country]. This type of people drove him to make a “spontaneous comparison” between business people who stayed in Syria to support him in each step and those who fled their country.

 Al-Assad said that “the patriotic spirit” of his businessmen gives many messages. Al-Assad made a comparison between those who “dedicate their national money in such difficult circumstances in order to create job opportunities and support the economy,” and people who “fled from the very first days of war; when first signs of war appeared.” He said that they made use of their county by “taking the capital they collected in their country and emigrated.”

Betraying the Syrian citizen

Al-Assad did not even miss the chance to talk about the Syrian citizen. He said that “the Syrian citizen, since the onset of the Syrian crisis, has had to face deteriorating security, economic, and living conditions. He believed that there would be many brothers who would lend him a helping hand.” 

Al-Assad holds the businesspeople responsible for the worsening economic situation of Syrians, considering that, by leaving Syria, they “betrayed the citizen.”

Their departures send many messages, al-Assad believes. Al-Assad concludes that businesspeople in Syria have capabilities and resources, but they lack the courage to take the initiative and step out because they either face external pressures, which are laden with frustration and bad intentions, or internal issues, such as laziness and dependence. But at the same time, they have hope and confidence that the industrial sector will improve despite the losses.

Dr. Osama al-Qadi said that al-Assad believes that his speech would instill the patriotic spirit in the heart of the “vulnerable” industrialists inside Syria. Those who keep their economic activities in the Syrian regime-held areas are two kinds of business owners. They are either obscure businesspeople—who do not want to lose all their wealth, especially if it is limited and they cannot re-establish an industry or trade outside Syria—or those benefiting from the Syrian regime.

Al-Qadi indicates that there are doubtlessly “patriotic businessmen who are trying their best inside Syria within their available means, and they keep their economic activity to a minimum.”

Supporting the industrialists with only words amid lack of electric supply

Al-Assad spoke only about the will, the sense, and the national spirit, but he did not propose any viable actual solutions to the problems of the industrialists. He did not even talk about things that hamper their work, such as high fuel prices, power cuts, the fluctuations in the Syrian pound’s exchange rate against other currencies, and successive losses in its value.  

The Syrian regime’s Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has raised the price of a ton of fuel from 290,000 to 333,500 SYP (90 to 103.5 USD). The price of one fuel liter jumped from 300 to 650 SYP in December 2020. Consequently, this resulted in higher costs of food and industrial goods produced using diesel, mainly as they greatly rely on fuel due to the significant power outages.  

The ministry has also increased the price of gasoline three times since the beginning of this year, bringing the price of a liter to 2,500 pounds(0.77 USD).

The industrial areas in Syria are experiencing continuous power outages given the electricity rationing measures and increasing pressures on the electrical network, which makes factories mostly rely on portable diesel generators. 

The Ministry of Electricity decided last January to ration power in the industrial cities of Adra in Rif Dimashq and Hassia in rural Homs, and Sheikh Najjar in rural Aleppo, after they were previously exempted from this measure.

Haitham al-Maila, the manager of Damascus electricity, told al-Madina FM, a local radio station, on 20 January, that the excessive loads on the power grid led to the breakdown of the operating circuit breakers and the power outage in Damascus.

Apart from the lack of adequate infrastructure, the other major obstacle is that several industrialists are prevented from working, as is the case of the industrialists of the Qaboun industrial zone in Damascus. They were not allowed to work and restore their factories and start production.  

The Damascus Governorate claimed that the industrial zone was damaged by 80 percent due to the battles that the area suffered. However, during their meeting with governorate officials in September 2018, the industrialists knew that the rate of destruction is no more than 10 percent, based on the assessment of the Engineers Syndicate and the Ministry of Justice.

The Qaboun industrial zone was organized in zoning plan No. 104 (regulating the northern entry point to Damascus), approved by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing by Resolution No. 2717 on 3 October 2019.

The restoration licenses submitted by the industrialists with a “verbal refusal” have been frozen. Now, they are awaiting an official decision to return to work and re-install the electricity transformers withdrawn from the area, the head of the Qaboun Industrial Committee, Atef Tayfour, told al-Thawra, a pro-government newspaper last February. 

Industrialist Majd Shamshan, a member of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry, said that raising the ceiling of loans to industrialists, granting them in installments, importing machines, and establishing production lines, in addition to providing electricity around the clock, can revive the economy.

Shamshan told al-​Mayadeen, a TV channel known for its closeness to the regime, that none of the above-mentioned requirements was met by the minor authorities to the head of the pyramid. The industrialists saw nothing but empty statements.

Charles Lister, a British senior fellow and Director of the Countering Terrorism and Extremism Program at the Middle East Institute, said in an article in al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that the Syrian economy is pitifully exhausted, torn apart by an unbearable internal conflict, wrecked by the deep corruption that is rampant in all its parts, and dramatically collapsed.”

Syrians in the regime-controlled areas are suffering from several economic and living crises that burden them, in the absence of change in the regime’s economic and financial policies, despite its continued promises years ago that the crises would ease.

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