Legal Briefing – September 2018

International Trade

  • On behalf of President Bashar Al-Assad, Prime Minister Imad Khamis opened the 60th Damascus International Fair in the presence of local government officials and foreign dignitaries. It ran from September 6-15 and hosted companies from almost 50 countries. More than 1,700 companies participated on fairgrounds that covered approximately 93,000 square meters. On the first day alone, an estimated 112,000 visitors attended. By September 15th, more than 2 million visitors had taken part in the Damascus International Fair. Participants were invited to commute to the fairgrounds by train and 38,000 did so on the first day. The number grew to around 65,000 visitors using the trains later in the week.
  • Prime Minister Imad Khamis met with a number of international companies on the sidelines of the Damascus International Fair and discussed Syria’s strategy to attract foreign investment as reconstruction gets underway in the country. The meeting featured discussions on how to clear any obstacles related to remittances, financing, shipping, and the transfer of products, goods and raw materials from Syria to other countries, as well as the competitiveness in exporting them. The Prime Minister explained how Syria was developing a new investment law to replace the current one and had already passed its Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Law in 2016. He pointed out that the government had already floated 50 potential infrastructure PPP projects. The Prime Minister also clarified that Syria was open for investment before the war and now the government is adopting more legislative measures to encourage local and foreign investment on a greater scale to meet the demands of reconstruction.
  • The Egyptian embassy in Damascus held a reception in honour of the Egyptian delegation visiting the Damascus International Fair. Leading diplomatic, business and entertainment personalities were in attendance.
  • Contracts worth approximately $700,000 (US) were signed at the Damascus International Fair, which will see Syrian products consisting of foodstuffs and textiles being exported to Kuwait.
  • 180 Iraqi businessmen signed contracts at the Damascus International Fair, the bulk of which related to cars and cables.
  • The Syrian Investment Authority presented 63 investment opportunities at the Damascus International Fair that were worth $6.7 billion (US), which included projects in a variety of sectors such as the solid waste management field.
  • During a meeting with a Syrian-allied Lebanese minister, the Syrian Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade stated that he did not see any real added economic value for Syrian products in reopening the Nassib border crossing with Jordan under the present circumstances. The Nassib border crossing is also the gateway for Lebanese goods being exported to the Gulf region. However, the Syrian government did not appear to adopt this position as official policy since Prime Minister Imad Khamis said that the preparations on the Syrian side of the border have already been completed. Moreover, the Jordanian authorities said the border will reopen in October. Both Lebanon and Jordan stand to benefit greatly from Syria reopening the Nassib border crossing but relations between them and Syria have not been at their best. The relationship with Lebanon is semi-tense unlike Jordan where relations plummeted during the war. The Jordanian government adopted a hostile attitude towards Syria and is only now trying to resolve the situation, which is evidenced by the large Jordanian delegation at the Damascus International Fair. The Syrian Minister’s remark to prolong the reopening of the Nassib border crossing may have suggested an expression of dissatisfaction with Jordan and its stances during the Syrian war. An increase in transit fees may allude to this fact as well, though this is mere speculation. As for Lebanon, Damascus does not have any patience for Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s hostile stances towards the Syrian government. Nevertheless, Syria is negotiating with its allies in the Beirut government ways to bolster trade ties regardless of whether the reopening of the Nassib crossing is delayed or not. It appears Syria is satisfied to do so as it enjoys strong ties with President Michel Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.
  • According to the Chairman of the Lebanese Chamber of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture Muhammad Chouccair, Lebanon will play an important role in the reconstruction of neighbouring Syria.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection and the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding to boost economic cooperation and commercial exchanges between Syria and Brazil.
  • A range of agreements were signed between Syria and Abkhazia during the visit of the Abkhazian President to Damascus.
  • The government has agreed to automate the entire import-export process, which will go a long way to ensuring foreign exchange abuses are curtailed and removing the human element from transactions, thus countering any potential opportunities for acts of bribery and misuse.


