I once had a meeting in 2003 with the then Head of the General Intelligence service in Syria, Major General Hisham Bakhtiar*. It was held upon his request on 4/8/2003, to discuss the re-export trade. A trade I am internationally a fair name of its celebrity. That was with a view to discuss the possibility of turning this trade into benefit in Syria. Our meeting lasted about four hours, and was attended by two persons: One dear for me and still is, the other was but is no longer dear; given his choosing to take the wrong track of moral values and disrespect to history!*
At the beginning of our meeting, I talked about the issue in general terms, and after half an hour, I asked him permission to leave. This was because his office manager had stressed on allowed period of the time to spend in the meeting. Besides, the fact that the Prime Minister at the time, Mustafa Miro, was waiting to sit with the Major General. "Let alone this dog", this was the exact words he said (referring to Miro). “Just sit down. I want more detailed elaboration." At that point, I asked him for an oath of safety so that I would talk about the issue openly as it should be with no fear, or beating about the bush, or flattering, or be subject to punishment?. Once more, using his exact words, he told me: “Here Inside my office, there are no red lines. Say whatever needs to be said in this respect, do not worry!” We then continued the discussion for about three and a half hours non-stop. We opened detailed maps, quoted legal texts. An expert was summoned to join in. Officials from the Central Bank, the Free Zones, and the Ministries of Economy and Planning were consulted over the phone. When I argued about the requirements of the project and pointed out the obstacles being involved, I cited the following points:
1. Corruption and preying on people's rights.
2. Turning inwards, lack of commercial openness to the world; and that it is necessary to facilitate the entry of other nationalities into the country and giving them investment guarantees.
3. Moving forward to search for investors to fund building public service facilities, and start with no less than about 1000 hotels.
4. Improving the infrastructure of the ports of Lattakia and Tartous, and raising the efficiency of their management, whether by tendering both to expertise companies in this field; the better option to go for, given the corruption eating away at both, or putting a plan to fight this corruption and attract national talents. 5. Giving priority to Syria and implementing a national policy whose goal is the Syrian people themselves first.
At the end of the meeting, we estimated that if two free trade zones were established in Lattakia and Tartous, another two in Aleppo and Damascus, and a third in Hasakah, connecting them all to the three international highways passing through Syria:
A. the road between Mosul and Aleppo to the Mediterranean.
B. Baghdad-Homs-Damascus road.
C . Bab al-Hawa Road in the north, and Nassib in the south, We would achieve a huge trade exchange and re-export volume that may well be equal to or surpass Dubai's volume. And that the two regions, Dubai and Syria, will be connected and complementary to each other: Dubai is logistically the best and nearest location for access by land and sea to the East and Central Africa, East and Central Asia, the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East, the Caspian Sea countries and Eastern Europe. This is while Syria enjoys the best location that ties the country by sea and land and connecting it to the Arab and European Mediterranean countries and West Africa, as well as to western and northern Europe, the Black Sea countries, and the Arabian Gulf. Both are strategically located in close proximity to the other with different locations.
Something that would bring both into integration, particularly, in as far as the sea and land shipping operations routes are concerned. I emphatically stressed at that time that if the attending political conditions were suitable to Israel it would have established several free zones. The same applies for Turkey, on the Mediterranean; which until this very day is in short of free trade zones. Thus, the Syrians would not have been in want to work for them as porters! The strong point about the project lies in the country that takes precedence. Moreover, if the project were carried out on a correct and transparent basis, the improvement of the Syrian economy would double up high.
The Syrian pound rate will also rise. Such a project would furthermore provide enormous business opportunities for Syrians. It will bring about several million job opportunities with incomes ranging from excellent to medium! It is the Silk Road in its new version. The Syrians excelled in the successful delivery of its past ancient version about three thousand years ago, with their trade and service provisions to the commercial caravans on the Silk Road linking the east from Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, to Rome in the west and the British Isle! Syrians are not war-minded and industry-prone people. They are rather business-minded, crafts and service-providing entrepreneurship people. This is the selling product of the Syrians and the secret of their success!
