Ten Years of Syria Report
On Saturday, The Syria Report celebrated its 10th anniversary at a time when Syria is going through the most challenging and yet most promising period of its modern history.
When this publication began in October 15, 2001 in a small flat in Paris, the time was already one of change – or rather, it was full of hopes for it.
A new president had taken over in Syria a year earlier and although the repression of the Damascus Spring in the beginning of 2001 had dashed the prospects for rapid and meaningful political reforms, many thought that the opening up of the economy would eventually force the Syrian authorities to loosen their grip on power by applying the rules of law and accountability, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and giving more freedom to the media; were these after all not prerequisites if the country wanted to modernise, attract investors and spur growth and development?
The Syria Report started then reporting on Syria’s gradually liberalizing economy. We wrote on the new regulations and laws that made of Syria a more business-friendly country; the liberalisation of the financial sector and of the foreign trade regime; the signing of free trade agreements with Arab countries and Turkey; the boom of the tourism industry, which at last realised some of its potential; the opening up of new industries to private investment, and; the drive to make Syria a regional transport hub.
This was not, however, the entire picture. We also talked of the resistance to change by the public sector; the rising levels of corruption; the mismanagement and waste of public finances; the continuing poor ranking of Syria in almost all regional and global indexes whether they surveyed the government’s performance, the competitiveness of the economy or the ease of doing business in it.
The Syria Report was not only a news service. We gradually expanded our offerings to provide a broad set of data services: a directory of leading companies, public tenders, a listing of events and of newly-registered companies. At a later stage, we developed a consultancy business and this part of our business, which remains less known, represents today a significant part of our revenues.
Our audience continued to grow. While initially most of our readership was made of international organisations, diplomatic bodies and research houses, it gradually developed to include financial institutions – when that industry finally opened up – and as the economy continued to liberalise, a larger and more diversified body of companies, from trading houses to all sorts of professional services firms. As the liberalisation of the economy gained pace, so did our revenue base: in 2010 subscription revenues jumped 30 percent.
The choice we made from the beginning to rely on a sustainable business model is something we are very proud of. While, in the early 2000s, the trend was for free access to content, we understood, after one year of trial, that the only way to make our publication viable was to charge for what we produced. Charging money for our work was not only fair; it gave us a solid business model as well as editorial independence.
Where do we stand today? As everyone else working on Syria, the last few months have been very challenging for our operations. Many companies have left the market, others have cut in their budget; our subscription revenue has declined, our consultancy business dried up.
However, we understand that this decline is only temporary and that in light of what the country is currently going through, this is not what matters most.
Ten years on, Syria has yet to embark on a serious and radical change in its governance. Its failure to do so is reflected in the popular protests that have gripped the country since last March.
Syrians now know that development is not only about economics; it is as much about empowerment and the accountability of government officials – i.e. free elections – a sense of justice – i.e. an independent judiciary system – and knowing about and understanding what is taking place across the country – i.e. an independent and free media.
Syria must become a democratic state and it must make this transformation as quickly as possible.
One last word finally for our subscribers, some of whom have been with us for...well, 10 years now. The Syria Report would not be here without your support and trust - thank you!
Jihad Raja Yazigi
The Green Economy
Damascus Chamber of Commerce
Damascus International Fairground