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Friday, July 06, 2007

Behind the Closed Doors of the Syrian Open Market

As Syria ploughs forward in its own version of an open market economy, certain positive and negative consequences are inevitable. My highly subjective article is not concerned at all with the role of the government. Whether Syria, on the political and administrative levels, is doing the right thing is not my field of specialty. Instead I want to handle a few particular facets in this transformation. I want to shed my own light, knowing full well the biases inherent when one follows his instincts and private observations rather than empirical research, to answer some seemingly innocuous questions. Have the average hard working bread winner's conditions improved today from what they were a few years back, when Syria was still shackled by the obsolete restraints of an archaic ill-implemented socialist economy? Is the Syrian Middle Class better off economically, assuming of course that it still exist? Are Syrians, in general, happier, healthier and wealthier? Finally, it is my intention to briefly evaluate the relationship between the Haves and the Have-Nots.

As an advanced warning, I need to make it clear that I am not totally impressed by the effects of the opening market economy in Syria. I also need to assert that my own "bitterness", although purely subjective, is not a result of a personal struggle. I am not a victim of circumstances, and the economic, but more importantly, social morphing of society has not and probably will never make me suffer as a consequence. Over my entire life, I have considered myself a man of the middle. But with the advent of these sweeping changes, I become more at odds with the right, even when it tries to remain close to moderation. I am a diehard Middle Class man and will not give up my status without a fight.

The conditions of the average Syrian working person are as bad as they were ten or twenty years ago. This average person has in fact lost his or her real identity and their outlook on the future. Currently, the average job hardly pays enough to maintain a subsistence level for a family of four. If both wife and husband hold average jobs they are not able to go on a one-week vacation once a year in Syria. They cannot take their two kids to a decent restaurant even once a month. By the way, the average Syrian family numbers 6.3 according to the World Health Organization*. Although this is not a recent study per say, I believe it to be still accurate today. It might be easier to digress on the prospects of this family rather than on its aspirations. The children will continue to rotate pieces of clothing bought once or twice a year on religious occasions. They will continue to consume more carbohydrates than they should and less protein and fruits than they ought to. They will dream of someday buying their own mobile phones and sleeping in their own private rooms. When they reach the point of enrolling at a university, and if they are lucky indeed, they will pursue an affordable education (free) with very limited options. It will be extremely hard to break free out of this endless loop. So it was, so it will continue to be.

The Syrian Middle Class is all but gone. With the polarization of our society at both ends of the economic spectrum, the Middle Class is becoming more and more a mythical group. There seems to be a space/time warp from which some "lucky" individuals are stepping out of their misery and into the haven of the rich. This warp, also known as a worm, is as twisty and dirty as it could get. Therefore, when these individuals emerge on the other side they often become "filthy" rich. Should I always write that I am making generalizations and that there are some people who get there through hard work and perseverance. I don't believe it is necessary. These honest, self-made persons are the exception rather than the rule. As the intellectual elite stratum, historically the upper middle class of Syria, was being slowly eroded and replaced by a business class, the impact on the Syrian social identity has been tremendous. If we compare the cultural scene in the country in the 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s of the last century with what has become of us now, we cannot help but feel desperate and hopeless. From the 80’s onward the Syrian upper middle class has changed from a group comprised mainly of professionals to one that is a mélange of army officers and public "servants". Old Money circumnavigated the devastating effects of a deficient and corrupt socialist system by moving their capital to foreign lands. They acted, generally speaking, like social parasites and led their own strange lives and held their own extravagant wedding receptions while their country around them was falling apart economically. Then the upper middle class of Syria changed again. The officers either retired or died but they were never replaced from the army or from the ranks of government again. A new group was on the rise, their children, a second generation of shrewd calculating money hungry monsters took control. They acted very swiftly and efficiently and established a new economic and social network. They jumpstarted the process and within a few years and immediately within the short span since the beginning of the new millennium they partnered almost completely with the traditional Old Money of Syria. Somehow similar in shape to a sand clock, today’s Syrian social composition is based on a wide base of underprivileged, poor and disillusioned majority, topped by a very small “squeezed” middle class then overwhelmed by an increasing number of scoundrels and ex-convicts nouveau riche, blessed and manipulated by the Old Money who had never relinquished their economic prowess through it all.

