[Marxism] Life styles of the rich and brutal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 16 08:23:00 MDT 2012

On 3/16/2012 9:57 AM, Eli Stephens wrote:
> I can't take credit for either of the following commentaries, which were
> written by "friends of friends" on Facebook, but I'll post them as a
> response to the bourgeois press analysis of the same event which Louis has
> shared with us in an attempt to demonize "our" "enemy", as has happened
> countless times before during the build-up to war:

Well, of course. Everybody--at least those who are in the 
political orbit of the PSL--understands that al-Assad is committed 
to socialism. From the PSL website:

"All in all, Syria remains too much like the socialist state the 
Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party founders envisaged for it, and too 
little like a platform for increasing the profits of overseas 
banks, investors and corporations."

This of course is utter nonsense. The reporter below, btw, is 
Reese Erlich, a long-time leftist.

The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com
Amid Syria protests, businessmen remain loyal to President Assad

The economic reforms of President Assad helped earn the loyalty of 
businessmen. Without their support, his government would be in far 
greater danger of collapse due to Syria protests.

By Reese Erlich, Correspondent
posted October 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm EDT

Rana Issa, the owner of an advertising and marketing business in 
Damascus is struggling. She's had to lay off five of her 20 
employees in the seven months of political and economic upheaval 
since Syria's antigovernment uprising began.

But unlike the street demonstrators, Ms. Issa doesn't blame 
President Bashar al-Assad's government for her woes. As a 
Palestinian, Issa expresses strong support for his government, 
which she says has afforded more rights to Palestinian refugees 
and their children than either Israel or other Arab countries.

“We feel secure with Dr. Bashar al-Assad as president,” she says. 
“He has achieved a lot of reforms. The opposition hasn’t given him 
enough time.”

Some Syrian cities have been persistently roiled by protests; 
today, at least 30 protesters were reported killed across the 
country – the highest toll in weeks – with the unrest focused in 
Homs and Hama. But the two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, 
have seen much smaller demonstrations because the cities' business 
communities continue to favor the government, says Nabil Sukkar, a 
former World Bank economist who now heads an economic consulting 
firm in Damascus.

Drastic drops in tourism revenue and biting sanctions have taken a 
toll on the Syrian economy. While Syria's gross domestic product 
grew by 3 percent last year, the IMF predicts a negative 2 percent 
this year. However, large- and medium-sized businesses, which the 
West hopes to turn against the regime with its sanctions, remain 
largely supportive of the Assad regime.

Syria’s big business elite is closely intertwined with the ruling 
Baath Party through financial and family ties. Disloyalty to the 
government can mean not only loss of lucrative government 
contracts, but political isolation and even jail.

Mr. Sukkar says big business leaders are pragmatic. “They expect 
the unrest to end sooner or later. The regime is well entrenched. 
The Army is certainly loyal to the government.”
Decline in tourists hurts business, however

However, some small businessmen, suffering financially because of 
the tourism decline and sanctions spurred by the regime's 
crackdown, have shifted to the opposition.

The owner of a clothing business in Damascus’ main souk, or 
marketplace, says he used to be a strong supporter of Assad, but 
he blames the government for the collapse in tourism and the 
general decline in business activity. The business owner, who 
asked to remain anonymous, says he has had only one foreign 
customer in the last three months. They're usually the mainstay of 
his business.

“The souk is like a graveyard,” he says.

He now supports the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political 
party that has been active in the street demonstrations against 
Mr. Assad. The government accuses the Brotherhood of being an 
extremist group seeking to impose an Islamic state on Syria, but 
the shopkeeper considers them moderates, likening them to the 
elected Islamist government in Turkey.

The Muslim Brotherhood “wants an end to corruption,” he says. 
“Young people are fighting for their rights.”

Why businessmen are loyal to Assad

Conflicting attitudes towards the Assad government date back to 
economic changes that began in 2004, when Syria shifted from a 
centrally managed economy to a more privatized one. The business 
elite benefited as the government allowed creation of private 
banks, insurance companies, and an airline.

The growth of large corporations in turn spurred creation of 
small- and medium-sized companies such as the marketing firm owned 
by Rana Issa. Government policies created economic growth and 
loyalty among business leaders.

But the new liberalization policy also amplified Syria’s system of 
crony capitalism, leading to charges of widespread corruption.

Demonstrators have singled out Rami Makhlouf, for example, a 
cousin of President Assad and owner of the country’s largest cell 
phone company. Critics say he’s made tens of millions of dollars 
due to family connections.

Bouthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to the president, admits that 
corruption remains a serious problem in Syria. “Rami Makhlouf 
isn’t the only one who made money in the past period,” she says in 
an interview at the presidential palace. “There are many people, 
big capitalists, who made a lot of money.”

But, she argues, the government has taken steps to reform. “This 
crisis has made us 1,000 more times more aware,” Ms. Shaaban says.
Detrimental effect of sanctions

The crisis has been made worse by economic sanctions imposed by 
the US and Europe, says Shaaban. The US prohibits the export of 
most American products to Syria and has levied sanctions against 
some Syrian leaders. In May, the EU imposed an arms embargo on 
Syria, and a travel ban and assets freeze on selected Syrian 
leaders. In September the EU severely restricted crude oil imports.

So far, the sanctions haven’t shaken support for the government, 
according to Nabil Toumeh, CEO of Toumeh Orient Group, a large 
Syrian conglomerate. Business people are angry at the West because 
the sanctions are being widely applied, not just against Syrian 
political leaders.

Mr. Toumeh's long-time Austrian supplier of magazine printing 
paper recently stopped shipments because of the sanctions. 
Sanctions are also hurting his construction company because he can 
no longer import construction material from Switzerland, and 
buying the same material from another country is quite expensive, 
he says. He's had to lay off workers.

Although sanctions are likely to make life more difficult for 
business people by driving up costs, they won't bring down a 
government that has popular support, according to Toumeh. Instead, 
businesses will find ways around the sanctions, Toumeh says. 
“Merchants say if the door is closed, you open another.”

Seventy percent of the Syrian economy is controlled by the private 
sector, giving the business elite tremendous political clout as 
well. Economist Sukkar says if big business shifts sides, it could 
spell an end to the government, but that’s not likely in the short 

“If there are any strikes or serious opposition on the part of the 
business community, they could paralyze the economy,” he says. “If 
that happened here, it would be disastrous. But frankly I don’t 
see that happening.”

Mr. Erlich received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis 
Reporting for his coverage of Syria.

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