Repairing a Shattered Syrian Economy in the Midst of War

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The common thread that unites all of CIPE’s partners around the world is their dedication to the principles of democracy rooted in private enterprise and free market economics. In all other respects, their diversity is remarkable and represents one of CIPE’s greatest sources of strength.

Ranging from the smallest of local business associations and youth groups to large chambers of commerce and some of the world’s most respected think tanks, our partners all work hard to advance freedom and secure new opportunity for their fellow citizens. They also operate under circumstances as varied and complex as the global geo-political landscape itself. Some of our partners work in conflict environments that require a particular blend of courage and creativity in order to advance their democratic objectives.

The current catastrophe in Syria certainly presents unique challenges to CIPE’s partner the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), an independent think tank formed in 2012 by business people from across Syria to inform the public policies that will be needed for the country to emerge from conflict and transition to democracy. It may sound starry-eyed to speak of peace and democracy with the war now in its fourth year, at a cost of more than 160,000 lives, over 2.8 million refugees, $143.8 billion in economic losses (as of the end of 2013), three-quarters of the population living in poverty, and incalculable social trauma.

However, SEF and the moderate business community it represents see no other alternative. Independent small and medium business people from across the country, representing the mosaic of religions and ethnicities for which Syria has long been renowned, are a unifying force with the potential to repair and rebuild a now shattered society.

In just its first two years of existence, SEF has conducted a variety of research and generated policy recommendations that will contribute to both immediate relief and the recovery of the Syrian economy over the medium-to-long term (a process the UN estimates will take 30 years) on issues including education, investment, workforce development, public administration, fiscal and monetary policies, the water sector, and agriculture. Given the urgency of the crisis and ongoing volatility in Syria, SEF is focused mainly on delivering near-term solutions for relief and rehabilitation.

Most recently, SEF released the second of a two-part assessment of the needs of private industry in northwestern Syria, a region that is crucial for the country’s economy. SEF staff and field researchers surveyed over 1,000 factories during several months in 2013 and 2014, reaching some of the areas hardest hit by the conflict. SEF recently released the results of its assessment at a workshop with key stakeholders in Gaziantep, Turkey, and on its website.

Among the findings: an effective unemployment rate of 88.7 percent across the industrial sector; nearly half of factories have ceased production altogether and another 37 percent produce at less than half their capacity; over 57 percent of factories have access to less than three hours of electricity per day and another 27.7 percent have electricity between three and six hours per day. More in-depth research is proceeding on two of the most critical clusters: pharmaceuticals and textiles.

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SEF Executive Vice President Tammam Al Baroudi discusses the results of SEF’s survey of factories in northwestern Syria with workshop participants in Gaziantep, Turkey.

SEF is leveraging its growing body of research to steer the debate among Syrian decision-makers, including opposition coalition authorities, towards the delivery of real and tangible economic solutions to those who are suffering inside the country and those who have been displaced by the conflict. CIPE is humbled to support this innovative and courageous think tank in restoring dignity and providing hope to a proud people.

Stephen Rosenlund is Program Officer for the Middle East & North Africa at CIPE.

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