“Lebanon’s Coming Crisis” by Firas Maksad


This cartoon is from Jeha's Nail:

Firas Maksad sees the crisis in Lebanon coming to a head in April-May as the government pushes for a chapter seven UN Security Council resolution mandating the Hariri tribunal prior to French President Jacque Chirac's departure from office in mid-May. Firas Maksad is an analyst with "The Eurasia Group." He wrote this on 4 April 2007. I copy only excerpts:

Saudi Arabia's marginalization of Syria came to an end at the Arab Summit with King Abdullah meeting with President Bashar al Assad twice in 48 hours. Apparently the more hawkish camp led by National Security Advisor Prince Bandar bin Sultan is losing ground to Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, who is in favor of engaging Syria rather than confronting it in an effort to check Iran's rising influence. Yet while such development bodes well for the chances of a compromise in Beirut, leaks indicate that the discussions on Lebanon did not go beyond generalities and that the differences remain. This is particularly disconcerting given the limited timeframe available for compromise. Lebanon's governing anti-Syrian coalition is expected to push for a chapter seven UN Security Council resolution mandating the Hariri tribunal prior to French President Jacque Chirac's departure from office in mid-May.

Further contributing to the sense of pessimism is information that Syria recently turned down a deal on the tribunal floated by Egypt. The deal reportedly involved limiting the responsibility for Hariri's assassination to former Head of Syrian General Intelligence Bahjat Suleiman in return for Syrian cooperation on Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. If true, this would indicate rising confidence in Damascus and a decision to play for time until Chirac's and then Bush's departure from office. Such a policy would not be unfounded …. Damascus will therefore probably prefer to maintain the defiant tone, preventing the tribunal's passage through the Lebanese parliament, painting its passage by the UN Security Council as an illegitimate foreign plot and eventually rejecting its finding.

The tribunal's possible establishment through the Security Council however will mark a new phase in the Lebanese crisis and could debilitate all branches of government….. The Saudi-Syrian dialogue on Lebanon needs to achieve a substantial breakthrough prior to the end of April; otherwise a new set of negative dynamics will likely come into play.

Asharq Al-Awsat published the results of a Lebanese opinion poll showing that although Aoun has lost support, he iremains the most popular Christian leader. Only half of Lebanon's Sunnis approve of the policies of the March 14 governing coalition. The writer suggests that Lebanon is too unstable to absorb the international tribunal and that the only thing that can save Lebanon is a Taif II and Madrid II. (Thanks Alex)

لبنان: الحل في «مدريد ـ 2» و«طائف ـ 2»

لتبرئة السياسيين اللبنانيين من طريقة تعاملهم مع لبنان، يمكن الادعاء بأن مقولة: «ومن الحب ما قتل» تنطبق عليهم جميعاً من دون استثناء. إذ أن تعاملهم مع «الوطن» لم يسمح ببروز معادلة واحدة يتفق حولها اللبنانيون، كما إن مواقفهم المتشنجة أفرزت قرارات شقت الصف اللبناني، ويدل هذا كله على أن كل مسؤول لبناني إنما يعمل لمصلحته الخاصة وليس لمصلحة وطنه، وعلى هذا تتفق الغالبية من اللبنانيين.

ليس صحيحاً أن كل الشيعة اللبنانيين متفقون على بقاء سلاح «حزب الله» كما انه ليس صحيحاً أن كل اللبنانيين الذين يعارضون توجهات وأهداف «حزب الله» متفقون على ضرورة قيام المحكمة الدولية، وليس هذان الموضوعان فقط موضع خلاف بين اللبنانيين، إنما هما الأبرز، ويأتي بعدهما موضوع العلاقة مع سوريا والوجود الفلسطيني المسلح في المخيمات وخارجها، وانتشار فرق أصولية مسلحة هنا وهناك.

المشاكل الخطيرة التي يعاني منها لبنان هي انعكاس لمشاكل إقليمية معقدة، وخطورتها أنها تغطي على مشاكل وأزمات المواطن اللبناني الذي لم يعد يجد حتى نائباً مجهولاً يهتم بواحد من شؤونه اليومية. كل النواب اللبنانيين ضمن تكتلات سياسية، وكل تكتل «اكبر» من القضايا المعيشية ومشغول «إقليميا»!

يقول لي مصدر لبناني، إن البلد متجه إلى أسوأ مما هو عليه الآن، «إذا لم تكن هناك مدريد ـ2 وطائف ـ2».

و«على أمل» أن يتحقق ذلك، تعيش «الطوائف» اللبنانية حالة من عدم الثقة. وحسب إحصاءات مؤسسة «الدولية للمعلومات»، يلاحظ أن نسبة عالية من أبناء الطائفة المارونية لا تثق بأحد: لا بفرنسا ولا بأميركا ولا بإيران وحكماً لا تثق بسوريا.

ويقول لي جواد عدرا مدير المؤسسة: «تشعر الطائفة المارونية بأنها خُدعت من قبل الجميع، ورغم أن الجنرال ميشال عون لا يزال الرقم واحد في الطائفة المارونية إلا انه خسر من شعبيته لا سيما في الأشهر الثلاثة الماضية بعد مسألة الاعتصام الذي اثر سلباً على الاقتصاد والتجارة في البلد».

أما السنّة، وحسب الإحصاءات، فيقول عدرا: هناك نسبة مرتفعة تقارب ربما 50% ليست مع سعد الحريري، إنما ليست مع أي طرف آخر، قسم منها موزع ما بين عمر كرامي، وسليم الحص ونجيب ميقاتي (رؤساء حكومة سابقون)، والغالبية ليست مع احد».

ونصل إلى الطائفة الشيعية، فأثناء الحرب وبعدها كان هناك شبه إجماع يقارب 80% إلى 90% في تأييد «حزب الله» وبدأ الآن يظهر تراجع في تأييد الشيعة للحزب، واكتُشف ذلك من خلال ارتفاع شعبية نبيه بري رئيس المجلس النيابي ورئيس حركة «أمل» الشيعية، ليس لأن بري تفوق في أمر ما، إنما كي لا يقول الشيعي «انه لا يؤيد حزب الله، يتخذ من نبيه بري غطاء» كما يقول عدرا.

كما يتردد في لبنان أن جماعة «أمل» تبدي انزعاجاً ملحوظاً لأن أفرادها خسروا منازلهم في الحرب الأخيرة إنما لم يحصلوا على تعويضات وزعها «حزب الله».

وحسب الإحصاءات الأخيرة، فان هناك نسبة 42% من الشيعة ترى أن إبقاء سلاح «حزب الله» ضمانة وطنية كي لا تقصف إسرائيل لبنان، و15% مع بقائه حتى إيجاد حل للصراع العربي ـ الإسرائيلي (هؤلاء لا يريدون نزعه) و23% مع بقائه للدفاع عن لبنان بالتنسيق مع الدولة، و11% مع تسليمه بعد تحرير مزارع شبعا والأسرى و5% مع إجراء حوار حول نزعه.

لكن مع الاعتصامات التي دعا إليها «حزب الله» لوحظ انه خسر من وهجه، فبدل أن يقول انه صار أداة تغيير في كل المنطقة، انحصرت مشكلته في ساحات بيروت. والأنظمة التي كان يمكن أن تهددها ظاهرة مثل «حزب الله» مرتاحة الآن. ويُظهر هذا من ناحية أخرى، أن لا كبير واحداً في لبنان، فاللبنانيون كما يبنون بسرعة يدمرون بسرعة أيضا.

وحول نزع سلاح «حزب الله» يقول الدكتور بول سالم مدير «معهد كارنغي للسلام ـ فرع لبنان»، «إن القوة الدفاعية التي يملكها «حزب الله» جيدة لأي دولة وهي جيدة للبنان، لأن قواتنا القتالية محدودة، لكن بعد عام 2000 إثر الانسحاب الإسرائيلي، كان يجب أن يندرج سلاح «حزب الله» تحت إطار الشرعية اللبنانية ويكون قرار الحرب والسلم بيد اللبنانيين الممثلين بدولتهم»..

ويرفض الدكتور سالم تأجيل قيام الدولة اللبنانية بانتظار أن نتأكد أين تقع مزارع شبعا: «عندها ما من دولة في العالم تسير إلى الأمام فكل الدول لديها خلافات مع جيرانها حول بعض تفاصيل الحدود، هناك السعودية والكويت، الكويت والعراق، العراق وإيران وإيران وتركيا وهذا أمر طبيعي ولا يمكن أن تتوقف الحياة السياسية والأمنية لبلد بأكمله لأن هناك مشكلة في الخريطة على ارض معينة، فهذه تُدرس وتعالج بطريقة أخرى»..

ومن سلاح «حزب الله» إلى المحكمة في قضية اغتيال رئيس الوزراء رفيق الحريري..

