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Makhluf, who symbolizes corruption in Syria, say that will donate his fortune to charity. This of course indicates the state’s awareness of existing widespread corruption”, says Chbib, tossing two cubes of sugar into his tea.

Like father, like son! Under the leadership of Hafiz al-Assad (1971-2000), Syria has isolated itself from the world. This led to political and economic difficulties.” Although high oil prices during between 1973 and 1974 boosted the country’s economy significantly, by 2007, Syria had become a net oil importer. Furthermore, inflation and unemployment problems have dramatically deteriorated since Bashar took over the power”, Chbib said. Asked about the monopolisation of the Syrian economy, Chbib points out:” Three families emerged as the Syrian business elite: the Assads, the Shalishes, and the Makhlufs”. After pouring himself another cup of green tea, Chbib tells a story: In 2001, Rami Makhluf, monopolised telecommunications. Riad Seif, a prominent businessmen, insisted on investigating the licensing and published a report describing the corruption involved in the deal. Seif’s bold declaration resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. Upon his release in 2006, he reiterated his claim and described how two telephone companies, Syriatel and Ariba, had colluded with the government to create a monopoly. The case was soon forgotten.

by Toqa Hilal What motivates Syrians, 19 months after the beginning of the conflict, to go on with their bloody battle? What stirred up the Syrian revolution in the first place? Is it just about politics, or are there economic and cultural shades too? Nabil Chbib, a Syrian journalist, political analyst, and former editor at the Deutsche Welle (DW), portrays his country’s economy through his lens. Toqa Hilal

Corruption behind the revolution? It all began on 26 January 2011, when Syrian Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah poured gasoline on himself, and set himself on fire, the same way Tunisian Bouazizi set himself in flames, sparking the Arab Spring. Chbib explains this incident: “Syria has been a shelter for economic and political corruption for decades. Akleh didn’t just pour gasoline on himself, but rather on the rampant corruption suffocating Syria.” Nevertheless, there are other grounds for naming corruption among the reasons for the revolution in Syria. “The first measure taken by the government to calm down the peaceful protesters back then was by having Assad’s cousin

Obstacles to investment Chbib throws light on the life of Syrian investors: “The majority of Syrians who have no ability to leave the country, are all too vulnerable to these kinds of manipulations. Once a business becomes profitable, the Assad government either demands a share of the profit or simply does not allow it to operate. Syrian officials who dare to go against the regime find themselves in jail or worse”. Sighing, he said: “Tyranny and dictatorship had resided in Syria since the very fresh start of ruling of the Baath party. And in order for a dictatorship to survive, there must be corruption” Having drawn a triangle, Chbib explained the methods of controlling

Putting his head in his hands, he painfully says: “Due to my studying in Germany, I was away from Syria for a while. Meanwhile, corruption developed in a visible way. For instance, bribery had to be paid to cross the borders. At the beginning, they would not demand any tip. In about five years, they shyly asked for some. But now, they confidently and shamelessly demand it. When faced with refusal, they keep you waiting as a punishment”.

Unity, Freedom and Socialism “Syria has always been ruled by tyranny.” Freedom, he says, was only for the ones supporting and consequently benefiting from the party, only loyal members of the party were entitled to be united and even then, they were spied on just in case.

Martyrdom or Victory Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, it was not that difficult for the Syrian regime to see the revolution coming. Thus, it was wellprepared. While pouring the last drops of tea into his cup, Chabib stresses: “The victory of the Syrian revolution is absolute. It is the bloodiest uprising of the Arab Spring, but Syrians are still resistant. They will not give up, whatever the price.” Is the Syrian spring approaching its winter? Will the upcoming new regime be corruption free? Or will it all be just a waste of blood? Only time can provide the answers to these questions.

Toqa Hilal

Nabil Chbib: Syrian journalist


ver a decade into Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the Syrian economy remains weak. The police state Bashar inherited from his father Hafiz continues to stay away from any kind of reform in the political and economic spheres. Nevertheless, being ranked as the secondworst state in the Middle East and North Africa by Transparency International, the Syrian government had to take some steps of improvement. As expected, however, they were merely a facade. Inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Syrians today demand the fall of the regime, chanting primarily two slogans: “Syrians will not be humiliated” and “thieves, thieves,” referring to the government. Do those two slogans reveal the reasons behind the revolution?

The lack of transparency is also an issue. “It took the Syrian magazine Al-Iqtisadi more than a year to compile a list of Syria’s top businessmen because of the paucity of publicly-available information. Even then, some figures were simply too dangerous to include, such as Rami Makhluf who was not on the list,” says Chbib.

in what he called “the State of Fear”: the academic bodies, the army and the secret intelligence. “By bribing workers at these institutions or getting rid of them, Assad wins their loyalty”. Also, Al Jazeera has always described Syria as the Kingdom of Silence, due to its strict ruthless security measures.

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