This week's question | 2006-05-23

Six years into his administration, how significant are the reforms Bashar Assad put in place?

Rather than trying to list the series of phantom reforms and promises of reforms that Bashar has introduced into our lives over the last six years, or embark on another debunking of the whole concept of voodoo economics, I will simply mention the following impressions:

? Every time I call home these days, people talk about the worsening human rights situation in the country, and about worsening living conditions and rising prices of basic foodstuffs and commodities. The haphazard salary hikes have been more than offset by the runaway inflation.

? No bank in the country offers housing loans that actually cover the entire value of the property under consideration. As such, owning property is still a dream for most young men. Rent is also unaffordable. The popular housing project that the President announced at one point was quickly taken over by his own cronies.

? Most of my friends still avoid dealing with the private banks that have recently been established. They opened only small account for trial purposes, but they still rely on the banks in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere for the more ?serious? transactions. This is not only premised on the inefficiency of these institutions which, at this stage, operate more like glorified piggy banks than real banks, but it is also related to the lack of trust on part of many of the regime?s willingness to respect banking secrecy laws, and of regime members not to get involved in any corrupt schemes involving these banks and leading to their bankruptcy.

? Popular tales concerning the Ramification of Syria, that is, of its continuing transformation into a private property for the Assad-Makhlouf clan are abundant and serve to underlie the failure of any attempt at combating corruption.

? Despite all the fanfare surrounding the launch of the government campaign against unemployment, unemployment rates continue to hover around 30%, according to most estimates.

? Parents have long lost faith the in the existing educational system, but they still have little alternatives. The proliferation private schools and colleges are unaffordable, and, in most case, they tend to be as badly run and mismanaged as their public counterparts.

? Despite the fact that Syria does boast of a proportionately high number of well-qualified doctors who received their training and higher education abroad, the public healthcare system in the country, due to rampant corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency and accountability, and practices of cronyism and nepotism, is virtually imploding and is quite untrustworthy. Even private healthcare system, which is unaffordable by most Syrians, of course, is in a state of decay, because, for all the expensive and modern equipment out there, the lack of accountability on all levels and the lack of qualified support cadres, especially lab technicians and nurses, are simply undermining the system. And not a single effort has so far being made, not in all these six years, not in the ten years preceding them, to address these issues.

I can go on and on, of course, but I will stop here, because if the above does not make the point clear, nothing will.

So, are we better off today than we were six years ago? Well, Rami Makhlouf definitely is, and so are many members of the Assad-Makhlouf clan and their cronies, but the rest of the country, and with very few exceptions, is definitely not.