Are Syrians happier, healthier and wealthier today? I daresay NO. We have turned into a consumer market playground. Sure, our shops and stores sell almost everything under the sun and we do not have to smuggle “luxury” commodities from across the border anymore. But, who can afford to be a consumer of items beyond basic food and clothing. Who, for instance, can enter a prestigious shop in Damascus and buy the US$800.00 pair of jeans shamelessly displayed in the shop front. I, for one, feel appalled that such offensive display of wealth is allowed while the masses await their paychecks to juggle with the possibility of buying a $15 pair of pants or pay their outstanding electricity bill. The average Syrian cannot afford private hospitalization. She has to surrender her body and soul to the public health system with often tragic results. We are, as a nation, in deep economic shit and it seems to be getting worse.

I indicated in the beginning of this article that I do not intend to go into what the government should and should not do. I want to place all the blame on the ruling Economic Class of Syria. Those in business, who are paying less taxes than a poor laborer is, have caused more economic and social damages to this country than any stupid government action can ever inflict. The morality of the super-rich in Syria is immoral to say the least. When “the rich goes cheap to stay rich” the consequences are destructive. I have attended a meeting recently where Syrian businessmen explained to their European counterparts that the Syrian worker is lazy and does not work unless coerced. They were contemplating bringing in foreign experienced labor (Indian factory workers) because they are more committed to work. They did not even consider the possibility that the Syrian worker is lazy because the (SP15,000 = US$300.00) they were paying him per month do not even cover the basic necessities in an ever more expensive country. What do you expect for $300 per month you damn sonsofbitches? The hotel where the meeting was held charges $200 per single room, per fucking night, breakfast not included.

Now, you the reader, might have developed a better idea why I do not care (on the surface) so much about democracy or its absence in Syria. Even if we were a truly democratic country the results of the parliamentary elections would not have been that much different. The scoundrels and ex-cons ran for chairs in the parliament and paid for votes with vegetable oil, sugar, rice and cash money. The poor elected them and were glad that they got something out of the whole commotion. The Middle Class did not give a damn, by not voting, but who are they anyway but a "filthy" minority. The economic ruling class of Syria supported and celebrated the occasion with banners and banquets and everyone clapped their hands and danced while the voice of Ali Al-Deek echoed grotesquely between the walls, the usually silent walls.

* International Family Planning Perspectives and Digest, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer, 1978), pp. 58-59doi:10.2307/2947510

39 comments:

Bridget said...

One of the most depressing places in Damascus, in my opinion, is City Mall in Mezze. Apart from the pharmacy and grocery store, it is basically a bunch of stores with a bunch of employees.

What's missing?

Customers who are able to afford the goods for sale.

Of course, having more money doesn't necessarily equal more happiness (in fact, there have been studies that suggest the reverse is more often true), but that place was just ridiculous.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Hi Abu Fares, it is a saddening issue indeed, the continuous diminishing of the Syrian middle class...
It has been suggested that we should follow the pattern of 'social market economy'; where the wealth made through free economy practices, is re-distributed to the people through public services like health-care, education, ...etc...
It seems that even this isn't possible, as the 'wealth' in question is missing!...well then where is the wealth? ...I think it is still in the pocket of the person who's targeted by the display of the 800 $ pair of jeans...

Hasbi allah wa ne3ma al wakeel...allah ykoon be3on al fa2eer...

abufares said...

Bridget
You're so right about that, and other malls, in Damascus being sad places.
While "having more money doesn't necessarily equal more happiness" is certainly true we should not forget the widening divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots in Syria. Am I pessimistic or is crime on the rise? What was a once in a month occurance is happening several times on a daily basis now in most parts of Syria. It's hard to accept but the Have-Nots cannot remain quiet forever.

abufares said...

