Syria: Reform planned at the right pace
Syrian officials and businessmen understand the need for economic restructuring to take advantage of regional and global opportunities. They are determined, though, to undertake it at their own pace and in ways that do not undermine social cohesion.
Hafez Al-Assad, Syria's president for 30 years, died more than a year ago but he is still held in reverence by Syrians. His picture is displayed in virtually every building and he is recognized as the man who restored political stability, pride and national identity to a republic that in the 1960s was in danger of losing all three.
When Assad seized power in November 1970 it was after 24 years of independence that had been punctuated by coups and other threats to internal stability. Between 1958 and 1961 Syria had even seemed prepared to relinquish national sovereignty, joining forces with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic but hastily withdrawing when it emerged that Cairo would dominate the federation. With 16 changes of regime between 1943 and 1970, Assad's preoccupation with restoration of internal stability rather than economic management or reform is understandable.
Assad's economic achievements were, however, far from trivial.