Four hours later, Major General Bakhtiar stood bewildered. He spent a few minutes thinking during which we had tea. He then said: "But Israel will infiltrate in, and it will be difficult for us to withstand and resist." It was the first time that Israel was mentioned during our meeting (2)! I realized then that he was saying that as a pretext; as it seemed that the project was beyond their ambitions. They had been seeking a small project that would cast ashes in the eyes of the Syrians about the new reformist president. A project with a bright title but with no content.
They are haunted with the fear that the Syrians get incomes to relieve them from the government's need. Such a project, if it were to come true, would have frustrated the sectarian schemes. Brought Syrians of all sects into unity, made them rich, and opened up ambitious outlooks. Eventually, the project does not serve their functional regime, which had been implanted to destroy Syria and the region! Notwithstanding this, I told him literally: "Israel is working in the precision instruments industry and has joined the world of developed countries. Israel with its advanced spying devices knows the colors of our underwear. Let alone the fact that the human element in the field of espionage has become less hooked on recently.
What kind of resistance and opposition are you talking about while Israel and its people are busy doing their homework in development. This is while people in Syria are experiencing the traffic jams invariably due to sudden breakdowns of military vehicles on public roads?! Moreover, while you are still prohibiting the use of fax machines in communication and even preventing the trade and industry business from having any unless they should apply for security services approvals that take months in process! Can you give an explanation of how would a defenseless, backward, and poor man stand in the face of an enemy armed with the latest science technological and weapons?! A few years ago, the citizens of our neighboring country Turkey, had been smuggling diesel, sugar, and coffee from Syria to Turkey. Now, its products are reaching out to Syria and far into the Gulf countries! In any case, when you asked me to come, I knew from the very beginning that the implementation of this project needs Syria first to be run quite differently.
However, I expected that Syria is being under the leadership (I added all the official titles the sectarian idiot Bashar Assad enjoys before uttering his name). It seems that the Syrians have a long way to start over!" We left after he gave me a silvered dagger as a gift. Afterward, we were in contact two times, both of which had nothing to with this issue. Besides, when I put the announcement of the revolution against the sectarian Assad regime on Orient TV on 02/02/2011.
I showed up in an interview on Orient TV and talked about the importance of the re-export trade for the Syrian people. I also cited how and why the regime rejected the idea? (The link to the interview was placed in two parts) After the interview, Major General Ali Mamlouk, who was at the time and still the head of the General Intelligence in Syria, tried to get in touch with me through the well-known media figure, Ayman Abd Al-Nour, by phone. He pointed out that they were ready to discuss putting the project into action, that they liked my presentation in the first part of the interview, and that they will ignore my harsh criticism of the regime on air in the second half. I refused to talk to him and told Ayman: "Tell him that they are too stupid to do it." "He's on the line, listening, and heard what you are saying!” laughing, he replied.
I am writing about the Syrian economy, its businessmen, its effects, its twist and turn, and its deterioration nowadays. I am writing this account from the point of view of a Syrian economist and businessman who experienced reality moment by moment and knew its events. Someone who in his capacity as a businessman met Syrian government officials in various security, political, executive positions and party-members, young and old. One who realized the structure that makes those events and realities come true. In this sense, I am not writing from the point of view of a researcher, expertise, an economic historian, a university professor, or some theorizing the philosophy of Syrian economics. I am rather writing from my own experiences and firsthand knowledge.
The Syrian economy is not suffering from a lack of natural economic resources.* Syria has a treasured geographical location, which by dint of the stupidity of the country's current bastards of the age administration has been turned into a battlefield which countries are competing to put an end to. Had its strategic location been invested and sound economic plans developed, it would have been possible for its location to stand out as an important factor in its prosperity and realization of a decent life for its people.