ويقول لي أحد السياسيين اللبنانيين: «أليس من حدود للبحث عن الحقيقة؟ أنا في بلد لم يجر مصالحة وطنية بعد حرب أودت بحياة 200 ألف إنسان، ونظامي يتفكك ثم يأتون ويطلبون مني أن انشر قوات دولية على الحدود مع سوريا واعقد محكمة دولية، انا لست دولة عظمى». ويقول انه سأل احد الأشخاص: اذا طلبت المحكمة التحقيق مع أمين عام «حزب الله» السيد حسن نصر الله فماذا يحصل؟ فأجابه: «نجري له فيديو ـ كونفرانس»!»!

ان للمحكمة تعقيداتها الإقليمية وقد تكون أصعب من نزع سلاح «حزب الله»، إذ لا حل وسطاً فيها، إما تنعقد أو لا تنعقد. ويقول الدكتور سالم: «إنها ابيض أو اسود ولو أن البعض يقول، إذا عدّلنا هذه المادة أو تلك نصل إلى الحل الوسط.

عملياً ليس هناك من حل وسط، فعندما تنشأ محكمة وتتلقى تقريراً مطولاً فإما ان تصل المعلومات التي يتضمنها التقرير إلى محكمة ذات طابع دولي أو لن تصل»..

ويبدو انه ليس هناك من مخرج لهذه المشكلة. الدكتور سالم «يؤيد قيام المحكمة بالتأكيد» ويضيف، انه في حالة اغتيال رؤساء وزرائنا، وسياسيينا وصحافيينا لا يمكن لدولة تحترم نفسها أو لشعب يحترم نفسه أن يأتي ويقول انه لا يريد التحقيق، لكن يعترف الدكتور سالم بأنها مشكلة، إذ لا يوجد ما يُسمى «قتله قليلاً» والمحكمة ستظهر نتائج قد لا تناسب البعض..

وهذا كما يبدو هو السبب الرئيسي لعدم الوصول إلى تسوية وجرجرة الوضع في لبنان. وإذا كان يمكن إيجاد حل وسط لمشكلة سلاح «حزب الله» بالقول بتأجيل موضوعه مدة سنة، أو إيجاد حل وسط لتشكيل الحكومة عبر التفاوض على عدد وزراء كل طرف، فان لا حل وسطاً للمحكمة. والحل الوحيد إما الغاؤها أو السير بها..

ويقول سالم: «حتى إدخال تعديلات على المواد يعني السير فيها، وليس التعديل هو الحل الوسط، ولا وجود لحكم بـ«السجن قليلاً»، وإذا جرت المحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي وتقدم لها تقرير مطول فالضرر سيصيب الطرف الرافض بغض النظر إذا تم تسليم المتهم لاحقاً للمحكمة أو عدم سجنه، لأن المعلومات الحقيقية ستكشف للرأي العام العالمي، ولا تعود من أهمية للمواقف السياسية». «من هنا، وحتى مع التعديلات فان المحكمة تكون أو لا تكون».

حتى الآن ليس واضحاً ما إذا كان «حزب الله» متخوف مباشرة من المحكمة أو لأن حليفه السوري متخوف منها. إن مصير «حزب الله» مرتبط نوعاً ما بالنظام السوري، خصوصاً أن هناك تحالفاً استراتيجياً بين الطرفين. ولا يريد الحزب وقوع أي أمر يؤذي حليفه. ثم إن أحدا لا يعرف حقيقة ما توصل إليه التحقيق، ويرى الحزب أن المحكمة تقف وراءها الأمم المتحدة التي مقرها نيويورك والاميركيون فاعلون فيها، ويتخوف الحزب من أن يطّلع الأجانب، عبر المحكمة على العديد من الملفات ويقول الدكتور سالم: «انه من دون شك لقيادة «حزب الله» مخاوف عامة من إنشاء محكمة واسعة الصلاحيات وطويلة الأمد. فالمرحلة الأولى ثلاث سنوات والباب مفتوح، وتملك حق التحقيق والسجن وستكون نوعاً من سلطة جديدة في لبنان ولها طابع أجنبي، ولا يرغب «حزب الله»، حسب مفهومه السياسي، في أن يدخل أجهزة استخبارات جديدة عليه».

. فالمرحلة الأولى ثلاث سنوات والباب مفتوح، وتملك حق التحقيق والسجن وستكون نوعاً من سلطة جديدة في لبنان ولها طابع أجنبي، ولا يرغب «حزب الله»، حسب مفهومه السياسي، في أن يدخل أجهزة استخبارات جديدة عليه».

