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SYRIA - The Middle East Non-OPEC Decision Makers - Part 3.

In the Hafez Al Assad era, Syria had evolved a unique decision making system, involving two layers of authority: one visible and formal and a far more powerful one which is invisible. Many among the visible decision makers are technocrats, from the prime minister down. But in reality the decisions are taken at the level of the invisible layer. The visible layer has some freedom in the way decisions are executed but, in return, they can be held accountable for both their actions and the decisions. The results of this accountability can be seen in occasional cabinet reshuffles and administrative changes.

Both layers are controlled by the president, during the Hafez Al Assad era, and this has continued since Bashar assumed the presidency in June 2000. The real decision makers for the hydrocarbon sector, excluding those of the formal layer, belong to the invisible group. The formal layer, including the minister for petroleum and mineral resources and the head of the Petroleum Marketing Committee, handle the administrative aspects of these decisions. The technocrats in the hydrocarbon sector do have some leeway in introducing new ideas and proposing new decisions.

The late president Assad did not get involved in day-to-day matters regarding the hydrocarbon sector. But nothing of significance happened in this sector, or any other, without him being informed and without his approval. Some observers say Bashar, who is more in tune with the workings of a modern economy, is taking more of a hands-on approach. In any event, he would follow his father's example in being the ultimate authority in control of both layers of decision-making.

It is important to note, however, that some of the technocrats in the visible layer have over time become close to the leadership in the invisible layer. After passing certain tests over the years, they may become part of the invisible layer - especially now that a technocratically minded Bashar is president. But it is difficult to identify and take advantage of such figures. For an outsider looking in, Syria would appear to be one of the most inscrutable countries in the world.

Syrian decision makers, as those in other parts of the Arab World, are largely the product of their regional and tribal or family background. This is despite indoctrinations by the ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party since the early 1960s. For instance, a Syrian decision maker hailing from Damascus would be quite different to one whose heritage is from Aleppo, or one from the mountainous Alawite region, one from the Druze area, or one from the Al Jazira region, etc.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Mar 26, 2001
Previous Article:OMAN - Profile - Ahmad Bin Abdel Nabi Makki.
Next Article:SYRIA - Bashar Al Assad.

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