Sunday, December 17, 2006

Syria - current profile

Human Development Index: 106th out of 177 countries (= ‘medium’ human development)
Arab Human Development Report ranking: 12th out of 20 Arab countries.

Population: 17.8 million (2004) of which men: 9.1m and women: 8.7m
Population Growth Rate: 2.58% (2000-05)
Urban Population: 50 per cent of the total in 2004
Ethnic Groups: Arabs 90.3%; Kurds, Armenians and others: 9.7%

Economic Indicators
GDP per capita: $1,238 in 2003
Average incomes of wage earners (PPP 2003): Men $5,534, Women $1,584
Poverty: 11.39% of the population are below the Syrian poverty line
(approximately $1 per day)
Maximum Regional Disparity: 19.88% in Aleppo (Governorate)
Unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year olds: 24.9%
Maximum Regional Disparity: 50.7% in Lattakia

Education Indicators
Adult literacy: 82.9% overall; and 74.2% among women
Literacy in 15 to 24 years age group: 94.8% overall; and 92.5% for women
Boys and girls reaching the 6th year of schooling: 93% overall,
of which: boys 96% and girls 89%
Maximum Regional Disparity: 76% overall in Aleppo, of which girls 75%
Females as a % of males in general secondary education: 104% nationally
Maximum Regional Disparities: 60% in Idleb; 70% in Raqqa

Health Indicators
Infant mortality: 17.1 per 1,000 live births
Maximum Regional Disparity: 19.56 per 1,000 in Hassake
Total fertility rate: 3.8%; 3.4% in urban areas, and 4.4% in rural areas
Maximum Regional Disparity: 6.21% in Deir Ezzour; 5.46% in Raqqa
Maternal mortality ratio: 58 per 100,000 live births
Maximum Regional Disparities: 91 in Raqqa and 75 in Hassake
Contraceptive prevalence rate: 47.4% in 2004
Maximum Regional Disparity: 20.4% in Deir Ezzour

Environment Indicators
Population with access to clean drinking water:
88.3%; of which 76.3% in rural areas, and 97.1% in urban areas
Maximum Regional Disparity: 45.8% in rural Hassake
Population with access to improved sanitary installations:
73.8%; of which 45.3% in rural areas, and 94.5% in urban areas
Maximum Regional Disparity: 13.9% in rural Raqqa

Sources: Syria Millennium Development Goals Report 2005, UNDP Human Development Reports, and Population and Housing Census 2004.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Double Standards in Riyadh and Damascus

In arms deals, it is normal for suppliers to inflate their prices in order to pay commissions to intermediaries. The intermediaries then share the commissions with government officials who have signed the contracts. In diplomatic language, a bribe is called "excess commission".

The British-Saudi deal which was signed last August for the supply and maintenance of 72 Typhoon Euro jets, is worth £40 billion over 25 years. The price of each jet fighter was apparently inflated by 32% to pay "excess commissions" to intermediaries and the Saudi Royal family. The Saudi government sees nothing morally wrong with this arrangement. It has threatened to cancel the contract if the British authorities persisted with their fraud investigations into an earlier arms deal with the Saudi government (the £43 billion Al Yamamah contract signed in 1985). The British seem today to have dropped the investigation in the interest of "national security".

Let us not beat about the bush. Some Saudi royals are corrupt in the sense that they abuse their public office (or more generally public trust) for private gain. There is nothing new in this and corruption is rampant in Arab countries and elsewhere in the developing world. The size of the bribe may be spectacular in this case but the same moral principle applies to a one dollar bribe.

One might blame the West for indirectly encouraging Arab corruption and destabilising the region, so they can buy cheap oil from it and supply unnecessary expensive arms to it. Perhaps there is an element of truth in this but it is the Arab moral double-standards that leave the door wide open for others to take advantage. Women are respected as mothers and teachers but abused as daughters, sisters, wives and citizens. Petty thieves have their hands cut off while government officials syphon off public funds on a massive scale. The Saudi Moral Police imprison people for leaving a shop open during afternoon prayers while the princes import prostitutes and alcohol by the plane loads into their palaces. I do not intend to preach morality to Saudi Arabia but, unfortunately, some Saudi royals have been setting dubious ethical standards for other Arab rulers for over 80 years.

On this blog, I am supposed to focus on Syria, but Syria is at the heart of the Arab world. After independence, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Syria upheld fairly high standards in public life. People for example used to joke about the legendry corruption of Egyptian officials and feared that the union with Egypt would compromise the hopelessly inefficient but reasonably clean Syrian bureaucracy at the time. How times have changed! Now our Egyptian bretheren are trying to put their house in order while Syrians struggle with endemic corruption and moral double standards at every level in society. This is what usually happens when nations allow their rulers to abuse their office, undermine the development of state and social institutions and repress the media.

Syrian governments have never lacked able technocrats who can talk to the press, or good bureaucrats who can interract with the public. But the balance of power has, over recent decades, shifted gradually towards a less professional, less ethical and less enlightened generation of unaccountable officials who are loyal to the regime. They have spread corruption and caused immense damage to the integrity of Syria's civil service, society's moral fabric and the country's reputation abroad. Any trust or real affinity between the public and government that might have exisited in previous decades has now almost completely disappeared. The government basks in its own praise and glory while the public sleep-walk into their daily lives totally oblivious to those in power.

Fraud and double standards in public life have driven a wedge between government and the people. This makes any effort to reform institutions and fight corruption difficult and ineffective. Reform by dictat never works and people cannot be expected to implement orders handed down by rulers who lack legitimacy and visibly practise double standards.

The crises which have engulfed the Middle East since July this year should not be allowed to obscure the moral rot that continues to penetrate deep into Syria's soul.