Dubai Jazz
A large proportion of the Syrian Middle Class has chosen to get out of the country in order, not to really improve, but to maintain its economic level. Those who had made the decision to come back at a certain point in life find it now extremely difficult to accept the expanding economic and social inequality. We, our immediate families and our close friends might be, relatively speaking, doing well, but several millions are not.
I've said it already and I'll say it again:
Kiss Ikht Hal Zaman!

Wassim said...

How the hell has it gotten to this? I've written and deleted several comments trying to express how I feel after reading this article. I knew it was bad, but not this bad. Please please give us more insight into things like this...sickening.

abufares said...

Wassim
It is bad!
Money, like power, corrupts. While many other writers correctly blame the government and the political establishment, I'm blaming another party which has managed to hide behind the shadows for such a long time. They are as guilty if not more.

abufares said...

Anonymous
Come on, you can do a better job. You can say exactly what you want without causing me any problems.
I kindly ask you to do it my way.

Anonymous said...

Sorry AF forgot you are inside...anyway what is the purpose of this post if people are going to dance around the problem instead of attacking its source.

I say power and money are related and they are allies in degrading our societies, but in the advanced economies it does not happen as badly.

saint said...

Nice to hear your inner soul shouting to stop the madness, and sorry to hear you accusing the middle class which I think had no choices and like the saying, the eye cannot fight the bit. In my last year visit to Syria, I witnessed what you have described of disparity. I did not had chance to meet those scoundrels, but I could smell them. I met with the second tier servant and heard their voices, too bad they are ready to put their conscious aside and serve their masters no matter what. I concluded that I have to love my new country and defend it and I have to bury my soul. I have to be realistic like those ex convict and do what I have to do because even in rich American City where I live, I have never ever seen $800 jean and I have never put on a jean worth more than $12. As long as people there can not speak their mind, as long the country have no free press, those scoundrels will roam the place and count up their monies. But we all should not forget that this is not a free market economy, this a free theft for few economy.

abufares said...

Hello Anonymous
Thank you for your second comment. To be totally honest with you I don't think I have danced around in this article. I said almost everything I wanted to say. Basically that our economic problems are not simply a result of our political system. Corruption at the high end of the economic scale exists in all countries, democratic and otherwise. Our billionaires club was greedy and immoral during the Ottoman rule, during the French mandate, during the early independence period and now. "The rich goes cheap to stay rich" is an eternal truth.

abufares said...

Saint
I did not accuse the Middle Class at all. You must've misread me on this one as I straightforwardly wrote: "I am a diehard Middle Class man and will not give up my status without a fight."
Democracy, it seems to me, will certainly solve many of our problems but I doubt that it will instill any conscience in those who hold most of the economic keys to the future of this country.

The Syrian Brit said...

Aaakh ya Abu Fares.. Finger on the wound or what!...
However, one or two points to make...
You make it sound like the former Middle Class has largely migrated upwards to become 'Upper Middle Class' or to joint the elite 'nouveau riche'.. My view is that the Middle Class has been completely decimated, and the vast majority of its constituents have been pushed under, and have joined this amorphous mass that we call the 'underprivilidged class'.. I do not share the image portrayed by the 'hour-glass' (or sand clock) analogy, because this assumes that the nouveau riche and the underprivilidged are similar in number, and that they can exchange places when you tip the hour-glass over.. (I know!.. I am carrying the analogy a bit too far!..).. My point is that we have a huge mass making up this underprivilidged class, with a small remnant of a middle class, teetering on the edge, and likely to tip over into that massive ocean of poverty, with a small, but increasingly mushrooming parasite that is the nouveau riche scoundrels, who, on the face of it, are joining the Old Money, but in fact they are eroding their power steadily, and utilizing their connections with that Old Money to increase their dominance. The Old Money, motivated by greed or hampered by stupidity, are allowing them..
(I do have more points to make, particularly about the role of democracy and free speaach.. I think corrupt regimes and bad governments have a lot to answer for.. but this comment is already way too long, and I would not like to outstay my welcome!..)

The Syrian Brit said...

