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Syria is a pivotal Arab country, and it has an undeniable influence [in the region]. Syria today is the center of attention with regards to a variety of inter-related issues, and if one looks closely at these issues it is easy to see the Syrian presence. The Lebanese file was eased after Syria assured the Lebanese side that it actively supports Lebanese political stability, and that it is up to the Lebanese themselves to work hard to assume their [political] responsibilities in a real and effective manner. The world witnessed the Lebanese Prime Minister’s visit to Damascus and his meeting with the Syrian President; the positivity that can be seen in the Lebanese political arena is a result of this. There is a Syrian desire today to contribute to the unification of the Palestinian ranks, and Syria can exert effort to reconcile the Hamas and Fatah movements with its well known [diplomatic] weight and its advice which Hamas is known to listens to. By doing so, Syria will have contributed in an effective manner to initiating reconciliation with Cairo, and working to resolve the key issues between Egypt and Syria. This would be a new step on the path to resolving and reconciling all Arab disputes, which is something that was launched by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz during the Arab Summit in Kuwait.

The situation in the Middle East today can safely be described as having something of a “Syrian flavor.” The most important tourist and travel magazines contain articles that promote Syria as being an excellent tourist destination, praising the Hamidiya market and Mount Qassioun in Damascus, the water-wheels of Hama, the ruins of Palmyra and Apamea, as well as the Aleppo citadel. This is not to mention Syrian music and food, and of course all of this [praise] comes after years of warnings against visiting Syria due to fears of it being unsafe. Syrian soap operas have also invaded Arabic television, achieving great successes, and the Turkish soap operas that are dubbed in Arabic are being dubbed with Syrian accents. This has become the standard to the point that the Godfather series of films were dubbed by Syrian voice actors, and watching a scene with Marlon Brando was akin to watching a scene from Bab al-Hara [a famous Syrian television series]. Syrian deserts and [Syrian-style] Halabi Kebab have also become very popular, and many ancient Syrian sayings and proverbs are now being used as everyday terms. There is also the nostalgia of listening to the traditional Aleppo kudood [traditional Arab poetic form accompanied by music] of Sabah Fakhri, or reading the stories of Hanna Mina, or watching the plays of Saadallah Wannous.

This Syrian flavor can now also be tasted in the economic arena as well, and so France has agreed an enormous financial deal to create a metro subway system in the Syrian capital of Damascus. France is also in the advanced stages of talks with Syria with regards to modernizing the railway system and developing Syrian Airlines. International hotel groups like the Kempinski Hotels group and Intercontinental Hotels group are competing to open hotels and resorts in Syria, as are international retailers, restaurants, and cafes. There are further developments worth mentioning, such as that a number of US Wall Street banks, particularly investment banks, desire to have a significant share of this Syrian development. The French and Turks can also expect to have a significant share of this Syrian harvest, along with some Gulf companies. Syria is also experiencing a boom in the financial, telecommunication, insurance, automobile, transportation, tourism, construction, housing, and agricultural fields. Real estate is seeing high levels of growth, and the price of real estate in Aleppo has seen increases of 60 percent over the previous nine months. The Syrian stock market has also experienced a boom, with many promising new companies setting up shop in Syria.

Syria has quietly adopted the Chinese model with regards to [economic] openness, rather than the Russian model which resulted in chaos and instability. The Chinese model maintains a strong and central role for the State, along with well-regulated economic openness. Investors expect policies and legislation to be developed to protect them, this is because good intentions must be accompanied by protective laws, thereby ensuring that this “Syrian flavor” is not temporary, and something that will quickly disappear. The Syrian openness towards France and Turkey, and its return to the Arabs, represent an important message, which is that the Syrians will be playing a new role in the coming days, and everybody must play the role required of them to ensure that this great opportunity is not lost.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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