In fact, this was what the national government did in a short period of time during the rule of the national bourgeoisie, following the “independence from France” in 1945 up until when the adventurous militant Gamal Abdel Nasser took over Syria’s rule in 1958. Then reaching up until the military sectarian rule that started with the Al-Assad father over to the son. For over thirteen years only, during the said national rule period, Syria was ranked at the 38 position in the GWP list.
The destruction of Syria's historical economic growth since 1958
The secret behind the military rule stigmatizing businessmen and holding them responsible for the crises!?
Throughout history, businessmen and moneymakers have been highly respected by Syrians. They were looked at as the true guardians of the Syrian nation. In the traditional proverbs, the Syrians regarded the wisdom of their businessmen and moderation to have protected the country and its people from the wrath of the invaders who come to pass through Syria.
Throughout the civilized world, people respect their business class. They know that this class is the most important refuge if they wish their country to develop and prosper. The industrial revolution that took place 500 years ago was fashioned by capitalism, not by the governments. Capitalism united the universe, connected peoples, built power plants, lighting factories, established universities, and arms companies, and invested in the development of science and discoveries. As we go further into the distant history, it tells us about merchants who stood with their people in crises, serious calamities, and wars. It also tells about great rulers who built up or led nations while giving the merchants a great advantage. They relied on merchants who spared their nations poverty and deprivation, by their bringing goods to markets, fulfilling people's needs, competing and transforming the markets into machines for producing money, and catering power and influence for their country and its government.
The first who had supported the Noble Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) were merchants. Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Abu Bakr bin Abi Quhafa, Omar bin Al-Khattab, Othman bin Affan and dozens of others, may God be pleased with them all. Of course, apart from the factor of their belief in his message. There was also another important factor that Muhammad (PBUH) ensured in his message to complement what his grandfather Qusay originated in his famous oath to provide protection to the caravan routes and transforming Mecca into a commercial center for the Arabian Peninsula. This is the highest and most dearly loved wish for merchants and business groups in any country (to have trade exchange areas)! For that reason, some of those merchants took it upon themselves to supply the Islamic armies with their needs, digging up wells, providing water, feed the hungry, providing clothes to the needy, freeing up slaves to turn them into fighters, like what Abu Bakr and Uthman had done. Moreover, some devoted their money and political expertise to attract the tribes to embrace the belief, such as Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, acting as though as the minister of foreign affairs for Quraysh in the pre-Islamic era.
The merchant class had special privileges in Japan. They ranked second to the imperial family in the order of class hierarchy. As for the Turks, even before the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, merchants were keen on their domination of the Byzantine markets, guarding the trade lines, and opening up additional markets. In view of that, the rulers of nations realized that merchants stockpile the state's coffers with money much as they cater power and influence to them through the trade they create with other nations.
They also create job opportunities that make the citizens content and prevent their disobedience. They are the ones who transform projects from fantasies, ideas, blueprints, and plans on paper into physically existing buildups and urban facilities. For culture, they provide houses, theaters, operas, cinemas, printing houses, publishing houses, and media channels. For the manufacturers and inventors, they provide factories, research centers, and laboratories. For patients, they provide hospitals and medical centers. And for those who have religious faith, places for worship! In the meantime, the role of true governments is limited to organizing society, laying down necessary plans for building and supervising the infrastructure, protecting the country’s security and stability, and instituting justice by dictating the laws and regulations to ensure justice maintenance and supervising the strict implementation of the canons. Just as well, businessmen are on top of those who ensure that justice prevails. Given the fact that equal investment opportunities will be granted to all people. The businessmen are the first to stand in the face of injustice; because it kills their ambitions, destroys their opportunities, deprives them of their money, spoils their status, and disfigure their say among the classes.
In recent history, we can tell the difference that the wisdom of the Syrian business group had made, which led to attaining independence in the forties of the last century.
