Regime’s government promotes exhibitions of limited economic benefits

General conference to launch Syria Expo - April 23, 2024 (General Establishment for Exhibitions)

General conference to launch Syria Expo - April 23, 2024 (General Establishment for Exhibitions)

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Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

The General Establishment for Exhibitions and International Markets (a government agency under the Syrian regime) announced on May 14th through its Facebook page its readiness to host three specialized exhibitions from May 16th to 20th. These include the Syrian International Industrial Exhibition, the Syrian International Exhibition for Construction and Infrastructure, and the Exhibition of Energy, Electricity, and Industrial Automation.

The announcement comes amid a focus on hosting exhibitions in Damascus amidst complex economic and political conditions, and living crises in Syria on one hand, and international sanctions besieging the Syrian regime on the other.

Under normal circumstances, exhibitions play a significant role in the economic scene, whether for bringing in foreign currency necessary for import operations or for establishing business relationships between companies from various countries. Added to this is the possibility of exploring investment conditions on the ground and facilitating business deals.

Tendency for organizing exhibitions

The General Establishment for Exhibitions and International Markets does not hide its tendency towards focusing on hosting specialized exhibitions, according to press statements made by its General Manager, Halim al-Akhras, during a press conference on April 24th. He considered these exhibitions as creating “real opportunities to increase investment and open new markets for Syrian products.”

The establishment granted 58 approvals during the first quarter of this year to hold exhibitions, festivals, and bazaars in Damascus and other governorates, while only 31 approvals were granted during the same period in 2023, according to statements by al-Akhras reported by the official Syrian News Agency (SANA) on April 3rd.

Al-Akhras considered the organized exhibitions and the public turnout a “positive indicator of economic activity.” According to his statements, the establishment has taken a series of measures to “facilitate the hosting of exhibitions” in order to stimulate the economy and introduce institutions.

The establishment’s tendency aligns with that of the Damascus government, which continually promotes the revival of the tourism sector and the hosting of exhibitions and conferences, and frequently talks about the recovery of the Syrian economy—a picture opposite to the reality and its numbers.

Economic researcher Zaki Mahshi explained to Enab Baladi that focusing on hosting exhibitions has a promotional aspect and sends messages both internally and externally.

Externally, the Syrian regime aims to portray that conditions in Syria are returning to normal, through organizing international exhibitions attended by businessmen, traders, and companies that visit the country, stay, and showcase their products.

Internally, it is a method consistently employed by the regime by presenting an image that the economic situation is improving and will improve more in the coming period, aiming to deceive citizens, in an effort to ease unrest and avoid social disturbances, according to Mahshi.

He added that the exhibitions are often promotional campaigns that include commercial deals, and the exhibiting companies or those involved in organizing the exhibitions are directly affiliated with the regime, with strong relationships between them. These companies want to show the regime their ability to promote effectively to gain approval from the responsible bodies.

Thus, the matter turns into a kind of competition among these companies, about who can organize more exhibitions and promote that the regime’s image is improving internationally. According to Mahshi, there are indeed exhibitions that attract European businessmen, even on an individual level, and some deals may result from them.

Economic importance of exhibitions

Exhibitions play an important role in the national economy of countries, by enhancing with foreign currency, and establishing commercial relationships between companies from different countries.

A study published by the Al-Baath University Journal for Scientific Research in 2023 stated that there is a correlation between exhibitions and the development of the tourism sector and the influx of foreign cash.

They also play a role in providing permanent and temporary jobs for the workforce and have direct economic impacts, in addition to trade and knowledge exchange.

Economic researcher Zaki Mahshi explained to Enab Baladi that generally, economic exhibitions are organized by governments or semi-governmental entities, and companies, to market products and are usually specialized exhibitions.

There is often participation from multiple companies from different countries, as seen in exhibitions in Europe, Dubai, and others, such as technology exhibitions, for instance. The primary goal is marketing, making deals, and competition among exhibiting companies from different places.

Not circumventing the sanctions

The United States and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions on the Syrian regime since 2011, targeting individuals and companies.

These sanctions include the freezing of assets in US banks for any of the entities, companies, and individuals who have been sanctioned, and prohibiting all US companies from dealing with them.

Furthermore, since mid-June 2020, the United States has begun imposing economic sanctions on figures within the Syrian regime and related economic companies under the Caesar Act.

The sanctions have included Bashar al-Assad, his wife Asma, his brothers Maher and Bushra, along with Syrian businessman Mohammad Hamsho and his family.

Companies associated with Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin, as well as sanctions on businessman Nader Qalai, are also included.

The Syrian regime blames these sanctions for the deteriorating Syrian economy over the years, and has attempted through several allied countries or those that have good relations with it to circumvent them.

A question raised by the repeated announcement of exhibitions is whether it plays a role in the Syrian regime’s circumvention of international sanctions?

In a speech reported by Enab Baladi, Mahshi doubted that the Syrian regime would seek such a step, considering that it has its own ways to circumvent the sanctions and would not do so openly, and through direct business transactions between the two parties publicly.

On March 26th, the US Treasury Department announced that its Office of Foreign Assets Control had imposed sanctions on 11 individuals and entities supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, by facilitating illicit financial transfers and drug trafficking, and exporting Syrian goods.

The department included a statement from its Assistant Secretary for Middle Eastern Affairs, Brian Nelson, which stated: “The Assad regime continues to use a variety of schemes to evade sanctions and continue its long-standing repressive campaign against its citizens, including illicit drug trafficking, exploiting currency exchange, and benefiting from seemingly legitimate businesses.”

An investigative report named “Dubai Unlocked”, led by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and a Norwegian financial news site, which involved 74 media outlets from various countries, revealed that Assad’s family, his relatives, and close businessmen have used Dubai, UAE as an outlet for money flows through real estate investments.

Published on May 15th, the investigation showed that major businessmen on the regime’s economic sanction lists had transferred money to Dubai and purchased real estate assets in luxury areas.

 

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