Of course, I mean 'free speech'..

Shannon said...

Very insightful post. It seems this sort of squeezing of the middle class and disparity is evident in many places a "open market" has been introduced. I wish I knew what the solution really was. For democracy to be effective, people must be empowered and confident that they can change the status quo. A large poor majority who are swayed by their belies are hard to empower. Thanks again for a good morning read...

saint said...

Abu Fares,
I love what you have written, I know how much passionate you are when you write about a subject like this. Also, please consider my passion to my beloved birth place even when I live in far away land.
I know you have said clearly that you put the blame on the ruling economic class: “I want to place all the blame on the ruling Economic Class of Syria.”
But also you hinted later that middle class shares some of the blame when you said: The Middle Class did not give a damn, by not voting, but who are they anyway but a filthy minority.
For the sake of the powerless, I would say that those who championed to speak out are now in prison.

After your permission I would like to elaborate a little on your blog.
Choices are always made for Syrians, they never had chance to say and voice their opinions. First came the socialist and now changed their mind and the same guys are going capitalist. In both case they may be right, but both cases honest people and history will reject consider these choices as not solution rather than how the few force their agenda on the people.

My point is that what we have now is not a free market economy; they can fool themselves but not me. The main principals of market economy, transparency, rivalry and excludability (the ability of sellers to force consumers to become buyers and thus to pay for what they use) are not in place and government seems not going to enact these laws and the regime seems is not going to overrule its entity.

Someone will say, this is not a market economy this is a transitional economy which not all the laws of market economy apply. And here the real Syrian economist Mr. Aref Dallilah from prison comes to light. He said that that the exclusion of large segment of entrepreneurs and industrials and other segments of wealth driven people in the society and the limiting of the opportunities for regime’ circles is not going to produce free market but civil unrest.
From this point I share with you your passion for better times for the Syrian people. I hope people will find ways to have their say.

abufares said...

My Dear Syria Brit
I must've lost my eloquent touch while writing this post. For some reason I've been misunderstood by more than one reader. Thus, I screwed up somewhere.
The traditional Syrian Middle Class, the educated elite did not turn into the Nouveau Riche. It just withered away as a class. The nouveau riche class is comprised almost exclusively of business people, with little or no education at all.
"Somehow similar in shape to a sand clock..." Apparently my use of the word "somehow" was not adequate.
Again, for the lack of a better style in writing, please excuse me for not making myself better understood. The only two parties I'm sympathizing with in this post are the traditional middle class and the poor.

abufares said...

Hello Shannon
When I write about Syria, I try my best to exude a sense of happiness and wellbeing, but never so on the account of credibility.
Reading about the dark side is necessary to make you, as a reader, appreciate the many delights Syria has to offer, albeit and despite of all the contradictions. Reading your own blog and responding to your comments make me certain that you are the type of person who can readily identify with the poor in Syria rather than the rich.
Democracy is a dear goal for us all, but not the way it’s been promoted, under the boots of foreign soldiers. We have a lot of unsettled business to take care of, here and in many third world countries. The West can do us all a great favor by not interfering. The government of the United States, for example, has been supporting totalitarian regimes in this region since WWII. They cannot undo their own doing in the span of 2 presidential terms in a manner even worse than their first action. I hope I’m making sense. We have a saying in Syria: “He killed a man then attended the funeral”. We kindly ask of all the Free World Governments to have the decency to let us burry the dead without their presence.

abufares said...

Dear Saint
What I wrote in response to the Syrian Brit certainly applies to you as well. I made the mistake of not being totally precise in my choice of words.
When I wrote: "The Middle Class did not give a damn, by not voting, but who are they anyway but a filthy minority." I should've indicated that it's not me who considers the middle class filthy, but those in the power seat and in control of the economy.
It was a rather poor choice of words. I'll go back to the post and place the word filthy between parenthesis to ascertain that the word in this case is not mine.
The Middle Class did not give a damn about voting because it considers itself out of the equation. With matters as they are, not voting at all is a very valid statement. The best the Middle Class could muster at this point in history.

abufares said...