  • There is confusion as to why prices in consumer markets are not decreasing when the road networks have improved following an end to conflict in many urban and rural areas. One of the causes for high inflation was transport disruption caused by the war. Abuses by merchants are therefore highly suspected.
  • The Council of Ministers agreed to move ahead with plans to reform public sector entities involved in the commercial sphere, which will include a legal framework to regulate and assess such establishments.
  • The Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has ordered increased testing of samples of olive oil originating from Idlib province after rumors alleging tampering surfaced. The testing is to ensure compliance with Syrian health and safety standards.
  • Syrian MPs subjected the bill amending the functions of the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection to a harsh critique, with some suggesting its provisions on the expropriation of goods in wartime and on the occurrence of disasters potentially violate the Constitution.
  • A new bill is being prepared that will lead to the creation of the Economists Syndicate.
  • Elections for key executive positions were held throughout the relevant business chambers such as the Chambers of Commerce and the Chambers of Industry.


  • An Iraqi investor is planning to build a factory in Syria worth $25 million (US).
  • The Syrian Investment Authority licensed the establishment of a factory in Rural Damascus over a three-year period that will have the capacity to produce three tons of black Portland cement every year.
  • The Syrian Investment Authority licensed the establishment of a cable production plant in Rural Damascus, which will be owned by an emerging Syrian businessman through his private joint stock company and should provide up to 400 employment opportunities.
  • The Ministry of Industry set forth a number of proposals that could see public sector companies under its jurisdiction restructured in a way to sell off some assets, invite private sector investment into others and even consider some for listing on the Damascus Securities Exchange, the stock market. The war has taken its toll on a number of publicly-owned companies and the Ministry of Industry is looking to benefit from the expertise capabilities of the private sector in this respect.
  • The Council of Ministers has refused to grant its consent to public-private partnerships in the drinking water sector. Rather, it instructed the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Water Resources to establish new factories after extending the ban on imports of bottled water to encourage local production.
  • Controversy continues to stir as factory owners in the Damascus district of Qaboun slam the provincial authorities in the capital for attempting to relocate them to the industrial zone in Adra just outside of Damascus. The Governorate of Damascus intends to convert the industrial zone in Qaboun into a residential district after claiming that 80% to 90% of the area was affected by destruction during the war whereas industrialists claim that no more than 20% was damaged and could easily be renovated. Qaboun has been zoned as an industrial area since 1947 and factory owners have had their industrial facilities licensed since then. Meanwhile, the government remains on course to cooperate with the Damascus Chamber of Industry to relocate them to the industrial zone in Adra.


  • Another holding company – Sama Holding – was incorporated in Syria with a share capital of SYP 1 billion. Incorporations of companies have been increasing since 2016 but more frequently this year as investors see a positive outlook from the upcoming reconstruction stage.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has ratified the Articles of Association of a real estate development company in Lattakia that has taken the form of a single-member limited liability company licensed in accordance with the Real Estate Investment Law. The recent addition brings the total number of real estate development companies in Syria to 53. Companies that obtain real estate development licenses and consequently fail to undertake projects of this nature could face penalties including the revocation of their licenses.
  • The number of active companies in Syria has reached 80,599, which comprise joint stock companies, limited liability companies, joint public-private companies, public sector companies, general partnerships and limited partnerships. The latter two are considered commercial companies. According to data compiled by the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, up to 476,000 commercial registry and industrial registry certificates have been issued. Such documents can be considered as trade licenses and are recorded accordingly in the Commercial Registry. The Ministry also pointed to a decrease in the time needed to process applications for registration on the Commercial Registry to one day since the beginning of 2017, down from one week during the second half of 2016. During the first half of this year, the Companies Directorate in the Ministry issued 7,093 Commercial Registry certificates, which means that 1,182 certificates are issued each month on average and 39 certificates are issued per day on average. Based on these figures, the number of Commercial Registry certificates increased by 2,961 during the second quarter of 2018 after the Companies Directorate issued 4,132 certificates. During this past April, the Ministry decided to classify commercial companies into four categories based on their share capitals regardless of what form they take, whether as general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies or joint stock companies. The first category includes companies with a share capital of less than SYP 50 million. The second category includes companies whose share capital ranges from SYP 50 million to less than SYP 100 million. The third category includes companies whose share capital ranges from SYP 100 million to less than SYP 1 billion. The fourth category includes companies whose share capital equals or exceeds SYP 1 billion.


