Investment companies make their way in opposition-held Sarmada
Enab Baladi – Zeinab Masri
The course of events in Syria has made a fundamental shift in the socio-economic order of the country’s north, which has borders with Turkey. Some villages and small cities have turned into economic centers after Aleppo, which used to serve as the economic capital of Syria, declined.
Sarmada, a small town located in the northern countryside of Idlib near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, saw this transformation.
In addition, some small villages, which have a high population density due to the spread of large numbers of displacement camps, such as Atmeh and Qah, have developed into economic centers.
Several investment companies and projects have scrambled to spread throughout these small towns and villages, given their population density, proximity to the Turkish border, and the relative spread of safety there.
What is the need to invest in Syria’s north?
The need for investments in northern Syria stems from the existence of reasonable capital in the hands of people there–the capital is characterized as “idle and diminished” due to the skyrocketing inflation– the availability of good investment opportunities. In addition, the governorate of Idlib has an enormous potential of human capital, a very high population density, and an excellent geographical location.
The availability of investment companies will increase investment opportunities, stimulate the economic movement and achieve sustainable development in the region.
Consequently, more human resources, mainly university graduates, will be hired, the Public Relations Office of the Namaa Investment Company, which is operating in northwestern Syria, told Enab Baladi.
Namaa is an investment finance company in the region, working with capital fully paid by individuals and institutions, provided that this capital is invested in several projects: such as establishing business companies, real estate development projects, fuel companies, and other financing import and general trade deals.
Real estate investments come first
The company’s public relations office pointed out that the most important investment areas in the region include the real estate sector, the health sector, tender financing, and the natural stone sector–Investing in the extraction and export of natural stones, including marble. All these types of investments help to bring hard currencies into northern Syria.
He pointed out that there are promising opportunities in other areas that may have a high investment value, such as investing in livestock, renewable energies and some industrial specializations.
Namaa Company explained that the main obstacle to investment companies in northwestern Syria is the ongoing instability. The Idlib region could witness outbreaks of military confrontations at any time. Therefore, people save their money as a precautionary measure; they do not spend it because they could suddenly experience forcible displacement.
Investment in northwestern Syria could encounter numerous difficulties such as the lack of necessary experiences (strong accounting experience in particular). Plus, people tend not to invest in industrial areas because of the insufficient stability in the region and the semi-siege situation in the north.
The global financial crisis, which was triggered by the spread of the coronavirus infection(COVID-19), had severe repercussions on northern Syria: An increase in prices of fuel and imports in general and a collapse in the value of the Turkish lira, which is the main currency adopted in the Idlib region.
Instability and insecurity are the biggest challenges
Syrian economist Khaled Terkawi told Enab Baladi that the border areas in northern Syria, such as Sarmada and Dana, are relatively stable, leading to the spread of investments; many shops and some factories and workshops have been established.
He added that the proliferation of stability and safety in the border areas in northern Syria enhances economic activities and attracts investments. These areas, which have become densely populated following the multiple waves of displacement, have grown in importance. This is because the presence of several people will revive and expand the market.
Terkawi believes that these areas will continue to expand in the future because people are looking for more opportunities. For example, new industrial cities are founded in northern Syria. The establishment of industrial cities actually leads to the emergence of new markets and the expansion of economic activities in the border areas.
On the other hand, Syrian economist and researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, Karam Shaar, said that the main problem facing investments or projects that began to appear in cities such as Sarmada, Dana, and Aleppo countryside, is the investors’ fear of establishing any long-term activities.
Speaking with Enab Baladi, the researcher argued that investments are limited so far in northern Syria because there is no reliable or transparent future for these projects. Plus, the “Capital is a coward.”
Accordingly, most projects are a quick win, and they do not require significant investment spending. They are projects concerned with harvesting some agricultural crops, or canning goods and exporting them to Turkey, or harvesting, pressing, storing, and distributing olive oil outside Syria.
Shaar believes that investments positively impact people living in northwestern Syria. Cheap labor is one of the great investment incentives in northwest Syria. However, the instability of the security situation and the lack of clarity in the political and economic horizon of the region makes investment “unattractive.”
Namaa believes that the most vital role of the investment companies in northern Syria is to operate (use) the citizens’ money in varied investment areas. These investments serve the public interest and reduce unemployment.
When investment activities and projects are carried out wisely and skillfully, economic problems will be resolved in northern Syria over time.
In addition, when investments are successfully developed, this could attract foreign capital to invest in the region. This will improve people’s living standards in northern Syria and enhance healthcare services and education and development rates.
What makes the region special?
“The interstitial area encompassing Sarmada and Bab al-Hawa makes for a peculiar phenomenon. It is not a classic border zone separating two sovereign states, though it actually fulfills this function. Nor is it a free zone created by such entities to facilitate trade, though it does that too,” according to a study titled “How the Small Town of Sarmada Became Syria’s Gateway to the World.,” issued on 2 June, by Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center.
The study indicates, “One way to perceive the Sarmada/Bab al-Hawa phenomenon is to imagine it as a multiportal gateway, one that arose organically—it is more the result of circumstance than design—between the distinct sociopolitico-economic systems of Turkey and Syria.”
Economically speaking, Sarmada is considered a link between the well-defined and internationally recognized financial/banking order that exists in Turkey and the rest of the world, with the relatively “vague” financial-banking system in Idlib, which is run by non-international actors and lacks a clear regulatory framework.
According to the study, the uniqueness of this multi-portal gate lies in the fact that no single actor maintains tight control over it. For example, Turkey, the only international player with a strong presence on the ground in Idlib, exercises influence on the region but does not enjoy tight control.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which rules the greater part of Idlib in the immediate, physical sense, has imposed its control over the Sarmada/Bab al-Hawa area and reaped some benefits. Nonetheless, the group refrained from exercising complete control because such a step might backfire.
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