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Islamic Countries - Syria


Following the breakup of theOttoman Empire duringWorld War I, Syria was administered by the French until independence in 1946. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Since 1976, Syrian troops have been stationed inLebanon, ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years, Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over the return of theGolan Heights.



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

Geographic coordinates: 35 00 N, 38 00 E

Area: total: 185,180 sq km
note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory
water: 1,130 sq km
land: 184,050 sq km

Climate: mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus

Coastline: 193 km



Population: 17,585,540 (July 2002 est.)
note: in addition, about 40,000 people live in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - 20,000 Arabs (18,000 Druze and 2,000 Alawites) and about 20,000 Israeli settlers (February 2003 est.) (July 2003 est.)

Age structure: 0-14 years: 38.6% (male 3,494,473; female 3,290,699)
15-64 years: 58.2% (male 5,238,026; female 4,991,588)
65 years and over: 3.2% (male 274,744; female 296,010) (2003 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.45% (2003 est.)

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.93 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2003 est.)

Noun: Syrian(s)
adjective: Syrian

Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%

Languages: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood




Syria's predominantly statist economy has been growing, on average, more slowly than its 2.4% annual population growth rate, causing a persistent decline in per capita GDP. Recent legislation allows private banks to operate in Syria, although a private banking sector will take years and further government cooperation to develop. External factors such as the international war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war between the US-led coalition and Iraq probably will drive real annual GDP growth levels back below their 3.5% spike in 2002. A long-run economic constraint is the pressure on water supplies caused by rapid population growth, industrial expansion, and increased water pollution.

Industries: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining

Agriculture products: wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk



Telephones main lines in use:1.313 million (1997)

Television broadcast stations: 44 (plus 17 repeaters) (1995)

Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)

Internet users: 60,000 (2002)


Railways: total: 2,743 km
standard gauge: 2,425 km 1.435-m gauge
narrow gauge: 318 km 1.050-m gauge (2002)

Highways: total: 41,451 km
paved: 9,575 km (including 877 km of expressways)
unpaved: 31,876 km (1997)

Waterways: 870 km (minimal economic importance)

Airports: 92 (2002)



Conventional long form:SyrianArabRepublic
conventional short form: Syria
local short form: Suriyah
former: UnitedArabRepublic (with Egypt)
local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah

Government type: republic under military regime since March 1963

Capital: Damascus

Administrative divisions:14 provinces (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah, Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq, Tartus

Independence: 17 April 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)

Constitution: 13 March 1973

Legal system:based on Islamic law and civil law system; special religious courts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction


Executive branch:

chief of state: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice Presidents Abd al-Halim ibn Said KHADDAM (since 11 March 1984) and Muhammad Zuhayr MASHARIQA (since 11 March 1984)
head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa MIRU (since 13 March 2000), Deputy Prime Ministers Lt. Gen. Mustafa TALAS (since 11 March 1984), Farouk al-SHARA (since 13 December 2001), Dr. Muhammad al-HUSAYN (since 13 December 2001)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; referendum/election last held 10 July 2000 - after the death of President Hafez al-ASAD, father of Bashar al-ASAD - (next to be held NA 2007); vice presidents appointed by the president; prime minister and deputy prime ministers appointed by the president
note: Hafiz al-ASAD died on 10 June 2000; on 20 June 2000, the Ba'th Party nominated Bashar al-ASAD for president and presented his name to the People's Council on 25 June 2000
election results: Bashar al-ASAD elected president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD 97.29%

Judicial branch: Supreme Constitutional Court (justices are appointed for four-year terms by the president); High Judicial Council; Court of Cassation; State Security Courts

Political parties and leaders: National Progressive Front or NPF (includes Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party (governing party) [President Bashar al-ASAD, secretary general], Socialist Unionist Democratic Party [Ahmad al ASAD], Syrian Communist Party [leader NA], Unionist Socialist Party [leader NA], Arab Socialist Party [Abd al-Ghani QANNUT], and Arab Socialist Unionist Movement [Sami SUFAN]) [President Bashar al-ASAD, chairman]; Syrian Arab Socialist Party or ASP [Safwan QUDSI]; Syrian Communist Party or SCP [Yusuf FAYSAL]; Syrian Social National Party [Jubran URAYJI]


Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities inDamascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)



Historically,Syria included Jordan, Israel and Lebanon as well as the area now known as Syria. The country was in a top strategic spot, and its coastal towns became important Phoenician trading posts. Later,Syria was a pivotal part of the Roman, Persian, Egyptian and Babylonian empires. It finally ended up as part of Ottoman Turkey and, along with Lebanon, was dished out to France when the Turkish Empire broke up after WWI. The Syrians weren't too pleased with this arrangement (they had been an independent nation from 1918-20) and staged an insurrection in 1925-6, which resulted in the French bombingDamascus.

In 1932,Syria had its first parliamentary elections, and although the candidates had been picked by the French, they refused to acceptFrance's proposed constitution for the country. In 1939,France granted Turkey the Syrian province of Alexandretta, further sharpening feeling against the imperial overlords. France promised independence in 1941 but didn't come through with it until 1946.

Civilian rule didn't last long inSyria: in 1954, after several military coups, the Ba'athist section of the army took over the country. The Ba'ath Party was founded in 1940 by a Christian teacher and was committed to a form of pan-Arabism under which Syria would forfeit its sovereignty. This led to the formation of aUnited Arab Republic with Egypt in 1958, but several people thought this wasn't such a hot idea, and another series of military coups trundled across the country. By 1966 the Ba'ath was back in power, but the celebrations were curtailed by the 1967 Six Day War with Israel and the 1970 Black September spat withJordan. While everyone was otherwise occupied, Defence Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power.

Since 1971 Assad has held onto the presidency with a mixture of ruthless suppression and guile, and used his position to maneuverSyria into a position of power negotiating the terms of peace in theMiddle East. In 1999, he was elected to a fifth seven-year term with a predictable 99.9% of the vote. Although falling oil prices instigated much hand-wringing throughout the Middle East, Assad's astute exploitation of the Gulf War in the early 1990s brought improvements in the Syrian economy. During the war,Syria joined the anti-Iraq coalition, getting into theUSA's good books in an effort to get offWashington's list of states supporting international terrorism.

In 1997,Syria was removed from the US list of drug-trafficking states, while Assad moved to strengthen ties with the fledgling EU, Turkey and the US. Attempts to diversify the oil-reliant economy, primarily with investment in agricultural products, have had mixed success. In early 2000, US State Department officials discussed removingSyria from from the terrorism list, admitting that even according to US intelligence; the country hadn't sponsored any terrorist activity since 1986. The chaotic withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, occuring under fire from the alledgedly Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah, would have probably delayed further talks under the best of circumstances. President Assad's death the following month added another variable to that equation and to the future of the Middle East peace process as a whole. Assad's son Bashar stood poised to take over the presidency as of June 2000.

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