|General background: Following the breakup of
the Ottoman Empire during World 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 in Lebanon,
ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years,
Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over
the return of the Golan Heights.
Slightly larger than North Dakota.
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
Terrain: Primarily semiarid
and desert plateau; narrow coastal plain; mountains
Population: 17,155,814 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians,
and other 9.7%
Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze,
and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects)
10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli,
Language: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian,
Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English
Government type: Republic under military regime
since March 1963.
Legal system: Based on Islamic law and civil
law system; special religious courts; has not accepted
compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Economic overview: Syria's predominantly statist
economy has been growing slower than its 2.5% annual
population growth rate, causing a persistent decline
in per capita GDP. President Bashar AL-ASAD has made
little progress on the economic front after one year
in office, but does appear willing to permit a gradual
strengthening of the private sector. His most obvious
accomplishment to this end was the recent passage
of legislation allowing private banks to operate in
Syria, although a private banking sector will take
years and further government cooperation to develop.
ASAD's recent cabinet reshuffle may improve his chances
of implementing further growth-oriented policies,
although external factors such as the international
war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
and downturn in oil prices could weaken the foreign
investment and government revenues Syria needs to
flourish. A long-run economic constraint is the pressure
on water supplies caused by rapid population growth,
industrial expansion, and increased water pollution.
Communication/Telephone system: Fair system
currently undergoing significant improvement and digital
upgrades, including fiber-optic technology.
Places of interest: