Economic and Political Overview

flag Syria Syria: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Outline | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Outline

Economic Overview

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

Syria has been plagued by a devastating war since 2011. According to a study published by the World Bank, the conflict would have caused a contraction of the GDP of -12% on average between 2011 and 2018, and the humanitarian crisis has claimed between 400,000 and 470,000 victims. The Syrian economy, which reached 60.5 billion USD in 2010, is now between 24.5 and 28.5 billion USD. However, it is extremely difficult to assess the financial health of the country as the wartime GDP can be very unstable due to foreign aid and continued destruction. The return of several provinces under the control of the Bashar Al-Assad regime was expected to restore a certain stability necessary for the start of reconstruction and economic recovery. However, the Lebanese crisis, the new sanctions imposed by the United States and the outbreak of COVID-19 further deteriorated the situation since 2020. Real GDP is expected to contract further in 2022, due to the ongoing conflict and the pandemic (The Economist Intelligence Unit).
With the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, Bashar Al-Assad has regained control of most of Syrian territory and considers himself victorious in an essentially ended war. But the country is in ruins, the destruction of the physical capital of the country being estimated at around 120 billion USD, and the estimated loss in GDP at nearly 325 billion USD (UNESCWA). The long-awaited reconstruction does not materialize. Businesses face energy and water shortages and are regularly shaken by liquidity shortage. International sanctions have practically frozen trade with the outside world and neighbouring partner countries (Iran, Lebanon) are facing economic and financial difficulties. Impacted by the Lebanese crisis since 2019, tougher US sanctions under the Caesar Act and the COVID-19 pandemic, Syria's economy deteriorated further since 2020. The Syrian pound that collapsed since 2019, reached new historically low levels in March 2021, trading around 4,000 pounds for 1 USD (against 500 pounds for 1 USD in early 2019 and less than 50 pounds for 1 USD before the start of the conflict). Northern Syria suffered from the collapse in the value of the Turkish lira, which is the main currency adopted in the Idlib region. With soaring inflation, food and fuel have become unaffordable. In addition, as the water of the Euphrates River has declined to its lowest level, the north-east of Syria is experiencing a water crisis and drought since summer 2021. In this context, the economic recovery seems difficult, especially since the Western powers will participate in the reconstruction effort only in exchange of a political transition. Reflecting the depth of the crisis, the 2022 budget is the smallest since 2011 (USD 5.3 billion), and the budget deficit is projected at USD 1.6 billion (Alarabiya).

On the humanitarian level, the situation is catastrophic. About 6.2 million people have been internally displaced and 5.6 million are officially registered as refugees (World Bank). The social situation of the country was already serious before the crisis: a third of the population lived below the poverty line, unemployment affected 20% of the population (75% of the unemployed were aged 15 to 24) and the demographic growth rate was very high (3.3% per year). Since the start of the war, the situation has only gotten worse. The middle class has disappeared. According to UN estimates, more than 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line and half of the population is unemployed (CIA Factbook). The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has estimated the total cost of the Syrian reconstruction at USD 388 billion, but could reach USD 600 billion based on other estimates. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that between March 2011 and March 2019, the conflict left 570,000 people dead. Since 2020, the US sanctions and the COVID-19 outbreak worsened the situation, and food insecurity dramatically increasing. According to the World Food Program, 12.4 million Syrian are now food insecure, an almost 60% of the country’s population.

 
Main Indicators 201920202021 (e)2022 (e)2023 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 0.00e0.00e0.000.000.00
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 0.0e0.0e0.00.00.0
GDP per Capita (USD) 0e0e000
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 0.0e0.0e0.00.00.0
Inflation Rate (%) 0.0e0.0e0.00.00.0
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 0.0e0.0e0.00.00.0
Current Account (billions USD) 0.00e0.00e0.000.000.00
Current Account (in % of GDP) 0.0e0.0e0.00.00.0

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, October 2021

Note: (e) Estimated Data

 

Main Sectors of Industry

Syria’s long civil war has caused the near collapse of the economic output. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed and the economic sanctions are limiting access to financing. The Lebanese crisis, the tougher sanctions introduced by the Caesar Act and the COVID-19 outbreak further impacted all economic sectors.