لقد صار معروفاً أن سوريا لا تريد سماع كلمة «المحكمة»، ونجحت حتى الآن في عدم قيامها عبر حلفائها في لبنان. ويمكن تخيل سيناريوهات لإقناع سوريا بقبول المحكمة احدها شبيه بسيناريو ليبيا ولوكربي، بمعنى أن يجري تحقيق ويتم ايجاد مخرج معين ثم تجري عندها فعلا «محكمة سياسية». ويتردد حالياً في لبنان، انه إذا التزمت سوريا بعدم تكرار عمليات الاغتيال، وإذا اختلف الأداء السوري، وتغيرت سياستها في لبنان، وأخذت مناحي ايجابية، وقدمت دمشق وعوداً تمكن مراقبتها لاحقاً، عندها يمكن الاتفاق على القول: إن الاغتيال وقع، وان المسؤول عنه بعض الأشخاص من الذين تجب محاكمتهم، كما حصل في ليبيا حيث يقبع المتهم المقراحي في احد السجون السكوتلاندية، ثم تبدأ مرحلة جديدة من العلاقات، ويتوقف علاج المشاكل بين لبنان وسوريا بالاغتيالات، بل على الطرفين الجلوس حول طاولة الحوار بمساعدة دول صديقة أو مجاورة وإيجاد صيغة لمصلحة سوريا ولبنان من دون قتل وتهديد مع بناء علاقات على اتفاقات جديدة غير تلك التي تمت زمن الهيمنة السورية على لبنان.

محاكمتهم، كما حصل في ليبيا حيث يقبع المتهم المقراحي في احد السجون السكوتلاندية، ثم تبدأ مرحلة جديدة من العلاقات، ويتوقف علاج المشاكل بين لبنان وسوريا بالاغتيالات، بل على الطرفين الجلوس حول طاولة الحوار بمساعدة دول صديقة أو مجاورة وإيجاد صيغة لمصلحة سوريا ولبنان من دون قتل وتهديد مع بناء علاقات على اتفاقات جديدة غير تلك التي تمت زمن الهيمنة السورية على لبنان.

إن لبنان لا يريد شيئاً من سوريا، فيما تبدو سوريا وكأنها تريد كل شيء من لبنان؟

المحكمة استحقاق هزّ لبنان، ولبنان الحالي لا يتحمل كما يبدو محكمة، لكن هل لبنان، كما هو الآن يتناسب مع ما يطمح اللبنانيون في الوصول إليه؟ إن لبنان كشعب وكفكرة ورسالة يتعزز بالمحكمة، لكن لبنان التركيبة الحالية، بصراحة لا يتحمل

A Path to Common Ground By: James A. Baker III | The Washington Post
I wholeheartedly agree with a point Lee Hamilton made in his March 25 op-ed, " A Partnership on Iraq," regarding the need for a unity of effort in Iraq. He is correct that the United States will probably falter unless President Bush and Congress reach a bipartisan consensus in the coming months.

Israel’s Protests Are Said to Stall Gulf Arms Sale
By: David S. Cloud and Helene Cooper
The New York Times

A major arms-sale package that the Bush administration is planning to offer Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies to deter Iran has been delayed because of objections from Israel, which says that the advanced weaponry would erode its military advantage over its regional rivals, according to senior United States officials.

Pakistan's Talibanization
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large 

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 classic, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," was a vivid portrayal of a split personality. Paired, the two names have come to signify bipolar behavior. As president of Pakistan, to rule a Muslim country of 160 million that is 65 percent illiterate and overwhelmingly anti-American, firmly held contradictory views are the key to survival. For President Pervez Musharraf, America is a force for good. But most Pakistanis now see the Bush administration as evil. As much as Musharraf wanted to help President George W. Bush wipe out the Taliban after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he now concludes these young Muslim fanatics are the lesser of two evils next to the drug-fueled corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's inept "democratic" government. After more than five years in office, and with billions in foreign assistance, Karzai is still struggling with 40 percent unemployment. The U.S. intelligence community recently acquired a Pakistani insider's look at what makes Musharraf tick these days. As much as he wanted U.S. victory in Iraq, he has long since concluded the United States has lost the hand to Iran. To recoup America's loss before he leaves the White House in January 2009, Musharraf believes Bush will strike Iran's nuclear facilities from air and sea. And this, in turn, will unite Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan against all things American — and provoke a gigantic upheaval throughout the Middle East. With the whole world turning against Israel and the United States, he could not afford to continue his policy of "constructive ambiguity" toward the Bush administration.

