In 2005, the US and its allies, would have liked, by putting as much pressure on Bashar Al Assad, an internally-inspired regime change in Syria. Part of this strategy was the passing of UN resolution 1559, the architects of which were France, Saudi Arabia, the US and, exerting as much influence as they could, their allies in Lebanon.
But then Hariri was killed and Lebanon was (and still is) subjected to a sporadic campaign of instability and violence, creating uncertainty and confusion among its people.
Plan A therefore went the way of the St. Georges blast and the consensus was that a coalition of the willing, including Saudi Arabia, was drafting a Plan B to seemlessly remove the Baathists with little chance of an Iraq-style scenario developing.
But are they? While many see Syria only as a pariah state that has traditionally helped terrorists and extremists of every stripe set up an office here or launch an operation there, it might surprise many to learn that the regime has embarked full-throttle on a program of economic, judicial, banking and commercial reform.
One of the lesser members of the axis of evil has in fact styled itself as an axis of major investment. Banking licenses—both commercial and Islamic—are being issued with relative abandon and capital markets created. Real estate development is charging ahead with the likes of Emmar and Damac pouring money into mega-projects in the capital Damascus and elsewhere in Syria. Even adventurous Europeans are speculating on Damascene properties.
Yes, business plans for Syria are finding access to capital. Today’s investor community is simply not satisfied with a 10-15% return. The regional developer, financier or speculator will settle for nothing less than 25%, and it’s places like Syria—and Sudan and Kurdistan for that matter—that offer this.
Perhaps Bashar al-Assad believes that a growing economy with heavy regional investment may just be his get-out-of- jail-free card, or perhaps the investors are simply looking to get in on the ground floor with government incentives still on offer. They know their time will come, whoever is in power.
Either way, the money—and the promise of more— appears to be keeping the younger Assad afloat in some fairly choppy seas.