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Marxmail subscriber Andrew Stewart continues in a fact-free mode:
Presidents Putin and Xi, despite their shortcomings, have positioned
themselves as opponents of the 1% through their fiscal policies while
Obama has consolidated their stranglehold of the international economy.
It bears mentioning also that, given the history of Soviet outreach to
the postcolonial world, the notion of Russian “imperialism” in its
sphere of influence being somehow akin to American gunboat diplomacy is
a laughable claim. No, the Syrian government invited the Russians to
maintain a naval base in that country just as the Cubans did during the
By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in
their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a
crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that
started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had
ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The
private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members
of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their
relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a
short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of
the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent
from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.
After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of
Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing
the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private
banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock
market was on the drawing board. After 2005, the state-business bonds
were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a
mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the
market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability.
Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the
expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who
depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had
perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated
with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private
sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public
economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also
the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad
families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now
included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the
traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more
dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.
Successive years of scant rainfall and drought after 2003 produced
massive rural in-migration to the cities -- more than 1 million people
had moved by 2009 -- widening the social and regional gaps still
further. Major cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, absorbed that
migration more easily than smaller ones, which were increasingly starved
of infrastructural investment. Provincial cities like Dir‘a, Idlib, Homs
and Hama, along with their hinterlands, are now the main battlegrounds
of the rebellion. Those living in rural areas have seen their
livelihoods gutted by reduction of subsidies, disinvestment and the
effects of urbanization, as well as decades of corrupt authoritarian
rule. The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings motivated them to express
their discontent openly and together.
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