Across the Bay

Monday, August 08, 2005

Payback?

I just spotted this story in An-Nahar. It reports that the US have pulled a Bashar and stopped 700 Syrian trucks on the Syrian-Iraqi border from entering into Syria.

Obviously, I don't know the reasoning behind this, but I'd say it serves as a reminder that if Syria thinks it can use geography and economic pressure to muscle Lebanon, two can play at that game: on the eastern front. This may be a reminder of what the US and the EU can do to Syria's economy. For more on that, read Peter Schweizer's piece in USA Today.

The Syrian papers went nuts. And, on a seperate note, the story notes how Syrian papers are continuing to harp on the "Syrians missing in Lebanon" (before and after Hariri's murder) issue. Again, that's fine. But until the Syrians start taking seriously the plight of the parents of the missing Lebanese, many still languishing in Syrian prisons, there's very little to talk about.

Hazem Saghieh had a piece last week that while lamenting the ugly way in which Syrian and Lebanese issues are being played out, actually embraces the move away from all the "brotherly" talk to actual sovereign state to sovereign state relations.

Maybe the US move on the Syria-Iraq border will help speed up that process and take away the bullying blockade card away from Bashar, and force him to deal properly with Lebanon (no intelligence services, no blockade, no car bombs); even perhaps encourage him to do something he and Farouq Sharaa hate like poison: open up an embassy in Beirut!

Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's see how this plays out.

Addendum: This story in today's DS reports:

"A joint Lebanese-Syrian committee is already meeting to manage the issue of workers moving between both countries. The committee already presented to the High Syrian-Lebanese Council a report to establish five bureaus on the borders to grant working permits to Syrian workers similar to other foreigners working in Lebanon."

Nevertheless, it is still unclear when the bureaus will be established at the border crossings. Such an action is not strictly administrative; it also requires political backing.

In 1994, the ministry tried to regulate the Syrian labor pool by presenting a draft law to Parliament that would have established a special section at the ministry to deal with Syrian workers. However, the draft law was shelved, as none of the parliamentarians elected since 1994 were willing to sponsor it.

Now that Syria has withdrawn from Lebanon and the two countries are moving toward normalizing relations, the issue is once again on the table. Remittances from Syrian workers employed in Lebanon are a major asset to the Syrian economy, and opportunities across the border have helped keep a lid on Syrian unemployment. While Syria maintained a powerful military (and political) presence in Lebanon, few Lebanese leaders openly questioned the arrangement.

According to Lebanese law, all foreigners are required to obtain a permit and pay a tariff in order to work in Lebanon. In practice, however, these regulations are seldom, if ever, applied to Syrian laborers.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not a protectionist!

Update: The Daily Star now has the story about the Syrian trucks in English.