Lawrence Wright on al-Qaida
And the winner in Iraq is: the Al-Qaeda jihadists

There is a bitter irony in the fact that the Bush administration resurrected its defeated foe by carrying the war to Iraq. This is a state that bin Laden had never placed on his list of profitable regions in which to wage jihad, simply because he knew it was a Shiite-majority country. His rival and eventual protege, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took that decision out of bin Laden's hands and forced a shift in Al-Qaeda's strategy.

The lessons I draw from this are that Al-Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 9/11; that the war in Iraq has given Al-Qaeda a tremendous propaganda victory; that the movement is both vast and nimble; that it will survive the deaths of any particular individuals; and that the prospects for long-term conflict with the US and Europe are almost certain.

Young & Landis Debate Pelosi Visit on Public Radio


Click here to listen to Michael Young of the Daily Star and Joshua Landis discuss the Pelosi visit.  Move the cursor half way through the show to the second half-hour segment to begin with the Pelosi visit and skip the Iran hostage release. Hassan Fattah of the NYTimes and others also join in.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi conducts international diplomacy in Syria. Is she undermining President Bush or is it time for a breakthrough?"

Broadcast by KCRW, Southern California Public Radio and syndicated nationally. Here is the show's blurb.

Speaker Pelosi Conducts Her Own Diplomacy in Syria ( 12:23P)

Despite President Bush's objections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met today in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Afterward, Pelosi told reporters she "expressed concern" about Syria's support of Hamas and Hezbollah.  She also carried the message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Omert that he is ready for peace talks.  Describing the meeting, Syrian cabinet minister Bouthaina Shaaban said praised Pelosi for sending the right message to the Arab people and for coming to the region to "solve problems rather than to launch wars." The meeting–which Syrian officials are calling a "victory"–is being carefully watched in Lebanon. Is Pelosi's international diplomacy in Syria undermining President Bush or is it time for a breakthrough? We hear from journalists in the US and Middle East, historians and policy experts.

Guests:
  • Hassan Fattah: Middle East Correspondent for the New York Times
  • Michael Young: Opinion Editor for the Daily Star
  • Joshua Landis: Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma
  • Brian Darling: Congressional Analyst for the Heritage Foundation
  • Charles Kupchan: Director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

The Pelosi Visit


The Pelosi visit to Syria gives Syrians further hope that the policy of isolation imposed on it by the US and Europe for the past two years is eroding. Saudi Arabia reversed its policy of isolation at the Arab League summit last week, giving Asad a warm reception. The last high-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in January 2005. The isolation, however, has begun to crumble in recent months, with visits by U.S. lawmakers and some European officials.

Initial articles on the visit stress various aspects of the meeting between Pelosi and Asad. Here are some of the main results of their talk.

  • House Speaker Pelosi and her 27-member delegation, which includes members of Congress and the Iraq Study Group, met with Syrian leaders in Damascus — but unlike Merkel, she wants "dialogue" with Syria.
  • Syrian officials said Damascus wants to help Washington achieve an "honorable withdrawal" from Iraq but in return the United States must press Israel to return the Golan Heights. Washington accuses Damascus of sponsoring terrorism and estimates up to 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq enter from Syria. Syria says it is trying to stop the flow.
  • Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Syria was ready to resume talks with Israel based on an Arab plan calling for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab land for peace, adopted at a summit last month. "They said that Mr. Olmert is ready for peace with Syria. We replied that Syria is ready for peace according to the Arab initiative," he told reporters.  Ehud Olmert's office to underline the Jewish state's preconditions for such talks. "The prime minister said Israel is interested in peace with Syria, but Syria would first have to abandon the path of terror and providing support for terrorist groups."
  • Pelosi said it was important Syria used its influence with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.

  • Pelosi described the meeting with Assad as "very productive."

  • Rep. Tom Lantos, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who was in Pelosi's delegation, said the meeting “reinforced sharply” the potential benefits of talking to Syria. “This is only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria and we hope to build on this visit,” he told reporters.

  • Pelosi told Lebanese leaders on Monday that her country "will not bargain over Lebanon," adding that the US was "totally aware" of the situation in Lebanon.

  • She was expected to have dinner with opposition members and members of Parliament at the American ambassador’s house.