A Note to Readers
This post was triggered by:
"I have attended a meeting recently where Syrian businessmen explained to their European counterparts that the Syrian worker is lazy and does not work unless coerced."
I regret not having punched the Syrian asshole who proudly made this statement to show what a smart ass he is. I honestly had the almost uncontrolable urge to go around the table, punch him straight in the face and step out of the room and out of a career (may be spending some time in jail first).
Instead, I vented my frustration in writing this post. Who knows, I might yet regret not delivering that straight right at a moment when I should've.

Yazan said...

The more scary fact ya abu fares is, that what was an organized corruption and disintegration of the syrian economy has turned [now with the introduction of market economy] into an organized monopolization... when these people own the economy, the country, like u said, it would matter little if there was democracy or not.

I remember very well, some of the really bad days when my mom would go into depression because she used to make more money when she was an intern in the 70s, than now when she is a pediatricians in a public hospital and with private practice, with 20 years of expertise, and she cant make up enough money for taxis, it was one of those when she decided she couldnt stay there anymore.

There was a real crime against syrian industrialists, bourgeois, and more importantly, against that vibrant middle class that once existed.

abufares said...

Hey Yazan
I thought you'd come around to cheer me up ;-)
Anyway,what you said about your mom is so true. In professions like medicine and engineering the writing is on the wall. True, doctors for instance were making less in the 70's but they were living much better off and they were considered, as they should, to be prominent members of society. Today, a trader in cheap nylon stockings will sneer at the word doctor.
Esta la vida = kiss ikht hal zaman

I love Munich said...

Your post - great as always - is a REAL eyeopener though it does sound somewhet sombre! If the situation is the way you describe , where will that lead to? What will be say 10 years or more down the road? Will the gap rich/poor inevitable widen ... the way it is, believe it or not, as well here and in Germany? Will the middle class be eradicated entirely by then? what a GLOOMY picture ...

WHAT in YOUR eyes, would buffer the situation to say the least? Of course a major change would be desirable but things usually don't go as fast as one would wish ...

What would YOU suggest as solution?

And for the poor ... is there ANY help (like here "social services" for financial assist in terms of gas/electricity bills, foodstamps or the "Salvation Army" for warm meals ect.) available?

Thanks dear friend, for this REALLY great post!!

KJ said...

Dear Abu Fares,

Sorry for not replying to your previous post. I read and enjoyed it but I could not formulate my feelings into a logical sentence to be understood, so I will leave my reply at that.

As for this post...

I am quite a young fellow, born in 84, at the very end of what you described and the beginning of a new era of economy (new on the surface). I have not been aware of how the economy of Syria functioned, and I don't still know it fully to give you a solid analytical report. What I can give you is what we Syrians are best known for (other than good food and odd hijabs) - analytical observation.

Analyzing what a system IS (in its own right), what is CAN do to a given platform and what it actually DOES do are completely different issues.

Being a computer science student you have to excuse me for this analogy. The system is Windows. What it IS is different from what it is potentially capable of on each individual PC, and how it is used on that PC is a different manner entirely.

With that in mind I would like to point out that the words democracy, dictatorship, free speech, monarchy, anarchy and all that ridiculous hierarchical list of terminologies are nothing but abstract concepts and ideas stemming for subjective philosophical and political utopias that are present only in mind and cannot be manifested in pure physical form without being influenced by external factors.

If you watched Oprah's show two days ago, about forgiveness, she asked a very true question to each of her guests: What does forgiveness mean to you?

This is my point. All these are just words that are meaningless unless put into subjective connotations. Democracy and free economy and open market are simply concepts and the manifestations in Syria are different from those elsewhere.

My neighbour in Syria, "less fortunate" than I am, lives on 13K Syrian Pounds (probably now 15K). His father is a retired employee and he has a non-working mother and two siblings in school. His older brother lives in another country and sends supplementary funds for the family. The eat meat once or twice a month (as in beef, not chicken, but not much of the latter either). Their true main source of meat is our shared meals we have when my grandma cooks for both families.

