Since 2011, CIPE has been working with a courageous group of Syrian business people to advance an economic vision for the future of their country. With CIPE’s support, these private sector leaders established a think tank in 2012 called the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF), which is helping formulate the economic policies for the country’s future.
Few countries in the world have as great a need for CIPE’s assistance as Syria. For the past two years, Syria has been wracked by civil war. Tragically, 70,000 people have lost their lives to the violence. The economy has imploded, contracting by 7.8% in 2012 and estimated to contract by another 3.4% this year. Inflation is spectacular, with the Syrian pound’s value against the U.S. dollar falling by half since before the war began. Bank profits fell by anywhere from 40 to 95 percent last year alone.
Oil exports, which used to bring the country $7-8 million per day, now cost the country $13 million per day as a result of international sanctions. The official price of diesel fuel has risen by 40 percent. Power outages are widespread, and the Internet is subject to complete blackout by the regime.
Once-productive farms throughout the country have been destroyed, and irrigation infrastructure has been severely damaged. According to a recent study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the country’s wheat and barley production has been halved. Vegetable production in Homs alone has dropped by 60 percent.
The country’s previously robust industrial sector reveals a growing number of shuttered and bombed out factories. The country has been drained of its best and brightest business people – along with intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals – who fled the country.
These are the harsh realities of today’s Syria.
Syria’s economic woes are not due entirely to the war, however. The state’s dominance of the economy under the Assad dictatorship breeds corruption, undermines property rights, discourages entrepreneurship, and stifles international competitiveness. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Syria at 144 out of 176 countries for perceived levels of public sector corruption. As of its latest ranking in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Syria was considered a “mostly unfree” economy – ranked the fourth lowest in the MENA region. The Legatum Institute’s 2012 Prosperity Index ranked Syria 113th out of 142 countries for its level of wealth and well-being. However, these studies bear the caveat that meaningful attempts to assess the country’s current economic policy environment largely come up empty in the midst of war.
To build a more hopeful future, CIPE is supporting the Syrian Economic Forum to chart the course for a more prosperous future that will provide economic freedom and dignity to the Syrian people. Their effort represents a unique and inspiring contribution of the Syrian business community to the country’s struggle for freedom and democracy.
The organization has articulated a Vision for Syria’s Economic Horizons, which calls for the private sector to play a leading role in developing a market economy that is free of corruption and encourages entrepreneurship. At major international conferences last fall in Dubai and Tunisia, SEF announced its vision to hundreds of influential policymakers and stakeholders from Syria and the international community. Members of the board meet frequently to develop and refine strategy and plan the organization’s activities.
In recent weeks, SEF forged a cooperative relationship with the Syrian Economic Task Force, a highly influential voice in the country’s transition. Together, the two organizations are studying 20 sectors of the Syrian economy and preparing policy papers that recommend measures for recovery and reform. The papers will comprise a road map for the rebirth of the Syrian economy and will help inform the decisions of leaders in the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
In the midst of a dark period in Syria’s history, the Syrian Economic Forum is a light on the horizon. The members of this organization represent the best of the Syrian business community, and of their country.
For all the latest on the Syrian economy and to follow the work of this inspiring organization, visit the SEF’s website in English and Arabic at www.syrianeconomicforum.org and follow them on Twitter and Facebook (Tweets and posts in both English and Arabic).
Stephen Rosenlund is Program Officer for Middle East and North Africa at CIPE.