Syria moves forward

This long-lost Arab economy may soon be a force to be reckoned with. When you live in Dubai, it’s easy to live in a fantasy world. Everything is great. No-one and nothing else matters. And even if it did, it would never be as good as Dubai.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  June 18, 2006

|~||~||~|This long-lost Arab economy may soon be a force to be reckoned with. When you live in Dubai, it’s easy to live in a fantasy world. Everything is great. No-one and nothing else matters. And even if it did, it would never be as good as Dubai. So it was with my usual cynicism that I went to Damascus last week, for the second Syrian-Emirati Economic Forum. And what a pleasant surprise I was in for. Whatever your views are on the politics on Syrian president Basha Assad, it is hard not to give him credit for the economic reform programme he has masterminded. And the results are already clear to see: whereas in 2000 the growth rate was negative at minus 1%, today it stands at 4.5%. In the non-oil sectors it is as high as 5.5%. Significantly, private investment in the country has soared by 25% over the past twelve months. Leading the investment has been Emaar, which last week showed off its impressive US$500 million Eighth Gate project just outside Damascus. More projects are planned. And thanks to the efforts of not just Emaar chairman Mohammed Alabbar, but former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Syria is poised to receive the economic boost its people have long deserved. True, unemployment is still too high – by the Syrians own admission (although nobody knows exactly how high). However, 200,000 new jobs have been created during the past twelve months, and in the next four years nearly two million new jobs are likely to come into the market. The biggest challenge for Syria is to move to a non-oil dependent economy. This already seems to be happening: last year, non-oil exports totaled US$3.6 billion. There are huge investment opportunities in real estate, tourism, telecoms and financial services. President Assad has set aside US$20 billion of public investment for the coming five years, but knows better than anyone that he needs the figure to be matched by the private sector – with investment coming from Europe and the Arab world. If it’s good enough for Emaar, then surely it’s good enough for anyone. For too many years, Syria has been the forgotten economy of the Arab world. Within just five years, there is a very good chance it will become an economic powerhouse. If it’s good enough for Emaar, then surely it’s good enough for anyone. For too many years, Syria has been the forgotten economy of the Arab world. Within just five years, there is a very good chance it will become an economic powerhouse. The economic fall out from this dispute could be castastrophic.||**||In the long run|~||~||~|Talking of Emaar, we report this week that chairman Mohammed Alabbar has finally moved to re-assure investors over the company’s share price. Unless you have been living on the moon, you will know that Emaar shares have lost over 40% of their value in twelve months, most of it in the past three months. I have long been urging Alabbar to make some public comments on the issue. Finally, at the Syrian-Emirati Economic Forum in Damascus, he did, saying: “The share price is a very controversial issue. We do not need to tackle the price issue over one day. It should be done over one year. There are always going to be many changes in the price. But the real question is what have our results been like over eight years? These are the best you will find. The share price is not a concern to us.” Well, it probably is a concern to investors sitting on huge losses, but Alabbar is right. Measured over the past eight years, you won’t find a better success story than Emaar. The company has concrete plans to spread its wings worldwide. Then, and only then, will we be truly able to measure the success of Emaar.||**||My Masafi|~||~||~|My colleagues in the office have been showing concern at the amount of Masafi I have been consuming in recent weeks. Since meeting Masafi’s new chief executive Ashraf Abushady earlier this month, I have to admit having become practically addicted on Masafi’s new line of juices, drinking around four litres a day. The point is though, that I am not the only one. Unofficial estimates from the company are that it may have already captured nine per cent of the entire UAE juice market, in just over a month since being officially launched. Within three weeks, it had already taken a six per cent share. So no real surprise in a way, but what an achievement. I am often accused of being too negative, but there is nothing negative about Masafi. It is poised to become one of the Arab world’s biggest success stories in recent years. Not bad for a company that was founded in 1976 with just US$5 million.||**||

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