  • The government is planning to provide facilities to developers to hasten construction in Marota City such as by easing restrictions on the importation of construction materials.
  • The Ministry of Public Works and Housing is entering into contracts with Russia and China that include loan agreements for the purchase of heavy machinery to be utilized during the reconstruction phase.
  • Iranian companies offered to establish factories in Syria to produce construction materials.
  • One major drawback that is heard these days from developers and contractors in Syria is a shortage of both skilled and unskilled labour. The two main causes of this situation are either migration overseas or conscription into the military. A policy review in this respect for reconstruction is necessary.
  • A source in the Governorate of Rural Damascus allegedly reported that the government has ordered a freeze on construction and renovation work in the suburbs of Eastern Ghouta, especially Harasta, while a reconstruction plan for the region is prepared. The decision has apparently opened the door for real estate agents acting on instructions from potential buyers to attempt to profit from homeowners in the areas who are being forced to sell their properties at below market prices since they cannot renovate them.


  • Work has begun on a mixed-use residential and commercial real estate project in the Damascus upscale suburb of Yaafour after all the required licenses and permits were obtained. The project ‘Park Residence’ is being implemented by a subsidiary of the Kuwait-Syria Holding Company, which is a Kuwaiti joint stock company incorporated in July 2002 and is mainly involved in real estate development. It listed on the stock market in Kuwait in 2008. One of its main shareholders is Kuwaiti businessman Marzouq Nasser Al-Kharafi. The total size of the anticipated development in Yaafour will be 180,000 square meters and is being undertaken in partnership with a number of prominent Syrian businessmen. The joint venture is being run by a company incorporated in Syria and owned ultimately by Kuwait-Syria Holding, which has a 70.5% shareholding, and Syrian investors whose ownership equals 29.5%. The project will be comprised of 71 buildings of eight floors with each residential unit measuring between 150 to 250 square meters. The starting price for apartments measuring 150 square meters is around SYP 125 million. Before the war, Kuwait-Syria Holding had made investments in Syria, including the Al-Nasser Gardens near Yaafour and the Kiwan development in Damascus which anticipated the construction of the InterContinental Hotel. While these projects are on hold, they could be restarted soon.
  • An agreement has been reached to incorporate a Syrian-Russian company that will build 2,000 residential apartments in Syria. Russian companies have signed several contracts in various sectors of the Syrian economy such as oil and gas, phosphate, tourism, construction, housing and so forth.
  • It has been revealed that a Syrian-Iranian joint venture involving Syria’s state-owned Public Housing Establishment will seek to build up to 30,000 housing units throughout the Syrian provinces.
  • A source in the Governorate of Damascus allegedly reported that several meetings were held in Lebanon and Dubai between Syrian businessmen and foreign investors in order to consider potential joint ventures in the real estate development market.
  • The Damascus district of Tadamon, which is considered the capital’s southern gate bordering the province of Rural Damascus, is expected to fall within the provincial authority’s redevelopment program anticipated by the Urban Renewal Law 10/2018 in the next four or five years. The Governorate of Damascus already confirmed that 690 homes in the suburb are fit for housing by their owners.
  • The Minister of Public Works and Housing has approved new zoning regulations for three districts located in the city of Homs that were exposed to damage and destruction during the war.
  • The Council of Ministers deliberated on a plan involving the Ministry of Public Works and Housing and the Ministry of Local Administration and the Environment working on new zoning regulations that will be applicable to liberated areas in the provinces of Damascus, Rural Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Deir Ez-Zor, Daraa and Quneitra.
  • On average, the most expensive square meter of real estate in Syria today hovers around $3,000 and is located in the upscale Malki district of Damascus. The figures were released on a chart taking into account prices in July 2018. The pre-war averages were much higher and current rates should surge once the war ends and reconstruction stimulates the real estate market. It is anticipated that if Marota City is built, the price of the square meter there will rank as the highest in Syria.

Intellectual Property

  • The Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection asserted that there have been 1,600 applications by foreign companies to register their trademarks in Syria, which should be interpreted as a positive outlook on the improving state of the Syrian economy.
  • Agents from the Consumer Protection Directorate in the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection seized goods on the outskirts of Damascus after allegations that they were counterfeit items being passed off under international brands.


