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EASING TENSION? Why Syria is reverting to socialist economic policies

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Many Syrians say economic liberalisation enriched oligarchs close to the Assad family. But the government's retreat from reform is worrying businessmen, who have long blamed public sector inefficiency, bureaucracy and rampant corruption for stifling the private sector.

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July 6, 2012 5:34 by



As well as capping consumer prices, the government has intervened through state banks to preserve scarce foreign currency, by limiting the financing of imports and intervening more aggressively to prop up the Syrian pound, which lost as much as 30 percent of its value since the uprising.

 

Economic liberalisation had opened the country to foreign banks, external investment and tourism and encouraged Gulf investors to pour millions of dollars into real estate projects. Today the private sector is struggling.

 

“Private sector activity is down so they are trying to reduce the impact on the economy by spending more and increasingly will become more indebted,” said one senior banker in Damascus, who requested anonymity.

 

Foreign exchange reserves reached a peak of around $18 billion before the crisis but have fallen sharply in the past year as the government has drawn on them to support the economy, according to bankers familiar with central bank thinking.

 

President Assad, in a speech to his newly appointed government last month, praised the role of the public sector and said the government’s priority was to tackle real economic grievances.

 

“Especially in this current situation it has been proven that the public sector is necessary for Syria in all aspects,” Assad said, adding that socially driven policies were crucial to end the uprising.

 

Many Syrians say economic liberalisation enriched oligarchs close to the Assad family. But the government’s retreat from reform is worrying businessmen, who have long blamed public sector inefficiency, bureaucracy and rampant corruption for stifling the private sector.



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