On April 18, Dr. Samer Abboud, Assistant Professor of History and International Studies, participated in a panel discussion on the “Role of the Private Sector in Syria’s Future” hosted by the Center For International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The event was recapped in a blog post by Stephen Rosenlund, Program Officer for Middle East and North Africa at CIPE.
Dr. Abboud highlighted two interrelated challenges that the business community will face in rebuilding the country. One is the depletion of capital assets and people, and the other is the physical destruction of productive capacity. With respect to the former, Syria is experiencing staggering levels of capital flight from the country as more and more business people move their assets elsewhere. It is difficult to know exactly how much Syrian capital has left the country and where it is, because it is challenging for Syrians to open bank accounts abroad and their money thus “floats around.” Repatriation of those assets becomes less likely with each day that the conflict grinds on as members of the Syrian business community establish themselves elsewhere.
The realities of post-conflict Syria will demand a robust role for the Syrian business community, however. If the private sector is not represented in policymaking, reconstruction efforts could actually marginalize or even exclude the business community. In this respect, Dr. Abboud was careful to draw a distinction between the Syrian private sector and the private sector in Syria. Post-conflict policy must focus on activating the indigenous business community, or risk regional powers smothering the recovery. At the same time, relying exclusively on Syrian businesses could exacerbate disparities among different regions. Clearly, there will be a delicate balance to be struck.