Before the war and the series of sanctions the country has faced since 2011, Syria mostly exported raw materials (crude oil, cotton, cereals and phosphates). Agriculture represented nearly 20% of its GDP (CIA, 2017 est.) and is estimated to employ 10% of the workforce (World Bank, 2020 est.); agriculture has always been a fragile sector since it directly depends on climate conditions and especially on water scarcity, a key regional factor. In 2021, decline in irrigated land area, low precipitation, and fuel shortages adversely affected wheat crops. The water of the Euphrates River has declined to its lowest level, pushing Syria into a water crisis and drought (Enab Baladi). Spices, olive and olive oil, cotton, wheat and barley are among main crops and exports.

Industry had a relatively important place, owing to textile, chemical and oil industries, the latter representing 14% of the Syrian GDP prior to the war. Industry, as a whole, accounts for 18.5% of the economy and employs around 23% of the workforce (World Bank). The hydrocarbon sector is essential to the Syrian economy and contributes up to 65% of the country’s exports. Oil production has now been reduced.

The tertiary sector, mainly the tourism sector, was well established prior to civil war and currently represents 42.1% of GDP (World Bank). Despite the war, a number of foreign banks are still operating. The sector of services is estimated to employ 67% of the workforce (World Bank).

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 10.1 23.2 66.7
Value Added (in % of GDP) 19.5 35.9 n/a
Value Added (Annual % Change) 7.8 -2.6 n/a

Source: World Bank, Latest available data.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
N/A/100
World Rank:
N/A
Regional Rank:
N/A

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 
 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

Sources of General Economic Information

Ministries
Ministry of the Economy
Ministry of Finance (in Arabic)
Statistical Office
Central Bureau of Statistics
Central Bank
Central Bank of Syria
Stock Exchange
Damascus Securities Exchange
Other Useful Resources
Nations Online
Syria Report
Main Online Newspapers
Syrian Arab News Agency
The Syria Times
The Syrian Observer
Economic Portals
Library of Congress
Dmoz
Araboo

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President: Bashar al-Assad (since July 2000, re-elected in May 2021)
Vice President : Najah al-Attar (since March 2006)
Prime Minister: Hussein Arnous (since 30 August 2020)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: 2028
Legislative: 2024
Current Political Context
Syria has been experiencing a devastating war since 2011, in which neighbouring countries or groups and major powers, including Turkey, Iran, the United States and Russia, and their allies are involved. Supported by Russia and Iran, but still under sanctions from the United States and European countries, Bashar al-Assad's regime has taken over a large part of the country, but the clashes continue. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah provide the military and logistical support necessary to maintain the Damascus regime.

In October 2019, former United States President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from north-eastern Syria, leaving room for a Turkish offensive in a Kurdish-dominated region. Criticised and sanctioned by the EU and the United States, this offensive charged with ethnic cleansing accusation is said to have caused hundreds of civilian deaths and to have displaced more than 175,000 people. According to the UN, nearly 300,000 Syrians were displaced from southern Idlib in the last two weeks of December 2019, and the situation worsened then, as Syrian government forces and their Russian allies intensified the bombing. In March 2020, a new ceasefire was agreed between Russia and Turkey. However, like the previous ones, it remained fragile, as shown by the October 2020 Russian air strikes and by the persistence of violence in 2021. International media continue to report that Turkey may be preparing a large-scale incursion into the area (Security Council Report).