  • At the White House on Tuesday, President Bush criticized Ms. Pelosi’s visit, saying it sent mixed signals to the Middle East and to President Bashar’s government. “Sending delegations hasn’t worked,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “It’s just simply been counterproductive.”

  • “Ms. Pelosi is going to be very happy in Syria,” said Izzat Abdoulkarim, who runs an optical shop in downtown Damascus. “George Bush says we are bad, but she will see this is not true. She views the world through a different perspective than Bush. She’s more open-minded.”

  • the Iraq Study Group (ISG) noted, "To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East — the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism — are inextricably linked." No one doubts that Syria is causing trouble in the region. "But we cannot wish that influence away," said ISG co-chairman Lee Hamilton. "Undoubtedly, they are part of the problem. It was the view of the study group that we must try to make them a part of the solution."

  •  Seventy-five percent of Americans now support U.S. talks with Syria.

Reception for Pelosi at Airport by Wreford

Photo sent by John Wreford www.johnwreford.com

“What do we know about the Syrian Economy?” by Ehsani


This exchange between Idaf and Ehsani buried in the the comment section of the last article is worth a post of its own. (Ehsani is kept on retainer by Syria Comment to act as in house economist!)

Idaf asked Ehsani, "What’s your take on this article?" (I summarize only the highlights of the article)

Syrian Economy Draws More Foreign Investment
By Hassen al-Shami

In the last seven years, Syria has adopted more open economic policies by implementing reform and restructuring programs appropriate to the country’s economic, social, and social situation. Syria has not adopted ready-made reform programs suggested by the IMF and the World Bank, despite the fact that it has taken advantage of the IMF and the World Bank in the developing countries.

Perhaps what singles out the Syrian experience in reform is that it has borne fruit in a record time - seven years – while experts of similar programs in developing countries estimate the period needed should be between 10 and 15 years. On the other hand, some observers of the economic situation in Syria think that the outcome of the reforms could have been realised in an even shorter time; what caused the delay was the foreign pressure exercised on the nation as a result of its constant Arab nationalist positions.

  • trade between Syria and the Gulf States over the last two years has increased by 30-40%, according to Abdullah al-Dardari, the Syrian Vice Prime Minister.
  • The Government has announced that these reforms have contributed to the growth of the country’s economy by 5.2% in 2006 against 4.5% in 2005. Syria has allowed the establishment of private banks and insurance companies, and lifted the restrictions on imports, but the public sector is still predominant.
  • Al-Dardari … stressed the Government’s intention to reform the Public Treasury and deal with the problem of government subsidy to goods, which constitutes a large proportion of the budget. According to him, the Government still has to deal with the problem of the public sector reform and subsidies in the two years of 2007 and 2008.

  • He pointed out that the deregulation of trade in early 2005 was accompanied by the increase of non-oil exports from 213 to 327 billion Syrian Pounds. Such a rise has contributed to the decrease of the budget deficit from 78 to 24 billion Syrian Pounds in 2006, despite the decline of the oil imports value.

  • The trade balance deficit went down from 211 billion Syrian Pounds in 2005 to 189 billion Syrian Pounds in 2006.

  • The Syrian GNDP is estimated at US $38 billion, and according to economic experts it could attain US $50 billion…. This means that our GNDP will attain US $47 billion by 2020, which requires a 7-percent annual growth rate.”

  • To conclude, we may say that the reform programs adopted by the Syrian Government have achieved a comprehensive economic boom just a few years after their implementation.

EHSANI2 responds

Dear Idaf,

Mr. Shami first attempts to convince his readers that Syria’s reform and structuring program has been faster than usual. He then tries to remind us that “Syria has not adopted ready-made reform programs suggested by the IMF and the World Bank, despite the fact that it has taken advantage of the IMF and the World Bank in the developing countries.”

The latter part of the above sentence is too poorly worded for me to make any sense of it. Who is taking advantage of whom?

Clearly, Mr. Dardari is the author’s main source for the story, so let us move to that part:

Mr. Dardari’s first claim is that the growth rate of the “country’s economy” is 5.25% in 2006 against 5.50% in 2005.

The next time someone tells you that the GDP of a country has increased by X%, please remember to ask: Is it in real terms or in nominal terms

Since prices fluctuate (generally they rise), one cannot know for certain whether more or less goods are being produced and sold just by looking at the revenue earned (or income generated). What economists usually do is deflate (correct for inflation) current or nominal income/spending. In effect, they isolate the effect of price fluctuation from measures of income and spending. This allows practitioners to distinguish between real growth in income as opposed to growth arising from price inflation.

