Who really controls the Syrian economy? The Syrian regime or its loyal businessmen?  

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, along with some businessmen in the industrial city of Adra(SANA)

The head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, along with some businessmen in the industrial city of Adra(SANA)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The Governor of the Central Bank of Syria (CBS), Muhammad Issam Hazima, worried for the Syrian economy, “which is no longer able to withstand the shocks resulting from individual malpractices.” He expressed this concern during a meeting with several traders and industrialists in Damascus, held on 22 September.

Hazima addressed letters to capitalists residing in Syria, claiming that the Syrian regime treats them all as equal and threatening them with dire consequences if they violate the Syrian laws. 

In various methods, Hazima told them that the CBS’s recent decisions would considerably strengthen and support the Syrian economy. He stressed that these decisions “cause no harm” to businessmen. 

Although the CBS’s recent decisions actually harm the interests of some money people and tighten the screws on some businessmen in Syria, they are in the interest of pro-regime businessmen because the recent laws do not apply to them, economic researchers believe.

Over the past years, the names of many businessmen supporting the Syrian regime have emerged. In the past, the Syrian regime used businessmen to protect its economic interests lending its support to them. Now, decisions are made foremost to meet their demands.

Weakest link

Yahya al-Sayed Omar, a political economy researcher, told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime tends to benefit a specific segment of businessmen to the detriment of the larger majority in its areas of control. 

Yahya al-Sayed Omar believes this would adversely affect all segments of society, including the regime, except for its loyal businessmen. He pointed out that the regime’s basic interest is supporting the economic cycle to reduce financial pressure and its relevant crises.   

Yahya al-Sayyid Omar said that the Syrian regime is experiencing a state of flux; this is evident from the fact that it allows the presence of some practices that harm its interests. Furthermore, the regime no longer takes control, like in the past, over most sectors of the State, including political, military, and economic ones. 

Because of the absence of the central state authority in various domains, the Syrian regime has become the weakest link among all the forces in Syria. The Syrian regime no longer enjoys the luxury of making decisions; the regime cannot provide support or hamper any economic activity, said Yahya al-Sayyid Omar.

Yahya al-Sayyid Omar believes that the Syrian regime’s recent weakness leads to the emergence of many active actors in various sectors.

In the economic sector, some businessmen appear to have indirect control over some ruling bodies, so they can contribute to making decisions that support them and serve their interests at the expense of small businessmen. This directly promotes “the transformation of the regime into mafias.”

On 9 June, the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, visited Adra Industrial City in Damascus Countryside. During his visit, he deliberately praised the businessmen who supported his authority and those who remained by his side, promising them to provide facilities. 

Simultaneously, al-Assad did not miss the opportunity to send negative messages to the businessmen who left the country. He also held them responsible for the worsening economic conditions the citizens in Syria have been suffering for many years. Al-Assad considers that by leaving Syria, the businessmen “betrayed the citizen.”

“ With me or you would lose”

The Syrian regime’s method of supporting certain businessmen, privileging some to the detriment of others, is based on a philosophy adopted and implemented in its dealings with traders, industrialists, and capital owners since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the economic researcher Khaled al-Tarkawi.

Khaled al-Tarkawi told Enab Baladi that the regime put in the heads of its affiliate businessmen, including industrialists, capital owners, and traders, that they should be part of it and share the same fate; if it falls, they will fall, and vice versa. 

Al-Tarkawi added that some were convinced by this philosophy and began to follow the regime’s steps, pointing out that those who refused were subordinated to the Syrian regime. The latter either had their money confiscated under various legal pretexts or experienced severe harassment and security problems by groups affiliated with the regime.

During the past years, the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Finance issued many decisions requiring precautionary seizure or confiscation of the funds of traders and industrialists, most notably in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus, on various charges, including smuggling or not paying state taxes. 

According to a report by the Jusoor Center for Studies issued at the end of last August, the regime carried out a precautionary seizure campaign on the properties of about 650 traders in the city of Aleppo for many reasons. First, the regime intends to exploit Aleppo’s traders to decrease its existing financial deficits. Moreover, it aims to leverage Aleppo’s traders and investors, who enjoy large-scale trade relations and great financial capacities, in the regime’s interests. The regime also seeks to subject these businessmen to the state’s economic and security system, especially those who complain about the role of some government agencies or official security arms and its auxiliary in obstructing the wheels of industry and trade in Aleppo. 

On 25 September, the Ministry of Finance announced that it issued two thousand precautionary seizure decisions on movable and immovable funds for merchants, craftsmen, and companies in Damascus governorate only during the first half of this year.

According to the ministry, the value of the funds demanded through those decisions amounted to about 5.5 billion Syrian pounds.

Money people before three options

The discriminatory decisions and practices imposed on certain traders by the Syrian regime on the basis of their “loyalty” will present businessmen in Syria with three options, Khaled al-Tarkawi said. 

First, some traders agree to enter into the regime’s support network and accept to share with it the same fate. This is clearly seen in the acts of several traders today. And by selecting this option, they are forced to follow the Syrian regime-linked network’s requirements, such as subordination to the various dominant economic powers such as Russia, Iran, and even the regime.

Some traders also believe that when they stand by each other, demanding decisions that preserve their rights as much as possible, they may be able to resist by not complying with the regime’s demands. However, this can be a temporary solution. This is because the regime believes that their lineup is “more dangerous” than any other measure they might take, even if they end up getting out of Syria.

On the other hand, numerous traders can, as a third option, search for their salvation from complete dependence on the regime’s economic methods, by leaving Syria, according to al-Tarkawi.

Al-Tarkawi added that this category of traders has been increasing recently. Motivated by the Syrian regime’s unjust practices, harassment, and poor services, many turn to this option, leaving Syria.

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of talk about a large exodus of industrialists and craftsmen from Syria.

However, many officials questioned the extent of immigration that was reported by various media outlets. Some denied it categorically to not shed light on this solution, which many business owners see as a salvation for their suffering.

In early August, the head of the textiles sector in the Damascus and Rural Chamber of Industry, Muhannad Daadoush, said that an incredible number of industrialists have recently left areas controlled by the Syrian regime to Egypt due to endless difficulties they faced in their country.  

Meanwhile, the Minister of Industry in the Syrian government, Ziad Sabbagh, completely denied Syria is experiencing an emigration of businesspeople. In an interview with the local Sham FM radio on 26 September, he said that no industrialist had left Syria during the latest period.

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