  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 299/2018 appointing Hazem Younes Qarfoul as the new Governor of the Central Bank of Syria in accordance with the provisions of Law 23/2001. Decree 205/2016 appointing Doureid Dergham as Governor two years ago was repealed accordingly.
  • Following on from President Bashar Al-Assad’s decision to replace the Governor of the Central Bank, Prime Minister Imad Khamis appointed two new managers to head up the state-owned Real Estate Bank and the Industrial Bank respectively.
  • There was criticism leveled at the Central Bank in recent weeks for retrospectively seeking to impose burdens on persons who purchased US Dollars back in 2012 when the exchange rate was around SYP 70 to the Dollar by requiring them to pay the difference today at the rate of SYP 440 to the Dollar.
  • Prime Minister Imad Khamis tasked the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade with coordinating with the Governor of the Central Bank to prepare a study that examines the possibility of establishing new banks or branches of onshore banks in the free zones. The current banks in the free zones had their operations restricted by the former Governor of the Central Bank Adib Mayaleh while there was a freeze on the establishment of new banks. Both the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Industrial Bank have confirmed that they have begun rehabilitating their branches in the free zones in order to provide financial services and are looking to open new ones as well. The Agricultural Cooperative Bank has stated that it does not have any plans to open any branches in the free zones because it does not handle transactions relating to the foreign trade sector, which constitutes the bulk of dealings in the free zones carried out by investors, industrialists and so forth. There are eight free zones in Syria but the one in Damascus is the most active and generates the most revenues, not least because numerous investors relocated to Damascus from other conflict zones throughout the country.
  • The state-owned Industrial Bank is increasing its finance facilities to the industrial sector and widening its pool of potential borrowers.
  • Following an increase in deposits, the state-owned Popular Credit Bank resumed its steady provision of loans to borrowers.
  • In line with international banking practices, Syrian banks are said to be requiring transferors and transferees to provide reasons for the processing of a transfer of funds through the banking system.
  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued a decree exempting the estates of martyrs and injured personnel who sustained disabilities of around 80% and more caused as a result of the ongoing conflict of up to SYP 1 million of debts due from loans provided by pubic banks.
  • The Chairman of the Budget and Accounts Committee in the People’s Assembly confirmed that the Ministry of Finance is currently reviewing the bill that provides an audit of public expenditure sanctioned by the national budget of 2014. The Ministry will forward the bill onto the Budget and Accounts Committee to study and approve it after the national budget of 2019 is completed. Certifying the public accounts is a constitutional duty imposed on the People’s Assembly.


  • The issue of automobile imports is causing controversy as evidenced by the amount of time the People’s Assembly has devoted to deliberating on the subject. In this respect, Syrian MPs have called for the resumption of car imports. As the Syrian Parliament heard reasons for revoking the ban on car imports, the Chairman of the Damascus Chamber of Industry who also serves as an MP called for it to be lifted. With the onset of unrest in 2011, there was increased demand for foreign currencies as fears grew for the future of the Syrian economy. Rising demand for foreign currencies led to a depreciation in the value of the Syrian Pound. Imports were another source of increased demand for foreign currencies so the government began imposing import controls. Car imports alone consume a large amount of foreign currencies given the cost of automobiles. To curtail demand for foreign currencies, preserve reserves and protect the value of the Syrian Pound, the government imposed a ban on car imports. The immediate effect was a substantial increase in the prices of secondhand cars that were already available in the Syrian market. The government also wanted to encourage the local automobile industry that would produce Syrian-made cars at affordable prices. In doing so, imports of car parts were allowed and could be used in the assembly line at Syrian factories. The problem is that some local manufacturers began importing large car parts that could be easily reassembled in Syria without any local manufacturing input. In other words, a car would be broken down into parts and those parts would then be imported into Syria to be reassembled in full. Such practices were clearly a way to circumvent the ban. The government therefore responded by imposing higher tariffs on the importation of car parts. Following that, the whole subject surrounding automobiles began sparking debate among citizens and MPs in the People’s Assembly. The issue here is that whenever tariffs are increased on a given product, the end consumer usually has to pay the difference because the importer passes the additional cost of the product downwards on the supply chain all the way to the end user. Other grievances are that the car import ban allowed certain actors on the economic scene to monopolize the automobile industry by importing car parts and reassembling them while selling the finished products at quite expensive prices due to a lack of competition in the market. The response by the government was the formation of a committee to price the assembled cars to make them more affordable for buyers. During this past April, the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade issued new instructions for the importation of car parts, the most noteworthy being the decision to permit imports of the chassis on its own. Such a state of affairs has led MPs to call for an end to the ban, which would presumably lead to a decrease in current automobile prices. The argument about protecting foreign exchange reserves is starting to ring hollow for some at this point.
  • The Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade told Syrian MPs that a modern fleet of French, Iranian, Chinese and Korean cars would be introduced into the Syrian market soon. The Minister explained that Iranian companies obtained a concession from the parent company in France to manufacture and assemble cars. There are currently eight companies licensed to operate automobile assembly lines in Syria, five of which are currently active.
  • Emaar Motors, which is a subsidiary of Aman Holding and the exclusive agent for South Korean carmaker Kia in Syria, launched the latest generation of the Kia Sportage in the Syrian market at the Damascus International Fair.
  • The Minister of Transport revoked Resolution 2292/2009 and instead issued Resolution 1010/2018, which increases the transit fee on Syrian and foreign trucks, whether loaded or unloaded, that cross Syrian territory through its land borders from two percent to 10%. The fee is applied after the gross weight of the truck is multiplied by the distance it travels within Syria. If the truck is shipping goods from the sea ports, the original fee of two percent remains applicable. The Minister of Transport explained that the reason for the fee increase is to encourage maritime transport and to be able to compete with neighbouring ports in the region. In response to this Resolution, the Jordanian authorities threatened to reciprocate and increase their own transit fees accordingly.
  • The Ministry of Transport has issued new regulations regarding the licensing of private airline companies in Syria, which include capital contribution requirements, the condition of the fleet, the number of airplanes, weight specifications and so forth.
  • The Ministry of Transport issued instructions for granting the Seaman’s Book to Syrian sailors residing outside of Syria.