In the case of Syria, prices are supposedly rising by close to 9% per annum. This means that to get a “real” growth rate of 5.25%, current or nominal growth must rise by 14.25%. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Dardari has never specified whether the growth rates he announces are nominal or real (inflation adjusted). Were his 5.25% to be real, I think that it would be very useful for him to supply us with the deflator or price measure that he is using to adjust his numbers.

My next problem with the article concerns the discussion on net trade:

Mr.Dardari supposedly pointed out that the deregulation of trade in early 2005 was accompanied by the increase of non-oil exports from 213 to 327 billion Syrian Pounds. Such a rise has contributed to the decrease of the budget deficit from 78 to 24 billion Syrian Pounds in 2006, despite the decline of the oil imports value.

Surely, the writer must mean the trade deficit and not the budget deficit. Syria’s external trade reporting has always been fraught with difficulties. This is because the country had used multiple exchange rates in its reporting system. Recently, this arcane system has been simplified as the multiple exchange rates gave way to a more uniform rate. Having said this, I am still uncertain whether both exports and imports are subjected to an identical exchange rate.

My final observation on the article concerns the following paragraph:

“The Syrian GNDP is estimated at US $38 billion, and according to economic experts it could attain US $50 billion. Mr Dardari commented by saying, “If the Syrian economy wants to have a regional role after the change of the surrounding circumstances, the Syrian GNDP will have to be equal to that of Jordan and Lebanon together, and this means that our GNDP will attain US $47 billion by 2020, which requires a 7-percent annual growth rate.”

The author clearly gets the “GNDP” notation wrong. There is no such thing as “GNDP” It is either GDP or GNP. My hunch is that he meant to write GNP. Mr. Dardari cleverly avoids the clarification.

GDP v.s. GNP

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures what is produced inside the country in a year. Gross National Produce (GNP), on the other hand, measures what is produced by the citizens of a country, derived from the resources they own.

The GDP of Syria, for example, includes not only the value of goods and services produced by Syrians but also the contribution by foreign workers and foreign investors in the country.

The GNP of Syria, in contrast, measures the production by Syrians and Syrians only. These Syrians might be working overseas. These Syrians might own properties overseas and are making a decent living from the rent collected. They might also set up businesses abroad and earning considerable profits.

This is the first time that I have heard the figure of $ 38 Billion as being the size of Syria’s GNP. Various international organizations have pegged the size of the country’s GDP at close to $ 23 Billion. Given the numbers of Syrian citizens residing and earning income outside the country, it seems that Mr. Dardari has decided to start using GNP rather than GDP when it comes to measuring the size of the economy. For the record, in a country like the U.S. for example, the difference between the two measures is negligible.

The last problem with this error-filled article is an arithmetic one. If the size of the economy today is $38 billion and if this number grows at 7%, then by the year 2020, it will reach $91.6 billion and not $47 billion as the article suggested.

In conclusion, without publishing the data to support their claim, it is very difficult to verify the numbers cited by the country’s economic policy makers. My comment above dealt with some of those potential difficulties. It is my impression that the country’s fiscal predicament is not healthy. It is clear that Dardari thinks that some of the subsidies will have to go. I think that this is inevitable. Politically, however, it is a very difficult thing to implement. The recent jump in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country has been impressive. The prices of most real estate in the country used to be undervalued when compared to other countries in the region. Clearly, given the recent price increases, this undervaluation has largely disappeared. Moreover, little of this FDI has gone into manufacturing and industrial investments. This has meant that the increased in foreign investments has not been accompanied by a commensurate rise in jobs and incomes. For that to happen, the country must adopt a very strong export strategy that can take advantage of the higher global economic growth, as the country’s present local demand is insufficient. This is what Turkey did under the leadership of the late Turgot Ozal. The recent free trade with Turkey is an excellent first step. Entering the WTO must also be a top priority. Fixing the country’s legal system is one of the prerequisites needed to make this happen of course.

[End]

This article may also be of interest: Property prices in Damascus go through the roof

Seymour Hersh: “We may never find out who ordered Hariri assassination”


Seymour Hersh was interviewed by Ghassan Ben Jeddo on Al-Jazeera Sunday evening. Here is the rough translation from Arabic sent to me by Alex:

1)       American intelligence sources told him that Lebanese AND middle Eastern parties opposed to Syria misled the Unites States and France with false evidence (or manufactured evidence) designed to implicate Syria in the Killing.

