Sunday, June 04, 2006

National Salvation Front Meeting in London

Anyone attending the meeting of the National Salvation Front at the Dorchester hotel on Park Lane in London should send me their impressions and comments. I will post in a round up of the conference. Thanks. Joshua

Here is a teaser from one friend who was there:

I just went along this morning to the opening press conference of the National Salvation Front of Syria in the gaudy opulence of the Dorchester hotel on Park Lane. Khaddam kept everyone waiting for an hour before delivering his speech, full of the usual platitudes about democracy, freedom, liberty, nationhood, and apple pie. Like he's had the same consistent message for 30 years and didn't just change his tune less than a year ago. The fact that Bayanouni was able to get there on time from his little semi out in the sticks whereas Khaddam only had to take the lift down three floors speaks volumes about both men. They played the rather martial-sounding Syrian national anthem and then Khaddam gave a twenty-minute speech marred by occasional feedback problems on the sound system and the odd mobile going off. In his one concession to his new ally he finished by saying that he hoped Allah would make their way easier and enable them to choose the right path.
Here are two comments just sent regarding the previous "economy" post. One is from a leading Syrian analyst, who gives some good clarification on the economic figures slopping around:
Hi Joshua,

A quick comment on the recent post about economic growth figures. First, keep in mind that the target GDP growth rate that Dardari is shooting for is 7%, and that what made the 5.5% figure so important is its origins in "non-oil" sources of revenue. I met with Dardari last week, and he was clearly pleased as could be to be able to report these numbers, even if your correspondent, along with economists here (like Sukkar) are having trouble figuring out the components of the statistic. However, the 5.5% is not a total GDP growth figure, which is what your column implies. It refers only to the non-oil components. One reason this is so important, of course, has to do with the central role that non-oil sectors must play in hitting the employment target that Dardari has set of 200,000 new jobs per year. With this non-oil growth -- assuming for now that it is accurate - this figure will have been met, or nearly met, representing an unprecedented number of new jobs created in Syria -- the highest ever. Not surprisingly, the job creation figures are received with some skepticism, as well. For one thing, there are estimates that Syria needs to create something on the order of 300,000 new jobs per year to absorb new entrants into the workforce, and this number doesn't take into account the under-employed and those working informally. So even if we accept the government's numbers, there are indications that even this historically high level of job creation will address only a portion of the problem. And if the government numbers are wrong?

If someone is able to unpack the non-oil growth numbers, I'd be very interested to see what they discover.
The next comment is from George Ajjan, who writes:

I have written about the Schenker article today, here - to me it's an early draft of a more general neo-con concession speech.


At 6/04/2006 03:23:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Dr. Landis,

This Syrian GDP growth number has been handled very poorly. The Economist Intelligence unit has just issued its report on the Syrian economy. According to this report (which I would be happy to attach), Syria’s GDP growth rate is close to 1.5%. I have two problems with Mr. Dardari’s numbers:

1- Has he specified if this growth rate is nominal or real? He could be citing nominal GDP growth rates, which is in current and not constant Dollars. I would personally think that the 5.5% number would seem more logical in that case.
2- It is amazing to see how Mr. Dardari separates the non-oil sector of the economy. Presumably, he is implying that the total GDP growth rate is even higher than the 5.5% number, as the oil sector ought to be adding to GDP. Does this mean that the total number is closer to 7% or higher?

For a country that has problems putting out reliable statistics, it is not easy to calculate non-oil GDP growth rate. It is worth noting that GDP is calculated by adding the following:

Consumption+Investment+Government Expenditure+Exports-Imports.

This will lead to a nominal GDP number. To go to a real number, each of the above categories will have to be deflated by a price index. The higher that price index is the lower real GDP will be. I am extremely skeptical that Mr. Dardari and his team can put out a reliable set of deflators that would help conclude this exercise.

Given this recent controversy, it is perhaps an ideal time for him to hold a press conference and spell out these details to everyone. Where did the 5.5% come from? Was it real or nominal? Did it come from consumption, investment or net trade? What is the country’s inflation rate? Where did the 200,000 jobs come from? Did the public or private sectors create them? In order to stop the unemployment rate from rising, real GDP will have to rise by more than potential GDP. Knowing the country’s potential GDP rate is a very critical issue. It is calculated by adding the country’s productivity rate to the labor force growth rate.

Most countries in the world do release these figures regularly. I have a full subscription to all the database services that supply these statistics globally. I have tried to analyze those for Syria for a long time. My efforts were unsuccessful as the country’s economic data are woefully inadequate. Mr. Dardari can do us a favor and put the data on his website. Only then can one can have an intelligent discussion on such an important topic. Right now, he can tell us the economy is growing at 5.5%, 7.5% or 20.5%. Unless we can verify and understand what he means by these figures and where they came from, this whole discussion is simply a waste of everyone’s time.