  • The state-owned Syrian Petroleum Corporation (SPC) reportedly lost 252 million barrels of oil in potential production since the start of the war. Prior to 2011, SPC entered into several production sharing agreements with international oil companies such as Shell, Total, Petro-Canada and so forth.
  • The Russian company Stroytransgaz intends to sign a contract with the Ministry of Industry to invest $200 million (US) in the state-owned Public Fertilizer Corporation and its three plants in Homs. The term of the investment is set to be 10 years, which is renewable and must not exceed a total period of 30 years.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection approved the dissolution of a British oil services company in Syria.
  • According to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, a new gas well located north of Damascus began production.
  • During a visit to Tehran, the Minister of Electricity revealed that an agreement had been reached with the Iranian company MAPNA Group to build a power plant in Lattakia with a capacity of 540 watts over a period of three years. The value of the contract is estimated at €411 million. Other projects in Aleppo were also agreed upon during the discussions.
  • Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said during her speech before the United Nations General Assembly that oil is the real reason behind all conflicts in the Middle East while Syria is just the latest victim of this struggle.


  • In the space of one week, the private sector was responsible for registering more than 14,000 employees with the Public Establishment for Social Security, which is indicative of the improving economic climate in Syria.
  • Prime Minister Imad Khamis continuously said that the government will raise public sector salaries and Minister of Finance Maamoun Hamdan claimed the Public Treasury is capable of increasing them by 200%. Meanwhile, the employees and civil servants wonder about the cause behind the delay if this is the case. It now looks like the government will seek to secure more job opportunities as opposed to an increase in salaries. The entire episode on this subject has led to a loss of confidence in the government’s earlier statement that it would indeed raise salaries.


  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued a decree stipulating penalties for 35 violations that may occur with respect to private universities. They include a fine amounting to SYP 2 million imposed on any private university that recruits a lecturer from a public university without authorization. The decree also prohibits private universities from accepting new students or introducing new courses until any outstanding fines are paid. Any violations shall be monitored by committees formed by the Ministry of Higher Education after approval is received from the Supreme Council for Higher Education. The Ministry of Higher Education is also currently studying the possibility of licensing new universities though no decisions to this effect have been taken yet. The curricula for private universities are approved by the Ministry of Higher Education in the same way as those for public universities. The Supreme Council for Higher Education has also given private universities more leeway in setting tuition fees.
  • The Faculty of Law at the University of Damascus is continuing to automate its course materials for students.
  • The University of Damascus opened a new wing that will be used to teach the Russian language.
  • The Syrian Maritime Training and Qualification Academy was set up in Lattakia to provide insight into studying and working in various specialties of the maritime sector for a period of two academic years.


  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 300/2018 stipulating for the establishment of a children’s hospital in Tartous province. Accordingly, the hospital will enjoy legal personality as well as financial and administrative independence.