My other best friend lives in a rented apartment in Abbasid Square but moved out to a more affordable location with less car fumes. His mom works, he works, and his father is a lazy bum who only watches Jazeera and other news channels to philosophize with the walls about them. My friend has been having it hard all his life. He can't afford many things, but eventually, 15 years later, he is starting to make his way into the higher-quality-food-affordable.

Both my friends during the years have been pushed from Middle Class to Lower Middle Class due to the change in economy and the psychological relative deprivation of course. Middle Class itself is no longer existent simple because the term itself is subjective. To the Lower Middle Class, anyone slightly richer is Upper Middle Class, and anyone with a Benz is filthy rich, anyone with the great family names (you know the families I am talking about) is simply filthy. To the Upper Middle Class, anyone less is poor, and the filthy are simply Business Partners.

Psychology plays a crucial role in all of this, especially the concept of relative deprivation - and this is where people are happy or not happy. In relative deprivation, you will feel contempt and calm if everyone in your immediate vicinity succumbs to the same fate as you do. When people are better off, only then would you feel deprived.

So are my friends happy? Yes. Even though they have other friends who are better off, we all know as Syrians that, while money sure buys SOME happiness, true happiness stems from the self and from the social relationships. Both my friends now are getting married in the next month. And even though they have no idea how they will afford it, they are generally happy, because their standards are lower than the standards of other people. I, for instance, being an expat all of my life, have very high standards that are often unrealistic. I have a good sum of money in my hands, el7amdella, but am I truly happy? No. I have my materialistic needs covered. I eat decent if generic meals, I have a great car, and a wonderful house. But I live in an incredibly competitive Dubai - relative deprivation - and I have very few actual friends (not the Business Type) and my social life is relatively nonexistent and my stress levels are constantly high. And I am not married, engaged, or in a relationship, most of it which is my fault. So I am not happy, generally speaking, but I always say, because I was raised in Syrian blood, I say el7amdella, I am better off than other people, I need to make my standards realistic to be able to maintain peace.

Going back to your economy, I hope now you can understand my given points. I have written long, but I needed to demonstrate that that we humans are just too absurd for our own good.

God Bless and have a nice day :)

Lujayn said...

Abu Fares, I don’t think you should expect much from peoples’ (poor, rich and in-between) consciences. What is needed is legislation to regulate our choices, to provide a sanctioned basis for our actions. It’s a case of “haret kil min idi ilo” in the absence of laws that keep in check economic imbalances and the rise of above-the-law business/upper class elite.

If citizens’ (poor, rich and in-between) actions are immoral or lacking in conscience, it’s because the state has failed to protect them through legislation and the execution of legislation. As individuals, we cannot play the part of the state; the state has to step up to its responsibilities towards its citizens collectively.

abufares said...

Dear Karin
The demise of the middle classes is a worldwide phenomenon. The trend and the swiftness of the process is not entirely identical of course. The downfall of the Soviet Union, although cheered all over had its own negative consequences and the rippling effects of the unipolar state of the global economy are being felt.
When a dichotomy of two evil systems of dominance is replaced by a single power how can we expect things to improve. I'm getting myself into a thorny area of economics and politics, which I have the common sense to admit that I'm not an expert at. However, as I will shortly state in my reply to Lujayn, I'm blaming human greed as another foul ingredient in the misfortunes of the people.

abufares said...

KJ
I really like your comment. It fully deserves to be a post on its own. There's almost nothing I disagree with in your analysis. Like me, you wrote from the heart and were not motivated by cold empirical data. We humans seem incapable of learning from history. Even when the rich contribute to the welfare of society they are considering their action as charity (as per their religious beliefs) rather than an action dictated by their own conscience.

abufares said...

Lujayn
As I clearly stated that my article is not concerned with the failings and missteps of governments I vented my frustration at certain social groups I personally consider as partly responsible for our economic mishaps.
Everything you said is true. But then again we always blame the government and this is well documented. I wanted to expose a large force which has managed to hide behind the government and never received its fair share of criticism and associated guilt.

Lujayn said...