2)       His sources at the UN tell him there is no evidence against Syria yet. That the Hariri killing was very carefully planned and executed, and that we might never find out who ordered that assassination.

3)       Prince Bandar is very ambitious … Seymour is not sure if the Prince wants to be the next King, but the prince has significant influence worldwide and is spending a lot of money to help this administration finance Anti Syria operations in Lebanon and elsewhere. Prince Bandar’s main American contact is Vice President Cheney… their meetings last long hours.

4)       Sunni “moderate” Arab states indeed asked the United States to attack (not invade) Iran.

5)       Prince Bandar is coordinating with the Americans to attack  تهاجم)) Syria and Iran (not sure Attack was the English word .. I heard the Arabic translation:  His purpose of the Iran visit was to isolate Syria.

6)       Some in Israel want to work with Nasrallah, instead of trying to finish him.

7)       The US is financing the Seniora government and its allies through Bandar money .. and through 9 billion dollars that was taken from Iraq. Samir Jeajea is getting some of that money.

8)       Jeajea was invited to Washington for meetings with the Bush administration, but there was too much opposition to that visit. It was canceled.

9)       There will be an American Syrian rapprochement … but only after 2009 (Hersh said it with certainty)

10)   The Bush administration is not hoping for a regime change in Syria.

Jim Lobe in his Tough Week for Bush's Middle East Strategy, quotes my analysis of the Arab League summit.

"King Abdullah has come to the conclusion that only Arab unity can restore the regional balance of power [that has been] so skewed in Iran's favor by the destruction of Saddam's Arabist regime," wrote Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at University of Oklahoma, on his blog. "To do this, Saudi Arabia must reach an accommodation with Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas; it cannot destroy them, as the U.S. recommends."

Beirut's French language newspaper, L'Orient-Le Jour, picked up the same quote in its editorial: Les tensions avec Ryad mettent Washington en difficulté au Proche-Orient (Thanks Nur)

"Selon Joshua Landis, un expert du Center of Peace Studies de l'Université de l'Oklahoma, en qualifiant d'« illégitime » la présence de troupes américaines en Irak, le roi Abdallah s'est posé comme le champion d'un nouveau panarabisme, destiné à contenir la montée de l'influence de l'Iran dans la région. Le roi est déjà parvenu à la conclusion que le plan du président George W. Bush en Irak était voué à l'échec et cherche à éloigner la Syrie de l'Iran pour ramener le régime de Damas dans le giron arabe, explique cet expert. « Le roi Abdallah a annoncé qu'il cherchait à adopter une nouvelle politique irakienne, une politique destinée à une nouvelle phase postaméricaine en Irak et une politique qui doit être coordonnée avec la Syrie », ajoute-t-il, rappelant que le souverain saoudien a eu deux entretiens avec le président syrien Bachar el-Assad en marge du sommet de Ryad."

Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, met with Bush last May to press Saudi concerns. "We have two nightmares," Saud told the president, according to Turki. "One is that Iran will develop a nuclear bomb, and the other is that America will take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb." (This quote is from Christopher Dickey's excellent article in Newsweek: "How the Saudi king, disillusioned with Bush, is trying to save the Arabs.")

Jim Lobe also quotes retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a vocal supporter of the strategy who had previously been upbeat about the military situation.

McCaffrey just returned from a visit to both Afghanistan and Iraq, where he met with top U.S. diplomats and military and intelligence officials. He wrote that the Iraqi population "is in despair" and expressed consternation at the resilience of both the insurgents and the militias.

"Although we have arrested 120,000 insurgents (hold 27,000) and killed some huge number of enemy combatants (perhaps 20,000 plus) – the armed insurgents, militias and al Qaeda in Iraq without fail apparently regenerate both leadership cadres and foot soldiers. Their sophistication, numbers, and lethality go up – not down – as they incur these staggering battle losses," he wrote, adding that they are "in some ways more capable of independent operations" than the Iraqi army. He also warned that the U.S. military was "in a position of strategic peril" as a result of its Iraq intervention.

Anthony Shadid is excellent as ever in this article:
Driven by War to a No Man's Land in Jourdan
Lives of Palestinian Refugees From Iraq Reflect Six Decades of Dispossession

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Co-director, Center of Peace Studies
University of Oklahoma
Landis tel: (405) 819-7955
Email: landis@ou.edu