At 6/04/2006 05:00:00 PM, Blogger Pascal The Fucking Arab Barbarian said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6/04/2006 05:28:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

One good free source to the structure of Syria’s economical structure are IMF holds bilateral discussions appendixes. Even the statistic is not up-to-date it shows for example rather detailed the private - public sectors strength on different fields. Private sector dominates the import, public the export, but it is “normal” in this stage of the country’s economical development.

In a world where two sides are in an “ideological” fight against each other it is best to read the analysis from the both sides. The Economist’s intelligence unit’s country analyses are not necessary completely neutral. They also have their own agenda like Heritage foundation in rating the countries Economic freedom.

Did you Ehsani2 for example know that Iran produces over one million cars in a year and the industry employs 800 000 people? When I read an article about that I was surprised. The picture the western press normally gives about Iran, Syria (and Iraq before) rarely bothers us which such annoying details.

At 6/04/2006 05:46:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


Just for the record, the Economist Intelligence Unit is used by the credit rating agencies. They actually do a very good job. As for the Iran example, I would take your word for it. But, are you suggesting that Iran, Syria (and Iraq before) are doing better than perceived?

At 6/04/2006 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Pascal The Fucking Arab Barbarian said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6/04/2006 11:08:00 PM, Blogger VIVA LIBAN said...

وتهدف جبهة الخلاص الوطني السوري، وفقا لبيانها التأسيسي, إلى تشكيل "حكومة انتقالية" مدتها ستة أشهر تكون جاهزة "لتسلم إدارة البلاد في اللحظة المناسبة"، تأخذ على عاتقها "حماية البلاد من الفوضى، ومن كل أشكال الصراع الداخلي"

IS THIS A JOKE OR WHAT, IS THIS FOR REAL: " في اللحظة المناسبة"


At 6/05/2006 03:03:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Economist Intelligence Unit is a part of The Economist Group. The Economist did not hide its support for Iraq war. During Bremmer’s time The Economist described Iraq as a capitalist dream. When Paul Bremer shredded Iraq’s Baathist constitution and replaced it with what The Economist greeted approvingly as “the wish list of foreign investors,” there was one small detail he failed to mention: It was all completely illegal.

In December 2005 The Economist said: "IRAQ is a bloody mess and will stay that way for quite some time....The chances of a broad, tolerant, multi-sectarian coalition government emerging are not brilliant."

Some U-turn, if I may say so. Form a Capitalists dream to a bloody mess in two years.

The EIU view Syria: Country outlook
Syria's outlook remains poor, overshadowed by the growing consensus that the Syrian leadership was directly involved in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri. However, although the remainder of the forecast period will be challenging for the regime, and is likely to see Syria's already marked international isolation deepen, it is unlikely that enmity towards it will culminate in a successful effort to unseat the president, Bashar al-Assad. Similarly, signs that the secular and religious opposition groups are looking to co-operate are unlikely to presage the creation of an alliance capable of threatening the regime. Economic reformers will struggle to advance their agenda within the tense political environment, and economic growth will be weak, slowed by declining oil output. The buoyant outlook for oil prices over the coming year will ensure that the government finances remain comfortable and the trade and current accounts stay in surplus in 2006. This position will weaken in 2007, however, as falling production compounds the impact of lower oil prices.

Hmmmm rather harsh and speculative political views for a “pure” economist group and lower oil prices in 2007, well let’s see. Compare Syria outlook with country outlook with Iran, Turkey etc.

Certainly different credit rating agencies and export creditors use Economist Intelligence Unit’s products - as one source among others. EU especially Germany does much business with Syria. Maybe they relay less to Economist Intelligence Units “pessimistic” Syria analyses.

Eshani2 what I mean are Syria and Iran really performing so bad as US media and exile groups often say they are. Powell said before UN that they know how much Iraq has WMD’s and where they are located. Later when nothing was found the reason given to us was “bad intelligence”. Also on the field of economics there is good and bad intelligence.

At 6/05/2006 06:14:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


You are correct, there can be horrible economic intelligence.

In your opinion, how well has Syria managed its agricultural sector?

At 6/05/2006 07:33:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

There has been a significant interest in economic issues recently. With so much anxiety about the country’s economic prospects amid such political uncertainty, one would have thought that policy makers would make the most out of the news that they have put out this week. If the country’s non-oil sectors grew at 5.5% when most people had been projecting much lower numbers, it would have made sense for Mr. Dardari to appear in public, refute the skeptics and give a comprehensive presentation of his data with a question and answer session to follow. Here was an opportunity to prove that the Economist intelligence unit and others are putting out so-called faulty reports.

In contrast, all he does is cite a short sentence proclaiming that the country’s non-oil economy grew at 5.5% and that the country created 200,000 jobs.

He does not bother to publish the data and explain how he arrived at his figures. Is this really an appropriate way to deal with such an important topic?


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