I totally agree with you, Abu Fares, but my point is that peoples' conscience and morality are very hazy notions. You can’t really depend on them. A German guy we have dealt with through work arrived here, full of criticism for peoples’ unethical business practices, etc. Two months later, he had shed all his ethics and was resorting to some really dirty games to build his business. Why? There was no law to prevent him from doing so. In fact, he said since everyone else was doing it, why the hell shouldn’t he? In Germany, he was restrained by laws and his own wavering morals and ethics were not the deciding factor. That’s what I mean when I say we, as individuals, should not be depended on to be moral or ethical. The law should define the framework for our practices and the country’s executive bodies should implement the law across the board.

Kinan said...

I have to say, abu fares, that you raise quite an issue here and I have enjoyed the responses as much as I have appreciated the post.

I have quite a radical view here. You say that the Middle Class is diminishing on a global scale and that democracy, open market economies and such are not helping as much as they ought to. What I can't see is why this is such a bad thing necessarily?!

I mean, what makes a society with a healthy middle class better than one with a not-so-healthy one? Why is the demise of a middle class bad? Why is an open market economy better? I don't think any one can answer these questions. Simply because all these concepts, theories, abstractions, values, systems and whatever you want to call them; are not by any means universal. Democracy for a person, society or a country is different from democracy for another person, society or a country. So is open market, so is middle class.

With the vast and unlimited innovations in the technology and communication fields I find it inevitable that the middle class disappears and the global society is polarized in accordance with what is so-called "The Digital Divide". Is that a bad thing or a good thing?! It's debatable. Can we change it? Also debatable. But it is the natural course of things.

The development and convergence of the global human society into a polarized one is inevitable. It's up to us to make the best out of it, not blame it for the illnesses of this world.

abufares said...

Hi Kinan
Since this is turning into a somehow interesting debate, I think I should give up my position of replying to each comment myself. It would be much better if the next comment is a reply to your point of view. Everybody is welcome to join in of course. The only rule that applies here is common sense and not to get ourselves (and me) in trouble unnecessarily.

Torstein said...

Nothing is inevitable. That is just fatalism and whether we call it globalisation, the evil US, or capitalism, nothing is static or leads to one sure outcome.

I agree to the idea that the middle class is being squeezed everywhere in the world at the moment, not least in developing countries. Whoever we wish to blame, the answer does not lie in simple ideas like democracy. Look at Brazil. They have the biggest gap between rich and poor in the world.

What is lacking is a will to do anything to help others, not least in our own countries. How can we allow people who have 800 dollars to spend on a pair of jeans to get away from taxation? At the moment the ideology (currently being propagated the most from the US) that everybody should be able to keep everything they earn for themselves without contributing to society. First you need a consensus (or decision from those on top)that those who are able should contribute more than those with less and then implement it through taxation. This is perfectly doable, but of course a lot harder in developing countries with bad administration and elites clinging to power through their connections with the business classes.

A good start is that people start believing that an alternative to free-market and no state-intervention in it actually exists.

The biggest victory of the current ideology is that it has convinced us that it is the only choice because the US "won over communism" or gave us the internet or other crap ideas like that.

As for Syria, the beginnings of the Bathist revolution was sound in its egalitarian ideas of development. Now though, they need to find a way to reconcile a good idea with the development of the economy in a new world. Politics and business does not go together. The politicians job is ideally to regulate capital for the good of the people.

Regards
The anti-fatalist optimist

Shannon said...

Thanks for replying to my comment- I certainly understand what you are saying. It makes total sense, and I agree on many levels. Just by way of clarification, I by no means meant to imply that the US or the west has some asinine duty to bring democracy to the "undemocratic." Any thinking person can see through that rhetoric (or smell the bs behind it). Unfortunately, there are many "non-thinkers" 'round here. Reading blogs like this only strengthens my arguments against them...
Now I've gotta catch up on these other comments! YOW!

The Syrian Brit said...