  • For the first time in Syria, insurance coverage for mobile phones is now available and only includes cases where the device fractures.

Local Councils

  • Syrians headed to the polls across 88 constituencies as local council elections were held for the first time in seven years on September 16th. The last time they were held was on December 12, 2011 and the 2015 round had to be postponed due to the conflict affecting several provinces. Elections are organized at the provincial level where each governorate is divided up into electoral districts or municipalities. Elections were simultaneously held for provincial councils. Once elected, every municipality is run by its local council and an executive office staffed with local council officers such as the mayor and his or her assistants chosen by the elected local councillors. Provincial councils also have executive offices whose members are selected by provincial councillors and which assist provincial governors accordingly. Governors however are appointed directly to their posts by the President of the Republic unlike local mayors who are selected by the elected municipal councils. Governors and the Minister of Local Administration and the Environment coordinate cooperation between local councils and the central government in Damascus. Local councils will be overseeing and directing the redevelopment projects – like Marota City and Basilia City – that fall under the authority of the Urban Renewal Law 10/2018.
  • The Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Electoral Committee announced that more than 4.3 million citizens voted in the elections in which more than 40,000 candidates competed for 18,478 seats throughout all the provinces. The winners of provincial council elections were subsequently declared in a presidential decree while the winners in municipal council elections were declared by a resolution of the Minister of Local Administration and the Environment. Candidates who lost had the right to file challenges against the results in the Council of State, the administrative court, within five days after the electoral results were published accordingly.
  • There were 6,551 polling stations opened throughout Syria to receive voters with the exception of three provinces that are occupied by foreign forces. Nevertheless, arrangements were made that allowed residents of occupied provinces to vote at polling stations nearby to them.
  • In the province of Hama, the provincial authorities set up 788 polling stations to serve a total of eight municipalities. Voters in Hama not only voted for their respective local council but also for the provincial council, which runs the governorate along with the Governor of Hama. In Hama, a total of 6,497 candidates ran to fill 2,474 seats on both the provincial council and the eight local municipal councils.
  • In the province of Tartous, the provincial authorities set up 755 polling stations in local council elections where 1,980 candidates competed for a total number of 1,176 seats.
  • Reports emerged that Kurdish forces in northern Syria attempted to frustrate local council elections in Hassakeh province by arresting and harassing potential candidates. Fatal clashes had also been reported in which pro-government personnel were killed.
  • The 2011 and the 2018 local council elections were supervised and overseen by the Supreme Judicial Electoral Committee, a regulatory body linked to the judiciary. Before the passage of the Local Administration Law in 2011, elections were overseen by the Ministry of Interior, an executive branch entity.


  • There was controversy surrounding a surprise Ministry of Defence resolution requiring Syrian males aged 17-42 years to obtain travel clearance from the Military Service Department before leaving the country. The surprise resolution, which was issued at the end of the summer holidays when expatriates leave Syria, stood in stark contradiction to the recommendations made by the British Syrian Society, whose feedback is supposed to be highly regarded within government circles. According to the initial provisions of the resolution, males aged 17-42 years who paid the military service exemption fee, are the only male child of their mother or are exempt for health reasons are not caught by the new rules. However, they were still subjected to them in the early days of the resolution. The reason they were is for fear of mistakes being committed whereby those who should be caught by them slip through the system as the Military Service Department personnel would be held liable for errors in such cases. Syrian MPs began voicing their discontent with the resolution and some called for it to be cancelled. In order to remedy this situation, President Bashar Al-Assad issued Legislative Decree 14/2018 amending Article 48 of the Military Service Law provided for in Legislative Decree 30/2007 to exclude persons exempt from military service from the requirement to obtain travel clearance from the Military Service Department upon exiting Syrian territory. Therefore, for males aged 17-42 years who are not exempt from military service and wishing to travel outside Syria, travel clearance is granted after depositing SYP 50,000 in a public bank as a guarantee. Travel clearance is renewed every three months but the deposit is only paid once. The important point to note is that these measures are about travel permission and not a conscription order. It is to make sure that those persons legally required to undertake military service do so.
  • The military service measures that were issued mean that Syrian males aged 17-42 years are strongly advised to carry their Military Service Book with them when they travel to Syria, even if they are exempt from military service. Exemption from military service means that there is no need to obtain travel clearance. The Military Service Book in this respect will contain a declaration that the holder is exempt from military service and thus does not require travel clearance. The Military Service Book will most likely be inspected by passport control when exiting Syria to check that the holder is indeed exempt. Military Service Books are issued to all Syrian males aged 17-42 years who are obliged to apply for them irrespective of whether they are exempt from military service or not. Military Service Books may be subject to routine checks within Syria and most likely at the national border. Failure to produce a Military Service Book on inspection could result in denial of permission to travel overseas or possibly an order to report for military service. The matter of the Military Service Book should not be taken lightly, especially for exempt persons.

