[Marxism] Fwd: The Syrian Business Elite: Patronage Networks and War Economy – SyriaUntold | حكاية ما انحكت

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Sep 25 09:14:55 MDT 2016

With Bashar’s succession in 2000, the Syrian regime openly opted for 
inclusion in the international market without touching the existing 
power structure, which had made the Syrian regime resilient for thirty 
years. Bashar’s uneven economic liberalization – pursued without 
introducing the necessary institutional and legal bases for a market 
economy to effectively function –paved the way for a new group of 
entrepreneurs closely associated with the Asad family to enrich 
themselves from privileged entries into markets such as communication, 
information technology, car dealerships and the free market zones that 
were liberalized in 2003 3. Public assets were de facto transferred into 
the hands of crony capitalists, privileged networks and corporations 
linked with the Asads by family and clan ties, while small business and 
the agricultural sector – the backbones of the Syrian economy – were 
neglected 4.

The regime officials and their progeny (awlad as-sulta or ‘sons of the 
powerful’) who dominated the Syrian economy under Bashar, together with 
members of his extended family, included the son of Mustafa Tlass 
(defense minister during 1972- 2004), the son of ‘Abdul-Halim Khaddam 
(vice president, 1984-2005), the son of Bahjat Suleiman (head of the 
internal security forces in the General Intelligence Directorate, 
1999-2005), the sons of ʻAli Duba (former head of the Military 
Intelligence), the Shalish (cousins of the president) , the al-Hasan, 
the Shawkat, the Najib and the Hamsho – to name a few. The symbol of 
this new generation of ‘regime businessmen’ who built their fortunes by 
illegal means, corruption and money laundering, is Rami Makhluf, the 
president’s maternal cousin. Makhluf has a virtual monopoly over mobile 
phone services, duty free markets, and various restaurant chains. He 
holds more than 300 licenses as agent for big international companies 
and important shares in Cham Capital, Syria’s largest holding. Makhluf 
is also involved in real estate, banking and free trade zones 5. 
Unofficial sources reported that Makhluf made $20 million in 2001 from 
his monopoly of free trade zones and telecommunication business.

This ‘integrated’ business elite formed an organic part of the regime – 
its economic backbone – with unchecked influence over the law and the 
state 6. A second group of middle class businessmen, who are a product 
of the infitah, profited from the new consumerism and joint ventures 
projects for export with European groups such as Benetton, Adidas, and 
Carrefour. Syrian industrialists also benefited from regime protection 
in order to launch and run their enterprises (to obtain licensing, land 
property, electricity supply etc.). The mafia-like alliance of 
pro-regime capitalists and bureaucrats has wrought unprecedented 
exploitation and disempowerment of small and medium industrial 
entrepreneurs, who formed the vast majority of Syrian enterprise and had 
to struggle to remain active in this exclusionary and corrupt business 
environment 7. The regime’s promotion of import-led growth dealt a blow 
to national industry, but it was the mafia-zation of the Syrian economic 
system after 2005 that built up Syrian industrialists’ resentment at the 
predatory behavior of the awlad as-sulta, and the ramrame (Rami-zation) 
rather than khaskhase (privatization) of the economy.

The inextricable connection between crony capitalists and the political 
elite made them highly invested in the survival of the regime. It is 
within this context that one can assess how much the business 
community’s political preferences have changed since the start of the 
Syrian uprising.


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