Syrian banking: Opening up?
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Syrian banking: Opening up?

Since Bashar al-Assad was elected as president of Syria to succeed his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a surprisingly low 97.29% of the vote - his father pulled in over 99% of the vote when he was re-elected - there have been mutterings that Syria might be looking to open up and reform the country's Wnancial sector. The international banking community, however, seems less than excited and in some cases extremely sceptical.

Syria has one of the most undeveloped banking systems in the Middle East and one that is in desperate need of reform. In his inaugural speech, Bashar called for the removal of obstacles standing in the way of internal and external investment Xows and the "activation of the private sector, granting it better opportunities to work". Syrian offcials seem to agree and have targeted growth of Wnancial institutions. Prime minister Mohammed Mustafa Miro recently declared: "The development of the banking sector is an urgent matter."

Ibrahim Wardeh, director of investments for Syria's free zones, has said that international banks will be allowed to set up operations in Syria's free zones but that the banks will have to be "Wrst rank" with a minimum capitalization of $11 million in foreign exchange. The banks will only, however, be able to operate within the conWnes of these specially designated areas; servicing business outside of the respective zone will not be allowed.

Free zones were established by the regime in 1972 in an attempt to lure private foreign business into the country but have proved to be unpopular with foreign corporates.

Because of the restrictions that will be placed on them, the large international banks are unlikely to be rushing in.

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