Familial Affairs

  • One of the oddities of the Syrian war has seen women apply to the courts to change their birth dates so as to appear younger in order to attract potential husbands. Such a phenomenon has been rejected by the Ministry of Justice, which held that unjustified amendments are illegal.

Religious Affairs

  • Legislative Decree 16/2018 governing the functions of the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) is causing a political storm among MPs in the People’s Assembly and Syrian citizens alike. As they see it, the Law expands the authorities and powers of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, including at the expense of the Grand Mufti of the Republic. They fear the power of religious authorities and groups will grow and threaten the secular nature and culture of the Syrian state. Protests among MPs and citizens in the media and on social media platforms claim that the new Law will inadvertently empower religious interest groups and political organizations like the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, who they fear are lurking in disguise under the political surface, at the expense of the secular institutions of the state.
  • Many other questions are being asked regarding the potential consequences of a law that could increase the authority of the Ministry of Religious Endowments over a number of aspects of everyday life in Syria. There is no doubt that Syrian society has been steadily growing more conservative since the late 1970s. Some see the Law as an attempt to cater to the conservative communities by giving the religious establishment more influence over the state and society in Syria. Others see it as a vent or outlet for conservative thoughts and beliefs. It could even be a means to test the pulse of Syrian society. However, the passage of Legislative Decree 16/2018 appears to be an attempt by the government to accommodate religious conservatives and obtain greater oversight over far-right communities in Syria. The Law does mention the need to combat extremism and intolerance in society.
  • The original tenets of the Baath Party in Syria confirmed it as a leftist and liberal political grouping in the sense that it wanted to promote secularism as a state policy while curbing potential conservative forces. The standoff reached its climax in the early 1980s in Syria. Even though politically speaking the Syrian state is liberal and secular in nature, society has grown more religiously conservative not only in Syria but across the Arab world. Rather than unwisely attempt to challenge this current, the Syrian state appears to be accommodating it. The Syrian war has polarized society further and pushed pro-government supporters more to the left in their support of liberal values such as secularism while opponents of the government have veered to the far right. The conflict cannot be won by one side or the other outright. The conflict also epitomizes the general state of the world where far left and far right forces are on the rise while the center ground is being surrendered whether politically, economically or socially because it has proven ineffective and marginalized certain communities. In this context, accommodation of conservative forces on the right seems to be the Syrian government’s desired choice as evidenced by this Law.
  • The reception of this new Law among secularists has been negative with many calling on President Bashar Al-Assad to reject it. It remains to be seen what the government will do. In 2009, an attempt to rewrite the Personal Status Law with provisions reflecting right-wing religious thinking that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia was met with loud cries of protests. The government eventually scrapped the bill. In 1973, President Hafez Al-Assad’s original constitutional draft omitted the requirement for the President of the Republic to be from the Muslim faith. Protests soon erupted in northern conservative cities in Syria and the government retracted its position. In December 2010, the government sanctioned the opening of a popular casino. As soon as unrest gripped the country, the casino was closed in April 2011 as a gesture of goodwill towards the religious leadership in Syria that stood by the government at that sensitive time. Despite the Syrian state’s secular standing, it has to walk a tightrope on matters of religion not least because the Baath Party is historically a liberal force built for the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s but holding power in an era when religious conservatism is on the ascent.

Criminal Law

  • The Department of Antiquities in Daraa in cooperation with the provincial police force reportedly thwarted an attempt to smuggle 14 artifacts dating back to the Roman era from Syria into Jordan.


  • The insurance courts are hearing 1,700 claims in Damascus and its countryside, most of which relate to car accidents on the highway running through the capital and the suburb of Harasta.
  • A judicial source in the province of Rural Damascus revealed that the courts in the suburbs of Harasta and Kafr Batna will resume operations soon. Both suburbs fell under the control of armed groups in 2012 and were only recently returned to government control.
  • The Palace of Justice in Damascus is facing congestion because of all the lawsuits across the provinces that were transferred to Damascus. As a result, it has had to convert a number of rooms where lawyers assemble into courtrooms.

