Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Syria Cracks Open Its Frail Economy

Syria is accelerating its economic opening – boosting U.S. hopes that its tight relationship with Iran might be weakened.

For decades, Syria has been defined by its rigid socialist economy and its military ties to Iran against Israel and the West. Trade sanctions have taken a heavy toll: More than half the 16 jets in Syria's state airline can't fly for lack of spare parts.

The Baath Socialists were connected with the Baath Party of Iraq.

But President Bashar Assad – heir to his family's political dynasty – has started unshackling the economy by permitting private banks and insurers to open shop and by letting Syrians hold foreign currency without risk of being tossed in jail. In March, he opened Syria's first stock exchange. Nearby are a Ford showroom and a KFC restaurant.

A socialist dynasty; interesting term.

President Assad's changes face pushback at home. Top members of Syria's ruling Baath Party say he is betraying the socialist agenda of his father, Hafez Assad, who served as president for three decades before his death in 2000. Liberal economists, meanwhile, say he isn't going far enough.

Sounds familiar.

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