At the May 2021 presidential elections, Bashar al-Assad won 95.2% of total votes, securing a fourth seven-year presidential term. Improved diplomatic and economic ties with the neighbouring countries, notably Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, lead some analysts to think that the normalization process may cause Damascus to demonstrate less commitment to the political track (Security Council Report). The country is in a dire situation, exacerbated by the United States Caesar Act sanctions package (from the code name of a military photographer who escaped from Syria with more than 50,000 images of torture and death taken inside the regime's prisons), which came into force in 2020. The Astana and Geneva talks did not produce any concrete results. Apart from Bashar al-Assad's regime, US sanctions also target Iran, Syria's key ally alongside Russia. Indeed, Syria is the scene of clashes between Israel and the United States on the one hand, and Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah on the other. In 2021, Syria continued to be the target of airstrikes from Israel, Iran and Russia. If the Islamic State organisation is officially defeated since 2019, the movement is reconstituting itself in the deserts of central Syria, killing government forces in hit-and-run attacks, while an underground insurgency continues in southern Syria.
Main Political Parties
The main political coalition in power in Syria, the National Progressive Front (FNP), brings together parties supporting the nationalist and socialist policies of President Al-Assad.
It regroups :
- Party "Baath", or Socialist Party of the Arab Renaissance: party of President Assad, in power since 1949
- Party of Unionist Socialists
- The Communist Party of Syria
- Social Democratic Unionists
- Syrian Social Nationalist Party
Amendments to the Constitution in February 2012 theoretically allow the existence of a multiparty system, removing the clause imposing the Baath Party at the head of the state and society. Despite this, the May 2012 elections, which took place in the midst of a rebellion against the government, were largely boycotted by the main opposition parties. The latter have long survived in hiding or in exile, like the Islamist or Kurdish parties, which the Constitution prohibits in the name of their religious or sectarian character.
The main opposition party is the Syrian National Council (CNS): opposes President Al-Assad and seeks to establish a state.
Type of State
Syria is a republic officially based on a parliamentary democracy.
Executive Power
The President is the head of state. He is elected by popular referendum for seven years. The president is the commander-in-chief of the army and holds executive power. It can declare war, issue laws, amend the constitution and appoint civilian and military personnel. He also appoints the Prime Minister (head of government) and his Council of Ministers, for as long as he wishes.
Legislative Power
The legislative power is unicameral in Syria. The parliament is called the People's Council (Majlis al-Shaab). It has 250 seats and its members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Syria has been under a state of emergency since 1963, which gives the President special powers.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
173/180

Source: World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders

 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Not Free
Political Freedom:
7/7
Civil Liberties:
7/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

COVID-19 epidemic evolution

To find out about the latest status of the COVID-19 pandemic evolution and the most up-to-date statistics on the COVID-19 disease in Syria, please consult the database of Worldometers. Updates on the situation can also be found on the website of the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).
For the international outlook you can consult the latest
situation reports published by the World Health Organisation as well as the global daily statistics on the coronavirus pandemic evolution including data on confirmed cases and deaths by country.

Sanitary measures
To find out about the latest public health situation in Syria and the current sanitary measures in vigour, please consult the weekly reports produced by OCHA Syria in Damascus in collaboration with WHO Syria. The Arabic version of the website of the Syrian Ministry of Health provides updates on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country.
Travel restrictions
The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new variants, evolves rapidly and differs from country to country. All travelers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling. Regularly updated information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related travel restrictions in place including entry regulations, flight bans, test requirements and quarantine is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
It is also highly recommended to consult COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on the daily basis by IATA.
The US government website of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention provides COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.
The UK Foreign travel advice also provides travelling abroad advice for all countries, including the latest information on coronavirus, safety and security, entry requirements and travel warnings.
Import & export restrictions

The Syrian Ministry of Economy decided to prohibit exports of several food commodities, sterilization and cleaning materials.
For a general overview of trade restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the section dedicated to Syria on the
International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.

Economic recovery plan

The Central Bank of Syria (CBS) allowed banks to postpone the repayment of loans for three months while waiving the late payment fees. To know about the economic measures taken by the national government to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national economy, please consult the website of the Syrian Arab News Agency.

Support plan for businesses
The collection of taxes from restaurants and hotels has been suspended. For the information on the local business support scheme and taxation measures established by the Syrian government to help businesses to deal with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic on their activity, please consult the website of the Syrian Arab News Agency.
For a general overview of international SME support policy responses to the COVID-19 outbreak refer to the OECD's
SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.
Support plan for exporters
The Economic Commission of Syria’s Council of Ministers issued a decision to facilitate import processes exempting importers of all goods from the import deposit requirement of 25% of traders import license.
During a meeting in the General Directorate of Customs on 19 March, the Syrian Finance Ministry requested an easing of customs procedures for importers, accelerating the customs clearance process especially for goods such as medicines, drugs, and medical supplies.
 

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Latest Update: May 2022