International Relations

  • The full text of the 10-point Idlib Backstop agreed between Russia and Turkey in Sochi has been made available. Despite the agreement’s emphasis on political and military considerations, one key clause relates to economic cooperation. The Idlib de-escalation area will be preserved and the 12 Turkish observation posts will be fortified and continue to function. A demilitarized zone of 15-20 kilometers deep in the de-escalation area will be established. Its delineation will be determined through further consultations. By October 10th, all tanks and other heavy weaponry belonging to warring parties will be withdrawn from the demilitarized zone. By October 15th, all radical terrorist groups, especially those linked to Al-Qaeda, will be removed from the demilitarized zone. Russian and Turkish soldiers will conduct coordinated patrols and monitoring along the boundaries of the demilitarized zone separating government forces from armed groups to ensure the ceasefire is respected. Russia will take all necessary measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided and the existing status quo will be maintained. Responsibility for sustaining the ceasefire regime will be shared between Russia, Iran and Turkey, the guarantors of the Astana Process.
  • The major economic point in the Idlib Backstop involves ensuring free movement of local residents and goods, and restoring trade and economic relations by opening transit traffic on the M4 Highway between Aleppo and Lattakia and the M5 Highway between Aleppo and Hama by the end of 2018. The M4 Highway is also known as the Aleppo-Lattakia Highway and cuts through the province of Idlib. The M5 Highway is also known as the Damascus-Aleppo International Highway and cuts through Idlib as well. It is the main highway in Syria linking the northern part of the country to the southern part. The economic point in the Idlib Backstop will allow Damascus and Ankara to resume trade routes that had ceased during the war. In other words, trade will be resumed between Turkey and Syrian government-held areas. The trade routes have not been in service since 2014 but became viable after the Syrian government restored full control over Aleppo in late 2016. The Syrian-Turkish Free Trade Agreement was cancelled in 2011 and Damascus imposed tariffs on Turkish goods entering or transiting through Syria. It is this key clause in the Russian-Turkish sponsored Idlib Backstop relating to the restoration of Syrian-Turkish trade routes that appears to have won Damascus’ buy-in into the agreement. The resumption of traffic on the major highways will help improve the economic prospects for reconstruction. A major objective of an offensive in Idlib was to regain control over the major highways in the province linking it with the rest of the country and by extension Syria’s neighbours to restart trade routes. Such a goal will largely be accomplished now due to the Idlib Backstop agreement. The Idlib Backstop spares the Syrian Arab Army from the need to undertake a heavy offensive and the Syrian government the need to deal with the resulting social considerations that would no doubt arise while reopening international trade routes.
  • Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem and his Bahraini counterpart greeted each other with open arms on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister confirmed that his meeting with his Syrian counterpart was not their first and he held that the authority of the Syrian government should extend over the whole state.
  • Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem told the United Nations General Assembly that Damascus was eager to accept any help in reconstruction after the war but added that the countries that offer only conditional assistance or continue to support terrorism are neither invited nor welcome to help.

International Sanctions

  • The US has sanctioned four individuals and five entities, some of which are involved in the petroleum sector, because of their links to Syria. As usual, the sanctions include asset freezes, travel bans and prohibitions on US nationals and companies from dealing with the targeted parties.
  • The US imposed sanctions against My Aviation Company Ltd., a Thai aviation company based in Bangkok, on accusations that it was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air by flying troops and supplies into Syria. It also modified sanctions against Malaysia-based Mahan Travel and Tourism.
  • Any threat by the US to impose secondary sanctions on Syria unless Damascus signs up to a constitution imposed on it is meaningless. Foreign companies already behave with enhanced caution regarding Syria and Syrians know how to adapt to sanctions so the US will gain very little from such an act.
  • A UN report on Syria implies that only large businesses with sufficient legal resources can navigate the complex web of the international sanctions regime imposed on Syria, thus giving them preferential access to the Syrian market and the power to set high prices due to a lack of competition. The sanctions also deter companies from undertaking activities that are otherwise perfectly legal for fear of breaking the rules, thereby negatively affecting health services and the provision of aid.

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