The governments' officials of the late period of the Mandate until the date of the union with Egypt were hailing from highly enlightened bourgeoisie respected national Syrian families business and noble feudalism classes. However, with the accession of the military to power, the business class in Egypt and Syria was subjected to great injustice and oppression initiated by the ignorant soldier Abdel Nasser. A disaster later on resumed by Al-Assad the father and the son in Syria. Those military elements are no more than a social outcast. By no means, we do not mean by this here the honorable ranking military status. The Greeks, the Romans, the Japanese, the Arabs, the Persians, and the Turks looked at their military highly and they would only grant the honor to defending, be the guardian of the country, and take an army leadership role to the top honorable people in social standing, origin, and rank. Slaves, mobs, and social outcasts were prohibited from serving in the military; as the people considered them easy to succumb to treachery and are prone to buy their loyalty with money.
This is besides the kind of mindset of resentment they have and hence may carry out criminal acts unsuited with the order and spirit of the military. The Syrian outcasts who, were had been left over by the enemies of the country and let to rule the Syrian people in 1963, destroyed and are still wreaking havoc on the noble and patriotic Syrian classes, including its businessmen.
The most significant reason for this was that the majority of those classes were Sunni Arabs. And the big role they played throughout history in enhancing their influence in the region, safeguarding the country from harm, and striving on equal footing with other nations to develop it to the better. Added to that, the reason behind the outcasts so doing was in order to cover up their political, economic, and administrative failure, their foolishness, and their betrayals and being service agents for the interests of foreign regimes at the expense of the interests of the Syrian people. That is why they tend to accuse the business class of selfishness, illegitimate gains, monopoly, creating problems and fabricating crises.
To further clarify and refute the allegations of these vagabonds, we will give an example that stands witness and firmly established the innocence of the business class from this nonsense: In countries where freedom of trade and circulation of commodities prevails, as well as in the developed countries in the West and East, such as Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates, no commodity has been cut off at any time. People never bothered about falling in short of and missing the necessary commodities from the markets or that they would have to suffer to obtain any.
Moreover, encouraging trade and creating a healthy competitive investment environment made the prices of commodities in these countries competitive. It also led to settle the traders' and manufacturers' profit margins within natural limits, between 3% - 8%. This has made the markets heap with all commodities and with plenty of ever developing and changing job opportunities. This healthy environment has attracted and created high caliber expertise, skilled labor, and professional employees in those countries. Contrariwise, the mismanagement of the country by the punch of failed rabble-military vagabonds in Syria has brought its genuine economy down into an abyss. Instead, they generated a corrupted economy for a few thieves to eat up. They tied up the livelihood of a few others to serve as guards and servants for them and exhausted the rest of society. A policy that led to the flight of the business expertise and capitals.
Since that time, the country has been experiencing drought, impoverished, widespread injustice, death, and disease, so much so that people can hardly have the basic commodities, like electricity, water, fuel, and basic food items, including bread!? The country's rivers, such as Barada, Euphrates, and Orontes, have run out due to the misuse and dumping the waste. Drought prevailed and crops became scarce, due to bad policies and the absence of industrial/agricultural
investments. Many people are starving while few corrupted are devouring wealth, at the expense of the starvation and death of the many!
* Major General Hisham Bakhtiar was killed in the Crisis Cell Assassination operation when an explosion took place in the National Security Building premises in July 2012/12. An incident that claimed the lives of several senior military leaders.* it resulted in the killing of Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha, his deputy, Assef Shawkat, and head of the cell administration Crisis Hassan Turkmani, and Hisham Bakhtiar, then head of the National Security Bureau. It is said that among the victims was Omar Suleiman, the head of the Egyptian intelligence at the time. It is believed that this incident was a conspiracy orchestrated by Bashar and Maher Al-Assad with the Iranian guards. This was because the cell was looking for solutions to calm the situation and spare Syria the devastation it had reached at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad and the Iranian.
* Journalists Ahmed Samaq and Ganblat Shekai.