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SYRIA: List of top 100 businessmen signals another turning point

April 10, 2009 |  8:43 am

Syria-cover Just one month after Syria launched its fledgling stock exchange, the country appears to be taking another step down the path of economic liberalization with the release of the very first "Top 100 Syrian Businessmen" list by the Syrian business magazine Al-Iqtisadi. 

Similar lists appeared regularly on the pages of Forbes until Wall Street’s collapse turned the formerly celebrated Fortune 500 CEOs into reviled symbols of market excess almost overnight.

And so, even as the U.S. gets ready to nationalize large sections of the financial sector in a move that right-wing critics are calling seeping socialism, Syria is struggling to shed its semi-socialist protectionism in favor of free(er) market capitalism and the foreign investment that comes with it. 

But lack of transparency has proved a major obstacle to attracting this much-needed investment, and gaining access to the financial records of Syria’s most powerful men constitutes a major feat of investigative journalism

“[The list] took nearly a year to compile,” Al-Iqtisadi executive editor Hamoud Mahmoud told Syria-news.com. “It took a lot of research to get all the information, which is being published for the first time.” 


The list includes short biographies of 100 businessmen from 39 families, along with indicators of their wealth, such as the number of companies in their name and the estimated value of their investments in Syria and abroad.

Most of the individuals on the list made their fortunes in manufacturing, trade and car sales.

“The magazine tried, via the Iqtisadi100, to give the major businessmen their rightful recognition and increase transparency in the business sector, which carries the Syrian economy towards a new economy,” Mahmoud said.

Still, there are holes.

Mahmoud told Syria-news.com and confirmed to Babylon & Beyond that it was nearly impossible to get exact numbers on many wealth indicators because the Ministry of Finance refused to share information from their own list of the largest taxpayers in Syria based on an agreement between the businessmen and the ministry.

“Some of [the businessmen] did not even want to tell us how many people they employed, because they were not paying taxes on them,” Mahmoud told Babylon & Beyond.

Despite the difficulties he and his news team encountered, Mahmoud is optimistic about Syria’s new direction. “In the last few years, they have amended the tax laws and issued new ones” holding businessmen more accountable, he said.

“It still needs a lot of effort, but it’s definitely getting better,” he added.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: The front page of the issue of the Syrian magazine Al-Iqtisadi which included a cover story about the country's 100 richest men.

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