Key Facts: Syria

by World Grain Staff
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Capital: Damascus

Population: 20,178,485

Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%.

Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey.

Government: Republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime. Chief of state: President Bashar al-Asad (since July 17, 2000); head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Utri (since Sept. 10, 2003). Economy: The Syrian economy grew by an estimated 2.4% in real terms in 2008, led by the petroleum and agricultural sectors, which together account for about onehalf of GDP. Higher crude oil prices countered declining oil production and led to higher budgetary and export receipts. Damascus has implemented modest economic reforms in the past few years, including cutting lending interest rates, opening private banks, consolidating all of the multiple exchange rates, raising prices on some subsidized items, most notably gasoline and cement, and establishing the Damascus Stock Exchange, which is set to begin operations in 2009. In October 2007, for example, Damascus raised the price of subsidized gasoline by 20%, then instituted a rationing system in 2008. In addition, President ASAD signed legislative decrees to encourage corporate ownership reform and to allow the Central Bank to issue treasury bills and bonds for government debt. Nevertheless, the economy remains highly controlled by the government.

Long-run economic constraints include declining oil production, high unemployment and inflation, rising budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water supplies caused by heavy use in agriculture, rapid population growth, industrial expansion and water pollution.

GDP per capita: $5,000 (2008 est.); Inflation: 15.4% (2008 est.); unemployment 8.6% (2008 est.).

Currency: Syrian pound (SYP): 46 Syrian pounds equal 1 U.S. dollar (Sept. 18, 2009).

Exports: $12.78 billion (2008 est.): Crude oil, minerals, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, textiles, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat.

Imports: $14.49 billion (2008 est.): Machinery and transport equipment, electric power machinery, food and livestock, metal and metal products, chemicals and chemical products, plastics, yarn, paper.

Major crops/agricultural products: Wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk.

Agriculture: 18.5% of the GDP and 19.2% of the labor force.

Internet: Code. .sy; 7,857 (2008) hosts and 3.47 million (2007) users.