Abu Fares,
I am writing in the spirit of your 1:57 comment, replying to Kinan!!...
I must say, I am in favour of what Lujayn is saying.. Laws and legislations are essential in preserving the 'morality' of business.. otherwise, it is '7aret kil meen 2ido 2ilo'... And believe you me, the thin veneer of civility you see in the West is, when all is said and done, based on the fear of the law, which applies to EVERYBODY.. (Remeber the epidemic looting that immediately emerges when the law is absent or otherwise engaged?.. e.g. major power failures in New York, the Mississippi floods, Katrina, etc..)
KJ, you are right, money does not buy happiness, but trust me, poverty certainly works wonders to destroy any enjoyment, hope, or ambitions...
Torstein, democracy will not provide all the answers, granted.. but without it, there will be no accountability, and those who hold the powers will play the system to their advantage.. The economy of the whole Country will become a tool in the hand of a select few, who get richer and richer, pay no taxes, and completely stifle any competition.. Sounds familiar???...

Rime said...

I've been away from the scene for a while, but I'm glad to be back just in time to read this excellent piece. How true, how unfair, how frustrating. I certainly agree with your central premise and with your arguments, and can only commiserate about the loss, or the lamentable state, of Syria's middle class.

In particular, what makes my blood boil is the "lazy Syrian workers" allusions I have heard so often from "civilized" Syrians (abroad and back home) as they try to explain why we can't have "reform" and why such workers can only be led with a stick. Absolutely archaic mentality, which I've attacked more than once. What condescending nonsense.

Thank you for having taken the time to write about the people struggling to put bread on the table while the elite continues to eat cake in full impunity, and without a care in the world.

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't the open market it is the corruption. The state economy has become unsustainable: It can not keep up with the demographic explosion and decrease in resources (oil). Market economy is generating real growth however this growth is not being distributed properly. This is the whole premise of the social market model that the government is proposing and it is not being respected. The profit from the "free" market should be distributed fairly.

If the government is thinking of stopping subsidies for -for example- gasoline, well it should stop the subsidies for rich people and keep it for the poor, or something like that...

Arima said...

Brilliant brilliant post Abu Fares! The situation is the same throughout the Arab world though, i was really shocked to learn the other day that those living in poverty in Egypt has risen to 52% and this is whilst others live in unimagianble luxury. It is disgusting the disparities that affect our region and sadly this seems only to grow every year. It seems to me that without some sort of major upheavel there is little that can be done -the poor get poorer and the rich richer.

Abu Kareem said...

Abu Fares,

Sorry for the late comment but I was catching up on my blog readings. This is perhaps one of your angriest and most heartfelt posting. I sympathize totally with the feelings. It has been eye-opening for me though I suspected that this is what was happening with all the money flowing into Syria.

The trouble I think is the transition from a closed, pseudo-socialist system to a (not so)open market economy without the checks and balances to level the playing field. Consequently those who are well connected, in the know, with the proper wastas, were those who grabbed the money first.

People are the same everywhere. The difference is that in countries with established and implemented laws, greedy, unscrupulous types have a harder time monopolizing economic opportunities. So I do think it goes back to the government. Their job is to make sure as many citizens have access to opportunities and protect those who are most vulnerable.

The Syrian Brit said...

Dera All,
Conrad Black, a very wealthy Press and Media Baron, has just been found guilty of fraud.
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6897991.stm)
He faces a possible 35 years in prison..
Can you imagine anything like this happening in our beloved Country?!!..

abufares said...

Torstein, Shannon, Syrian Brit, Rime, Anonymous, Arima and Abu Kareem
Thank you all for taking part in commenting on this post. It might've been one of the more serious ones I've written, but by no means it's a line of thought I enjoy getting myself involved in. The simple reason is that I don't like to knock my head against a wall. I'd rather enjoy the little remaining things life has to offer.
Abu Kareem correctly deducted that I was angry when I wrote this piece. I was angry and it's not an emotion I like to maintain for long. Every once in a while, it creeps up on me, as it does on everybody else. With the erratic world we're living in, it's only normal that my state of mind would react, when overflooded, with writings such as this one.
Thank you all again.