The Economy (January 11, 2006)
French proposal to bring calm and stability back to Lebanon:" Shebaa
Al Manar, a weekly Palestinian newspaper, reported on January 9 that, “the French government has been making secret increased calls to several Arab countries and to Israel to discuss with them a plan Paris has set to bring back calm and stability to Lebanon. The plan includes Israel pulling out of the Shebaa Farms and a new international force spreading on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Also, according to prominent sources, the plan includes a specification of the way Hezbollah would work, and the organization of its armed members as a first step for Hezbollah to disarm.”Report says Saudi officials are trying to stifle Khaddam's statements
The sources also revealed that some of the Arab countries support and approve the French plan and will carry an active role to make this plan succeed. But, these countries informed France of the danger of intensifying blame and threats of a blockade and of pressures to be upheld against Syria, because this is what will make the situation worse in the region and threaten its stability as a whole. - Al Manar Palestine, Palestine
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The Palestinian owned daily Al Quds Al Arabi reported on January 7 that: "Saudi media sources have reported that the Saudi Information Ministry has issued instructions to the media organs it finances to stop focusing on the statements of former Syrian Vice-President Abd-al-Halim Khaddam who called for bringing down the regime in Damascus. The sources that refused to be identified said the Syrian regime expressed its discontent with and resentment of the Saudi media for starting and adopting Khaddam's campaign to distort the image of the regime and its President Bashar al-Asad.The As-sharq al-Awsat interview with Khaddam is here thanks to Mideastwire.com
"Saudi King Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz made two telephone calls on Thursday to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during which they discussed the situation in Syria. The sources said the Syrian president reproached King Abdallah for what he called the Saudi media's adoption of Khaddam's position." - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom
Syria: Investing Ahead
6 January 2006
By Oxford Business Group
As pressure mounted on Damascus over the continuing UN inquiry into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, this week saw the US renew its threats of sanctions against Syria.
Yet just what kind of an impact such steps might have has already been called into question - and by none other than the director of Syria's own investment authority. Dubbing 2005 the year of investment in his country, Mustafa al-Kafri recently cited bumper levels of foreign and local interest.
The US comments on the possibility of sanctions came in the wake of a UN request to interview President Bashar al-Assad in connection with the inquiry into the February 2005 slaying of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese premier.
The UN request followed allegations of Syrian threats against Hariri made by former Syrian Vice-President Abdelhalim Khaddam in a recent interview with al-Arabiya TV. The UN also wishes to interview Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
If Syria were to turn down the request, the US envoy to the UN, John Bolton, warned on January 3 that the Security Council has made it clear that it expects full and unconditional compliance and said expressly in its resolution that additional measures could be taken if need be.
Syria has been given until January 10 to comply with the UN request. On January 5, Damascus announced that it had agreed to let the UN investigators question al-Sharaa. However, no announcement has been made so far regarding any interview with Assad.
Meanwhile though, recent statements by al-Kafri seem to indicate that despite the enormous international pressure, the country's economy has not been doing too badly at all in recent months.
Speaking at a meeting of experts on foreign direct investment (FDI) at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut in late December, al-Kafri said that 2005 had in fact been an excellent year for FDI in Syria. He said that year-end figures were expected to show a 30% rise in FDI, year-on-year. There were $2bn of investments this year in Syria, which is an important figure, he told the assembled experts.
This represents a significant upward shift the historic level of FDI flow to the country. Financial expert Farhat Hourshani told the meeting that these flows had reached just $181.6m on average annually since 1999 and had been relatively weak and focused on excavation and oil production.
The main source for FDI, al-Kafri added, was Saudi Arabia - although there were also significant investments coming from the UAE, Turkey and other European countries, such as Germany.
At the same time, domestic investors had also been active. In September alone, he said, 70 projects, worth a total $1.6bn, had been presented to the Superior Investment Council by local investors and granted approval.
Al-Kafri also highlighted plans for a $15bn tourist resort to be built on the 2814-metre-high Mount Hermon, which overlooks the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and southern Lebanon.
Al-Kafri did not reveal many details of the project's backers, except to say that it would be developed by an unspecified group of Syrian, Kuwaiti and Saudi investors. He also added that Damascus had given its tentative backing to the project.
The scheme will include hotels, shopping centres, skiing and other sports facilities reachable by cable car, and is expected to be carried out over the next 15 years. Such projects - if carried through - would help Syria tackle a number of problems simultaneously. Providing jobs for a growing population is one of these, while FDI in tourism also stimulates a whole range of associated industries. This is key to achieving the kind of economic growth rates many see as necessary to keep the country developing. Economists estimate that $8bn to $9bn in investment is needed each year to produce a 7% GDP growth rate in Syria, compared with around 4% growth currently.
Yet if ever there was a good time to be looking for investment from the region - and the Gulf in particular - this must surely be it. With most economists predicting a fifth consecutive boom year, with high oil prices and bull markets up and down the Gulf, there is no shortage of liquidity within the Arab world for investments in schemes such as Mount Hermon. What effect UN sanctions might have in this regard is open to question, but clearly Damascus is putting a brave face on the prospect.
Pressure on Syria has had a weak impact on the economy this year, al-Kafri said. He will doubtless be hoping to be able to say the same thing at the end of 2006.
Syria's workforce grows amid woes
Syria cleric urges Assad on reforms
DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Syria's workforce has increased by a million to 5 million since 1994, as official capacity to create new jobs dropped, resulting in 70 percent unemployment among youth.
The official Tishreen newspaper Tuesday published a report on a study it prepared showing the rate of workforce growth exceeded the rate of population growth.
The paper said the workforce increased from 4 million in 1994 to 5 million in 2004.
It said the percentage of working women also increased during the same period from 12.8 percent to 17.3 percent.
The report said the main problem affecting the market was the low educational levels of workers as 68.3 percent of the workforce held only elementary studies certificates.
The study also indicated that overall unemployment increased from 2.8 percent in 1999 to 12.3 in 2004 and that unemployment among youth between 15 and 24 reached more than 70 percent.
Meanwhile, the government's capacity to create new jobs decreased. Some 200,000 jobs were created annually between 1990 and 1995 compared to 160,000 between 1999 and 2003.
United Press International - DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 10 (UPI)
A senior Syrian Muslim cleric has called on President Bashar Assad to take decisive measures to combat corruption and boost reformists.
Speaking on the first day of Eid al-Adha feast, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Sheikh Haitham Adlabi told an audience of worshippers, including Assad, Tuesday, "The Syrian people await from the president ... necessary moves for deterring violators and the corrupt and boosting honest reformists."
Adlabi avoided in his feast sermon a direct reference to the international pressure on Syria to introduce reforms, stressing support to "the efforts for steadfastness and stability led by President Assad in defense of the nation."
But he called on Assad "to act in the interest of the nation and the people and to defeat its enemies."
Adlabi was apparently calling on Assad to introduce long-delayed political and economic reforms.